The Florida manatee, Florida’s state marine mammal, is a large aquatic relative of the elephant. They are grayish brown in color and have thick, wrinkled skin on which there is often a growth of algae. Their front flippers help them steer, or sometimes crawl, through shallow water. They also have powerful, flat tails that help propel them through the water. Despite their small eyes and lack of outer ears, manatees are thought to see and hear quite well.
© Brian Skerry / National Geographic Stock
Like other grazing animals, Florida manatees play an important role in influencing the plant growth in the shallow rivers, bays, estuaries, canals and coastal waters they call home.
Did You Know?
Manatees only have molars, which are used to grind food. As they wear down and fall out, they are replaced with new teeth.
Manatees are herbivores, with a diet consisting mostly of sea grasses and freshwater vegetation.
Although there is no precise census of Florida manatees, today’s population is estimated at approximately 5,000 individuals.
Range & Habitat
Manatees can be found in the warm waters of shallow rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal waters. Rarely do individuals venture into waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Manatees take up residence primarily in Florida’s coastal waters during winter. Some individuals migrate as far north as the Carolinas or as far west as Louisiana in summer. Manatees have swum as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts in recent years.
Well known for their gentle, slow-moving nature, manatees have also been known to body surf or barrel roll when playing. They normally rest and feed often. Manatees communicate by squealing under water to demonstrate fear, stress or excitement.
Did You Know?
Manatees only breathe through their nostrils, since while they are underwater their mouths are occupied with eating! A manatee's lungs are 2/3 the length of its body.
Calves are born weighing between 60 and 70 pounds and measuring about 3-4 feet long. They nurse underwater.
Mating Season: No specific period
Gestation: About 1 year
Number of offspring: 1 calf