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 3-4 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.
Florida manatees are found in warm, shallow waters, including creeks, bays, rivers and canals. They tolerate fresh, brackish and salt water. They prefer water that is approximately 10-16 feet deep and often swims close to the water’s surface. When water temperatures fall below 68 degrees, they will move to warmer areas. They 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. The herd pursues a female that is ready to reproduce. The gestation period lasts 12-14 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.