The average manatee can often weight more than 500kg and can grow to lengths of over 4.5 meters. Despite their large size it is not uncommon for the manatee to reach more than 70 years old.
The manatee spends most of its time grazing on plants in warm, shallow waters that are seldom deeper than a couple of meters. The manatee is a herbivore and therefore only really feeds on aquatic plants like sea grass and algae but it has been thought that certain species of manatee may eat smaller fish but not necessarily on purpose .
The female manatee generally grows to larger sizes than the male manatee meaning that the female manatee is also heavier than the male manatee. The large size of the manatee makes the manatee one of the biggest mammals in the world, but the manatee obviously has a long way to go before it will be the size of a blue whale!
Manatees inhabit warm, shallow marshlands under water, where the manatee spends a great deal of its time sleeping. As the manatee is indeed a mammal, manatee do not have gills and therefore cannot breathe underwater so the manatee has to resurface regularly in order to take in air.
Manatees usually breed only once every couple of years, with the manatee gestation period lasting about a year. Manatees only give birth to one manatee calf at a time. Mother manatee then spend 12 to 18 months to weaning the manatee calf.
Manatees can often be seen in large herds, often of more than 20 manatee individuals. This however, is quite rare as the manatee is generally a solitary animal and with the exception of the mother manatee nursing her manatee calf, manatees tend to spend most of their time alone.
The manatee has been linked to mermaids in ancient folklore and the people of West Africa, believed the manatees to be sacred so anyone that killed a manatee was a sinner. The people of South America, would hunt manatees for their meat and then use the bones of the manatee to treat basic ailments.
Despite popular belief, the dugong is not another name for the manatee, or even a type of manatee. The dugong inhabits waters close to Australia and although closely related to the manatee, the two have one obvious difference. The tail of the manatee is broad and flat, but the tail of the dugong is forked and therefore more fish-like in appearance.