How Many Types Of Manatees Are There?

West Indian Manatee in Crystal River, Florida.
West Indian Manatee in Crystal River, Florida.

Manatees are herbivorous marine mammals and three of the four living species of the order Sirenia. Sirenia may have originated from 4-legged land mammals over 60 million years ago with the closest relatives being the elephants and hyraxes. The Manatees are sometimes referred to as sea cows as they resemble cows on land. These large mammals can measure up to 13.1 feet and weigh an average of 800 to 1,300 pounds. The females are usually larger and heavier than the males. Baby manatees can weigh up to 66 pounds at birth. There are three types of manatees namely West Indian, Amazonian, and West African manatees.

West Indian Manatee

A Caribbean (Antillean) manatee.

The West Indian manatees are the largest type of manatees and also the largest of all species in the order Sirenia. These mammal species are commonly found in marshy coastal regions and rivers of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The West Indian manatees are subdivided into two subspecies; Florida manatees and Caribbean (Antillean) manatees. Like other types of manatees, this species is adapted fully to the aquatic life and spend most of their time in the water. They do not have hind limbs and the fur is sparsely distributed on the body to prevent the growth of algae on their skin. They can grow up to 11.5 feet and weigh 1,320 pounds. The females are larger than the male. In comparison, the Florida manatees are larger than Caribbean manatees. 

Amazonian Manatee

An Amazonian manatee.

The Amazonian manatees are commonly found in the Amazon Basin in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. According to the IUCN, their population is vulnerable due to hunting, habitat loss, climate change, and calf mortality. This species is the smallest of the three species of manatees, having an average size of 63-91 inches and weighs 264-595 pounds. Calves are born at 22-33 pounds and 33-41 inches long. Unlike the West Indian manatees, this species has thin wrinkled skin with hair scattered all over the body. It does not have free hind limbs while the forelimbs have been modified into flippers which aid in motion and also used in embracing other manatees. The flippers lack nails, setting it apart from other manatees. The Amazonian manatee lives only in freshwater habitat.

African Manatee

An African manatee.

African manatees are a species of manatees that are mainly found in the western region of Africa, from Angola to Senegal. Although not much is known about this species, it is believed that it resembles the West Indian manatee. The body of African manatee is widest in the middle while the tail resembles a paddle. It is gray in color and the body is covered by colorless hairs. However, sometimes the body appears greenish or brownish due to the algae and other tiny organisms growing on it. A mature African manatee can grow up to 15 feet in length and weigh about 790 pounds the large forelimbs or flippers are used to bring food to the mouth and also paddle.


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