Trichechus manatus latirostris
The Florida manatee is a large, gray aquatic mammal that occasionally visits the Chesapeake Bay’s shallow waters in summer.
The Florida manatee has thick, grayish skin and sparse hairs all over its body. Its front flippers have jointed bones and 3 to 4 nails at the ends, and it has a large, fan-like tail. It has small, widely set eyes and a flexible, double-lobed upper lip covered with whiskers. It grows to be nine to ten feet in length and weighs 800 to 2,200 pounds, with females larger than males.
Found in warm, shallow waters, including creeks, bays, rivers and canals. Can tolerate fresh, brackish and salt water. Prefer water that is 10 to 16 feet deep and often swim close to the water’s surface. When water temperatures fall below 68 degrees, they will move to warmer areas. Usually live alone, but will sometimes form pairs or small groups of less than a dozen.
The Florida manatee feeds on bay grasses such as coontail, eelgrass, hydrilla and Eurasian watermilfoil. It uses its specialized lips to grasp plants and pass food into its mouth and will eat approximately 8 to 10 percent of its body weight every day.
Manatees have very few natural predators. Humans are manatees’ greatest threat; manatees can become tangled in fishing nets or accidentally hit by boat propellers.
Males form mating herds of up to 20 manatees, which will pursue a female that is ready to reproduce. The gestation period lasts 12 to 14 months. Females gives birth to a single calf, which is usually able to swim within an hour. Calves depend on their mothers for about two months. They drink her milk for about three weeks before starting to eat plants. Manatees usually live about 8 to 11 years in the wild, but can live up to 60 years.