When talking about long ago ancestors of the manatee and its close relative, the dugong, I bet you would never think that land animals were related to them. Well – it’s true! In fact, there are three land animals directly related to the manatee. They include the elephant, the hyrax, and the aardvark.
So here you have the manatee, an incredibly large marine mammal from the Order Sirenia that is derived from the word “siren,” meaning mermaid resemblance. And the magnificent manatee is not related to any marine mammals. Not a one! Even though you may think a manatee does have general similarities to walruses, dolphins and sea lions, they are not related. Why?
It’s all about having Hooves …
A hooved animal is also known as an “ugulate.” Scientists believe around 60 million years ago, manatees and dugongs actually developed from four-footed mammals that roamed on land. Can you imagine a manatee walking across hills and valleys? Well – about 15 million years ago, the first manatee-like animal that walked on land was called a Potamosiren. Today’s manatee easily replaces its teeth, however a potamosiren could not.
Similarities between Manatees, the Elephant, Hyrax and Aardvark
When looking at elephants, there are fascinating similarities between them and manatees. Evidence of the manatee’s land-based evolution is extraordinary when you look at the marine mammal’s pectoral flippers. Each flipper has three or four vestigial fingernails that look remarkably like an elephant’s fingernails. In addition, both manatees and elephants are herbivores and they have very similar tooth structure.
If you’re on a safari in Africa, you may come across the hyrax. These mammals are found in both Africa and the Middle East. The hyrax is very unique. In fact, its uniqueness places it in an order all by itself (Hyracoidea). The hyrax is a very primitive animal because it exhibits traits of early mammals. When examining similarities of a manatee to a hyrax, you will find that the hyrax also uses its molar teeth to slice off green plants and grasses.
Also like these animals, aardvarks share a common ancestry protein with the manatee, including very similar dental structures. Furthermore, they share toenails or hooves instead of claws.
So when talking with your friends and family, let them know about some very cool manatee trivia!
~ Robert Scott Thayer