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Manatees

Dugong, coastal waters of Indian and West Pacific oceans, up to 3 m (10 ft) long Manatees are mammals that live in water all the time, but come to the surface to breathe. They have large, bulky bodies and live in tropical coastal waters and rivers: off the coast of Florida, in the Caribbean and off the coast of West Africa. There are also some rare manatees living in the River Amazon in South America. The dugong, a relative, lives off the coasts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Together known as sirenians, or “sea cows”, manatees and dugongs spend much of their time grazing on underwater plants and grasses.


Manatee, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, West Africa up to 4 m (13 ft) long
A manatee feeding in a seagrass meadow

Feeding

The manatee has three nails on each flipper. These help it to grasp the seagrasses and water plants that it eats. Manatees eat mainly water plants, but have been observed reaching out of the water to grab juicy land plants. They eat for eight hours a day, using their large, flexible upper lips to gather their food. They have tough grinding teeth called molars to chew with. These fall out when they are worn down and are replaced by new ones.
 

Manatees have very dense (heavy) bones to offset the buoyancy caused by all the gas in their stomach they generate from fermenting the seagrasses they eat.

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