Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows. There are three accepted living species of Trichechidae, representing three of the four living species in the order Sirenia: the Amazonian manatee, the West Indian manatee, and the West African manatee.
Manatees were difficult to keep alive in captivity during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The earliest captured Amazon Manatees survived only two and a half months in captivity and later attempts were only slightly more successful.
Manatee births are relatively rare. In the wild births occur in secluded areas without witnesses.
Manatees gather in springs and Intra-coastal waterways because of the warm water. Although they are warm blooded they lose body heat easily and, if they lose too much, they become vulnerable to infection.
Manatees come up for air every three to five minutes. They may surface to breathe as often as every 30 seconds depending on their activity.
Manatees have occasionally been seen to eat foods other than plants. Antillean manatees have been known to eat fish from nets and West African manatees have been known to eat clams.
Manatees are primarily herbivores. They feed on a wide variety of submerged, emergent, floating, and shoreline vegetation.
On average, one calf is born every two to five years, and twins are rare. Intervals between births range from two to five years.
The reproductive rate for manatees is low. Female manatees are not sexually mature until about five years of age. Males are mature at approximately nine years of age, although some males mature earlier.
The most pressing human-related threat to manatees is injury and death resulting from collisions with watercraft. In 2000, at least 78 manatees were killed by watercraft.
The Florida manatee occurs primarily in Florida and southeastern Georgia. It is usually found in freshwater, brackish, and saltwater habitats. Because manatees cannot survive very long in water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, south Florida and some natural springs make to the Florida manatee’s natural winter range.