When someone sees a manatee in person for the first time, they can’t help but smile. These creatures are often called the “teddy bears of the sea” because of the ways they move and interact with others. Some are even tempted to give these large creatures a big hug when they see one, but think twice about that decision. Interacting physically with a manatee in the wild is often considered illegal.
1. Is It a Sea Cow?
Sometimes manatees are called sea cows because of their habits of grazing. They can usually be found in warmer tropical waters that are shallow enough to promote plan growth. Manatees love grazing so much that they’ll often eat for half of the day, consuming about 10% of their body weight in the process. That means the average manatee is eating 120 pounds of vegetables every day.
2. Salty and Sweet
Florida manatees might be the most famous, but there are other subspecies around the world. The West Indian and West African manatees might be the most unique because of where they choose to live. These animals spend most of their lives living where the salt water of the ocean meets the fresh water that comes near land. Their kidneys have developed special regulation systems that maintains proper salt concentrations so that they can interact with each ecosystem as necessary to survive.
3. They Hate the Cold
Manatees have very low metabolic rates, which means that their needs for warmth are absolute. You will not find manatees living in waters that are lower than 60F most days. When the winter months come along, these animals migrate into the coastal waters because they are usually warmer. If the water gets too cold, they can actually die because of the stress that this causes. More than 200 manatees had this happen to them in 2010 when Florida experienced an extended period of cold weather.
4. Efficient Lungs
Take a deep breath right now. If you held it, you might be able to not need to breathe for about 1-2 minutes. Some people, with practice, can go beyond 4 minutes. For a manatee, they usually come to the surface to breathe about once every 5 minutes. They can hold their breath underwater for up to 20 minutes when necessary. This is because their lungs are incredibly efficient. When you take a deep breath, you’re replacing about 10% of the air in your lungs. Manatees replace about 90% of the air when they take a deep breath.
5. A Large Family Reunion
For the most part, manatees are unique creatures that go beyond comparison. One animal, called the dugong, is within the same order of the manatee. They have more of a whale design to their tails than manatees do and a very distinctive snout. Outside of the dugong, the closest living animal relatives to the manatee is actually the elephant. That means when everyone gets together, the world’s largest family reunion may just happen.
6. They Just Keep Coming Back
One of the unique physical attributes of the manatee is their teeth. They are one of the few animals that have their teeth continually replenished throughout their life. As the older teeth fall out, newer teeth come in to replace them at the back of their mouth. What the tooth fairy decides to give a manatee, however, is up for debate.
7. Meet a Mermaid
The legends of mermaids come from the explorers during the colonial expansion period of Europe in the 13th-15th centuries. When Christopher Columbus “discovered” the new world, it was not uncommon for he and his men to describe figures swimming in the water that looked like women. When looking at these descriptions, we have discovered that it wasn’t mermaids that these explorers were seeing. It was manatees.
8. Blame It on the Brain
When compared to other mammals, manatees actually have the lowest ratio of brain size to their body. Their brains also lack the wrinkles and folds that other mammalian brains typically have. The result is an animal that moves slowly, can complete basic tasks, and learn how to differentiate their colors when necessary. They are also extremely sensitive to touch, which is why boating accidents that involve manatees are so tragic.
Manatees are also only 1 of 2 animals that have an irregular number of vertebrae. Tree sloths are the other. They have 1 fewer than other mammals. This makes them unique and is just one more reason why together we should be working to protect these sea teddy bears.