U.S. Virgin Islands Territorial Mammal
West Indian Manatee (common name)
Trichechus manatus (scientific name)
After the whale, the West Indian manatee is the largest aquatic mammal. It is a slow-moving and gentle herbivorous animal believed to have evolved from land mammals like the elephant and hyrax. Its two subspecies, the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) and the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), have slightly different heads and ranges. It was declared the state marine mammal of Florida in 1975 and is Puerto Rico’s unofficial marine mammal. Hunted for hundreds of years for its meat and hide, manatees in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and Puerto Rico are protected throughout their ranges by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, although they continue to be hunted in Central and South America.
ALSO KNOWN AS
Commonly known as the sea cow, it is also called the Caribbean manatee or Antillean manatee, depending on its range.
Gray or brown in color, although sometimes covered with barnacles or patches of green or red algae. The muzzle is heavily whiskered and coarse, single hairs are sparsely distributed over the rest of its body. Manatees have flexible, split upper lips that pass food into the mouth. The lungs are positioned along their backbone to help with buoyancy control. Females are typically longer and heavier than males.
Over 60 years
Brackish, shallow rivers and estuaries and freshwater rivers connected to the coast.
Range: The Florida manatee occurs primarily in Florida and southeastern Georgia but is known from as far north as Rhode Island to as far west as Texas. The Antillean manatee ranges from Mexico and the Caribbean to northeastern Brazil. The West Indian manatee is abundant along the southern coast and river mouths of Puerto Rico and in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Conservation: Endangered. However, in 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the West Indian manatee population of Florida had rebounded and should be reclassified as "threatened."
The West Indian manatee is agile in water, where it rolls, somersaults, and even swims upside-down. It surfaces for air once every five minutes or so, but can remain submerged for up to 20 minutes while resting. It is generally considered solitary or semi-social except for mating herds or winter congregations in warm water refuges.
The manatee often moves from place to place in search of food and usually swims at speeds of 1 to 4 mph but can swim at speeds of up to 15 mph (24 kph) for short distances. It squeaks and squeals when frightened, playing, or communicating. The manatee has a slow reproductive rate because females and males reach sexual maturity at about 5 and 9 years of age, respectively. Manatees have multiple sexual partners over their lifetimes, and mating females can be pursued by 20 or more males. Males do not render any parental care to their calves.
The West Indian manatee is an herbivore that feeds opportunistically. Common forage plants include cord grass, algae, turtle grass, shoal grass, manatee grass, and eel grass. Individuals consume up to 10 percent of their body weight per day.
Breeding interval: 2 to 3 years
Birthing period: 13 months
Average litter size: 1 calf (rarely twins)
Size at birth: 40 to 60 lbs (30 kg), average 70 lbs (32 kg)
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Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press