genus of mammals

Manatees are large, fully-aquatic marine mammals of the order Sirenia. They are sometimes known as sea cows. The manatees form the genus Trichechus. There are three manatee species.

Manatee with calf
Scientific classification

The name comes from the Spanish manatí, which itself comes from a Carib word meaning "breast".

Early sightings


Christopher Columbus, who thought mermaids were real, went to the waters around Haiti, and wrote in his logbook that he had seen three mermaids. He said that they were not as beautiful as everybody said they were. Nowadays, people believe Christopher Columbus had actually seen three manatees. It is possible he saw them kissing one another, which is something they do when the meet each other in the water.


Antillean manatee

Manatees have thick pads around their lips and stiff bristles that help them grab food and move it towards the mouth. A manatee eats sea grass and all kinds of sea vegetables. All its teeth are shaped like a human's molars. The eight hours of chewing each day wears down on their teeth. In fact, its first two pairs of teeth get so worn out that they simply fall out sometimes. However, manatees can grow new teeth. New teeth are always growing in the back. When front teeth fall out, the back teeth move forward to take their place. In mammals, only elephants and (quite independently) kangaroos have this kind of system.[1]



The Sirenia are thought to have evolved from four-legged land mammals over 60 million years ago. Their closest living relatives are the Proboscidea (elephants) and Hyracoidea (hyraxes).[1]


Manatees: T. manatus in green; T. inunguis in red; T. senegalenis in orange.

Manatees live on the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and the rivers. The West African Manatee lives on the western side of Africa, on the shores from Senegal to Angola. They also live in some rivers like the Niger River and around Lake Chad. The West Indian Manatee lives in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and also on the shores of Brazil and Venezuela. The Amazonian Manatee lives in parts of the Amazon Basin in South America.

Manatees live in salt water and in fresh water. On the sea shores they mostly live in shallow water, like lagoons and mangroves. They also live in brackish water and rivers. Manatees like bodies of water with a temperature of over 20 °C.

Three West Indian Manatees.

They are mainly herbivores, spending most of their time grazing in shallow waters at depths of 1-2 metres (3–7 ft).


  1. 1.0 1.1 Domning D.P. 1994. Paleontology and evolution of sirenians: status of knowledge and research needs. In Proceeding of the 1st International Manatee and Dugong Research Conference. Gainesville, Florida, p1–5.