U.S Fish and Wildlife Services


Manatees are generally thought of to be strictly herbivores; however this isn't true. It isn't uncommon for  Manatee eating Seagrass. Photo provided by University of Central FloridaT. manatus to eat a small vertebrate fish, but their diets are 80% comprised of sea grasses. (Mignucii-Giannoni et al., 2006). Because sea grass has very low amounts of nutrients the T. manatus will often spend up to 8 hours a day grazing, and consume up to 10% of its body weight in order to keep up with its daily metabolic needs (Mignucii-Giannoni et al., 2006). This lifestyle has given rise to a few positive evolutionary adaptations. The mouth of T. manatus has been modified by means of a split upper lip as seen in the picture to the left. The split upper lip allows the T. manatus to easily pass food to their mouth while they swim without having to stop and readjust themselves(Mignucii-Giannoni et al., 2006). Because all manatees feed on abrasive plants their molars will wear down over time. Manatees, however, have the ability to replace their molars as their previous ones wear down; this makes it significantly easier to masticate theirTrichecus manatus grazing on sea floor. Photo provided by University of Central Florida food and in turn easier for enzymes to break it down(Mignucii-Giannoni et al., 2006). T. manatus has a very slow metabolic rate which plays a key role in why T. manatus cannot survive in colder climates; instead this decreased metabolic rate helps them survive on their primary diet of sea grasses. The slow rate of T. manatus allows them to survive on 25% less energy than a typical mammal of a similar size (Douglas, 1986). Their hind gut also undergoes fermentation to assist in the process of breaking down cellulose from the plants that are eaten(Douglas, 1986).  Lastly, the T. manatus has a snout that is bent further down than other species of the family. This attribute makes it easier for T. manatus to graze the plants attached to the sea floor. (Mignucii-Giannoni et al., 2006).

Like many animals, the diet of T. manatus plays a key role in where their habitat is. Follow this link and check out where the T.manatus calls home! Or click here to return to the home page.