Trichechus manatus

Habitat: Manatees typically are found in shallow sea grass beds.

Average adult size: Adults can grow to be 12 feet long.

Natural history: Manatees also are known as sea cows. They swim slowly, "grazing" on sea grasses, hydrilla and water hyacinth. Manatees can eat 100 pounds of plants a day. Like other mammals, they breathe air and are warm-blooded. In Florida, when the winter water temperature drops, manatees head for natural springs and power plant outfalls to stay warm. These areas of warmer water help the manatee keep a constant body temperature. They maneuver with their front flippers and swim with broad strokes of their paddle-like, tail fluke. They move slowly, but can swim at speeds of more than 10 miles per hour. Manatees stay in the shallows, rarely traveling into the open ocean.

They communicate with chirps, squeaks and whistles. On the average, manatees dive for about four minutes. After 13 months, the female gives birth to a baby and nurses it for two years. She can only have a calf once every three years. Manatees can live to be 30 years old. There may be as few as 1,000 manatees left in all of Florida. Their very existence is threatened by careless boaters, who maim and kill them with their outboard propellers. Scientists say the population is in decline. A slow and gentle animal such as the manatee can not be allowed to go extinct.

Range: From Florida south to Brazil.

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