West Indian Manatee
The West Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus, is the largest surviving member of the aquatic mammal order Sirenia. It is found along the coastal waters of the West Indies, generally in shallow areas. However, it is known to withstand large changes in water salinity, and so have also been found in shallow rivers and estuaries. These animals are limited to the tropics and subtropics due to an extremely low metabolic rate and lack of thick insulating body fat. Although in the summer they can be found as far north as coastal Rhode Island.
The West Indian manatee has no hind limbs and has adapted fully to aquatic life. Fine hairs sparsely cover the body, which may help in reducing the build-up of algae on the skin. They are quite agile in the water and have been seen doing rolls, somersaults, and even swimming upside-down. The average West Indian Manatee is approximately 10 feet long, and weighs between 880 and 1325 lbs, with females generally larger than males. The largest individuals can weigh up to 3300 pounds. The Manatee’s color is gray or brown.
Although female West Indian Manatees are mostly solitary creatures, they form mating herds while in estrus. Most females breed successfully between ages of seven and nine, however, females are capable of reproduction as early as four years of age. Gestation period lasts from twelve to fourteen months. Normally, one calf is born, although on rare occasions two have been recorded. The young are born with molars and premolars, allowing them to consume sea grass within the first three weeks of birth. Adult manatees consume 20 to 65 pounds of sea grasses and plant leaves daily. They are also known to eat invertebrates and fish.