Fossils Show Ice Age Manatees lived in Texas!

Fossil evidence shows Manatees lived in Texas during the last Ice Age.   PHOTO ROBERT BONDE /U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

Greetings! Here’s some more awesome manatee news for you! You may already know that during the summer months, some adventurous and curious manatees (Florida manatees and Antillean manatees) leave Florida and Mexico and check out the coasts of Texas. And when fall and winter return, they swim back home to warmer waters.

It was very interesting research done by The University of Texas, which found fossil evidence supporting manatees living in Texas during the last ice age. This fascinating discovery now raises questions whether manatees kept visiting Texas or rather did they call Texas home some 11,000 to 240,000 years ago? The research was published in Palaeontologia Electronica.

Lead author of the research, Chistopher Bell, professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences said, “This was an unexpected thing for me because I don’t think about manatees being on the Texas coast today, but they’re here. They’re just not well known.”

The co-authors include; Sam Houston State University Natural History Collections curator William Godwin, SHSU alumna Kelsey Jenkins (now a graduate student at Yale University), and SHSU Professor Patrick Lewis.

The research talks about eight fossils described in the paper, which include, “manatee jawbones and rib fragments from the Pleistocene, the geological epoch of the last ice age. Most of the bones were collected from McFaddin Beach near Port Arthur and Caplen Beach near Galveston during the past 50 years by amateur fossil collectors who donated their finds to the SHSU collections.”

William Godwin explained, “We have them from one decade to another, so we know it’s not from some old manatee that washed up, and we have them from different places. All these lines of evidence support that manatee bones were coming up in a constant way.”

A lower jawbone fossil, which was donated to the SHSU collections by amateur collector Joe Liggio, jumpstarted the research. “I decided my collection would be better served in a museum,” Liggio said. “The manatee jaw was one of many unidentified bones in my collection.”

The examination of manatee fossils by Bell and Lewis proved the bones belonged to the same species that visits the Texas coast today, Trichechus manatus. An upper jawbone donated by U.S. Rep. Brian Babin was found to belong to an extinct form of the manatee, Trichechus manatus bakerorum.

“The age of the manatee fossils is based on their association with better-known ice age fossils and paleo-indian artifacts that have been found on the same beaches.”

Bell said, “It’s assumed that the cooler ice age climate would have made Texas waters even less hospitable to manatees than they are today. But the fact that manatees were in Texas — whether as visitors or residents — raises questions about the ancient environment and ancient manatees. Either the coastal climate was warmer than is generally thought, or ice age manatees were more resilient to cooler temperatures than manatees of today.”

Jackson School Professor, David Mohrig, not part of the research explained, “The Texas coast stretched much farther into the Gulf of Mexico and hosted wider river outlets during the ice age than it does now. Subsurface imaging of the now flooded modern continental shelf reveals both a greater number of coastal embayments and the presence of significantly wider channels during ice age times.”

Mohrig continued and said, “If there was a population of ice age manatees in Texas, it’s plausible that they would have rode out winters in these warmer river outlets, like how they do today in Florida and Mexico.”

Godwin and Bell said, “personal fossil collections are a critical resource for public institutions, where specimens have a chance to reach more people and add to a broader body of knowledge.”

Stay tuned for more of my blogs!

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

Manatee Facts – Knowledge Challenge 1 (October 3, 2019)

Manatee Facts – Knowledge Challenge 2 (October 16, 2019)

Manatee Facts – Knowledge Challenge 3 (October 28, 2019)

Manatee Facts – Knowledge Challenge 4 (November 21, 2019)

Manatee Facts – Knowledge Challenge 5 (December 4, 2019)