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Lamantin © MNHN - F-G Grandin

The manatee

The manatee, Trichechus manatus manatus, also often called the "sea cow", is a mammal which lives in the coastal areas and rivers of South America.


Class, order and family :
Mammalia, Sirenia, Trichechidae
Life span :
about 30 years
Size & Weight :
3.50 m in length and up to 600 kg
Gestation period :
11 months, for 1 - 2 calves
Natural habitat :
rivers and coastal areas
Diet :
Native region :
South America
Statut UICN : 

Vulnerable (VU)


The manatee spends between six and eight hours a day eating. In captivity, it ingests 8 - 10% of its weight, which corresponds to over 50 kg of plants per individual. The manatee grazes on the seabed using its downward-pointing snout and its split upper lip. When resting, the manatee comes up to the surface to breathe every two to three minutes and stays underwater for just a few minutes to find its food.

Distinctive features

It has no hind legs, but pushes itself forward with its tail. Its skin constantly "peels" and algae does not become attached to it. The female’s teats swell when she is suckling her young.


The manatee belongs to the Sirenia order, referring to the sirens or mermaids of Greek and Scandinavian mythology, which sailors thought they were when they saw them for the first time.