The skeletal features of the Florida manatee include 6 cervical vertebrae resulting in the manatee’s inability to turn its neck. Just one of the many unique characteristics of the manatee. November is Manatee Awareness Month!
Greetings! With the continuing celebration of November being Manatee Awareness Month, I thought I’d talk about our anatomy! It’s true; we may look like a whale or a walrus, however the closest living relative to the manatee is the elephant. And just like the elephant, a vegetarian, the manatee is also a vegetarian. Also, just like the elephant, the manatee has a large upper lip that assists it in pulling seagrass and plants into its mouth. It’s also very cool to know that each manatee lip can move independently of the other. The manatee also has horn-liked pads, which help break down its food into smaller pieces.
Now taking a look at the diagram above, you may ask – how many bones does a manatee have? The manatee has the following bones (starting at the top of the head, and then moving towards the back, to its paddle-shaped tail…
- Mandible (jawbone)
- Teeth (molars – 7 per quadrant)
- Cranium (skull)
- 6 Cervical Vertebrae (neck)
- Flipper assembly (humerus, radius)
- 17 – 19 Paired Ribs
- 17 – 19 Thoracic Vertebrae
- 23 – 29 Lumber Vertebrae
- 7 – 9 Paired Chevron Bones (underside of tail)
- Paired Pelvic Bones
- Cuadal Vertebrae (tail)
Another interesting fact is that manatees and sloths are the only mammals having six cervical (neck) vertebrae. All other mammals (including giraffes) have seven cervical vertebrae. So if a manatee wants to turn its head, it must move its entire body around. And here’s another very cool and unique fact about manatees…
…Manatees are one of the only animals on the planet that continually replace their teeth, which are all molars! As the manatee eats vegetation on the sandy bottom of the ocean, gulf, rivers, and bays, its front molars wear down and fall out from the abrasive sand. When this happens, the molars in back move forward and replace the old worn down ones. This is known as “marching molars.”
The Florida manatee’s flippers include the humerus and radius bones. Additionally, each flipper has three to four nails at the ends. Flippers assist the manatee in steering, crawling, and putting food into its mouth.
When you look at a manatee you see an extremely large animal! And you would think it is very fat – right? Wrong! Manatees live in tropical water and have very little body fat on them! As a result, they need to eat large amounts of plants to stay warm. Generally, the manatee eats anywhere from 10 – 15 percent of its body weight in food every day!
The average length of a Florida manatee is eight to ten feet long. And its average weight is 800 to 1000 pounds. However, there have been some occasions where this manatee can grow up to thirteen feet long and weigh an incredible 3,500 pounds!
The manatee’s digestive tract takes up a very large area of its body cavities. In fact, its intestines can measure up to 150 feet long. And instead of having one diaphragm like other mammals, the manatee actually has two hemi-diaphragms. Now get this – with each breath, the manatee changes 90 percent of the air in its lungs. Compare this to a human who only changes 10 of the air they breathe. And the manatee’s lungs assist it with buoyancy control.
When you look at a manatee, you will see it has very small eyes. And the manatee does not have eyelashes. Instead it has a membrane for protection. Since the manatee’s retinas contain both rod and cone cells, it can see in dim and bright light. Also, a manatee automatically closes its nostrils when it is underwater. The manatee does not have any external ear lobes, however they are good at hearing. And you can gather information about a manatee’s age by counting the rings in its earlobe. All of these fascinating facts make the manatee an extremely interesting and unique marine mammal!
If you see any sick or injured manatees, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at: 1-888-404-FWCC. They are the folks who are responsible for rescuing us in Florida.
Here’s the Save the Manatee Club link to learn more about us manatees …
Here’s a cool link for you to learn more about how we’re rescued and brought into rehabilitation …
~ Kobee Manatee