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What Do Manatees Eat [Food Habits of Manatee]

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Manatees, also known as sea cows, are fascinating marine animals that interest people who love nature and want to protect it. 

These big creatures, part of the Sirenia group, mostly eat plants and can weigh over 1,000 pounds. 

They have a special way of eating. Their weight helps them float, so they need to keep it up to swim well! 

In this article, we look into what manatees eat, the different kinds of manatees, how they eat, how much and how often they eat, how they hunt, what animals might attack them, and how people affect their homes. 

But first, let’s explore the different kinds of manatees.

Types of Manatees

There are three main types of manatees, and each has its special features and where they live.

1. The West Indian Manatee

These amazing animals live in the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, and parts of Central and South America. 

They are the biggest among the three types, growing up to 13 feet long and weighing over 3,300 pounds.

These gentle giants have skin that’s usually grey or brown, with a round tail and nails on their front limbs. 

There are two kinds of West Indian Manatees: the Florida Manatee and the Antillean Manatee.

The Florida Manatee is mostly found in the southeastern United States, especially in Florida’s rivers and coastal waters. 

You can recognize them by their rounded snout.

On the other hand, the Antillean Manatee lives in the Caribbean, Central, and South America. 

They stand out with their more defined, v-shaped snout. 

Both kinds of manatees play a crucial role in the diverse ecosystems of their homes, and it’s important to work together to protect where they live.

2. Amazonian Manatee

The Amazonian Manatee is a creature that calls the freshwaters of the Amazon River and its tributaries in South America its natural home.

 It’s a bit smaller than its West Indian relative, growing up to about 10 feet in length and weighing around 1,300 pounds.

What makes the Amazonian Manatee special is its wider tail and the lack of nails on its front limbs. 

Unlike the other two types of manatees, this one is specifically designed to thrive in freshwater environments and doesn’t venture into saltwater habitats. 

It’s a fascinating member of the manatee family, perfectly adapted to its freshwater residence in the heart of the Amazon.

3. West African Manatee

The West African Manatee lives along the western coast of Africa, mostly in rivers and estuaries. 

It’s similar in size to the West Indian manatee but has a shorter snout and wrinklier skin.

These manatees can survive in both salty and fresh water and have a unique split upper lip, which helps them adapt to different water conditions along the West African coast.

Unfortunately, they face many challenges like hunting, getting caught in fishing gear, and losing their homes.

These manatees live in various habitats, including salty oceans and freshwater rivers, playing a vital role in balancing the environment. 

Despite their special traits, all manatees are threatened by human activities.

That’s why it’s crucial to protect them and ensure they can continue living freely in the wild.

Now that we know the different kinds of manatees, let’s see what manatees like to eat all year round.”

What Do Manatees Eat Throughout The Year?

manatee in ocean

Manatee diets experience subtle shifts throughout the seasons, influenced by changes in plant availability and environmental conditions:

2.1 Spring

As the temperatures rise, seagrasses such as turtle grass, shoal grass, and manatee grass thrive, becoming a significant food source for manatees. 

During this time, manatees may approach shorelines to munch on tender mangrove leaves, particularly in areas with sparse seagrass meadows

Certain manatees, particularly those in Florida, may also include green algae blooms in their diet that typically appear during spring.

2.2 Summer

In the hotter summer months, manatees stick to their plant-based diet, enjoying sea grasses and underwater plants

Depending on where they live, manatees might also snack on freshwater plants such as hydrilla, water hyacinth, and coontail

In certain places, manatees have been seen munching on fruits and nuts that drop into the water from trees nearby. 

The plentiful sunlight helps the plants they like to eat grow abundantly.

2.3 Autumn

As the temperatures drop, seagrasses decrease, yet they continue to be a substantial part of the manatee diet. 

During this season, manatees might change their menu slightly, opting for starchier plants like turtlegrass and shoalgrass as a preparation for the colder months ahead. 

The allure of fallen mangrove leaves increases, offering a convenient and tasty source of food as they drift into the water. 

It’s a time of subtle dietary adjustments for manatees as they adapt to the changing environment.

2.4 Winter

In winter, it becomes harder for manatees to find seagrasses in some places. 

This makes them travel longer distances to find enough food. 

During this time, mangrove leaves become even more important for manatees. 

They spend more time near the shores, eating these leaves. 

The fat they store up in warmer months becomes crucial in helping them survive when food is scarce in winter.

This smart strategy helps them get through times when food is not as easy to find.

Feeding Method of Manatees

Manatees eat plants in a really interesting way that helps them survive. 

These animals have a special upper lip that they use to grab and eat underwater plants carefully. 

The lip has bristle-like structures that help it strip leaves and plant material efficiently.

Manatees move slowly and calmly in the water, taking their time to pick and eat the vegetation that makes up their plant-based diet. 

They’re like underwater gardeners, exploring the water’s surface and seabed for the plants they like. 

Their methodical way of feeding is perfect for their environment, where food might be scattered across the water or hidden in the seabed.

Even though manatees aren’t predators, their feeding style is a bit like a slow and careful “hunt” for the plants they need to eat. 

Their ability to adapt to this plant-eating lifestyle shows how well they’ve evolved to match their slow and unhurried nature.

By understanding how manatees eat, we can learn more about their role in the environment and how they keep a balance in their habitats. 

This knowledge is crucial for protecting these amazing marine animals.

What is the Frequency and Quantity of Food Consumption for Manatees?

1. Manatees Eat Specially

Instead of having specific times for meals, manatees eat little bits all day long for about 6-8 hours

This constant nibbling helps them stay warm inside and keeps their stomach working.

They eat the most during the day when there’s sunlight. 

Sunlight helps them get vitamin D and find food better. 

At night, they take a break by sleeping or resting. 

Since they’re not as active at night, they don’t need to eat as often because their bodies don’t use up as much energy.

2. Quantity

An average adult manatee eats about 10% of its body weight in food every day. 

For a manatee weighing around 1,000 pounds, this means munching on approximately 80-100 pounds of vegetation.

The actual amount they eat can vary based on the types of plants they choose. 

Their favorite, seagrass, has fewer calories than mangrove leaves, so they might need to eat more of it to get enough energy.

The availability of food also matters. When there’s plenty of food, they might eat more to store up for times when there’s not as much. 

For instance, Amazonian manatees can adjust to fasting during dry seasons when there’s not a lot of vegetation around.

3. Factors Influencing Eating

Young or smaller manatees have faster metabolisms, so they need to eat a lot compared to bigger adults. 

The water’s temperature and saltiness affect how much energy they use and, in turn, how much they need to eat.

If a manatee is sick or injured, it might need more food, while being less active means they eat less.

Even though manatees are big, their digestive systems are simple, with just one stomach and long intestines. This helps them get nutrients from the tough plants they eat.

Despite not having set meal times, manatees manage their hunger based on food availability and energy needs.

These gentle giants are efficient, plant-powered creatures, calmly munching their way through their watery homes.

Even though manatees only eat plants, they must watch out for other animals that might harm them. Let’s learn about these dangers.

What Predators Pose a Threat to Manatees?

1. Potential Threats from Other Animals:

  • Alligators: In freshwater regions, especially during droughts when food is scarce, large alligators might occasionally attack young or injured manatees. However, such events are relatively uncommon.
  • Sharks: In specific coastal areas, particularly in Florida, larger sharks like bull sharks and tiger sharks have been reported to prey on manatees, particularly calves or sick individuals. Nevertheless, these occurrences are infrequent.
  • Killer Whales (Orcas): While not observed in wild populations, captive orcas have displayed predatory behavior towards manatees. This underscores the importance of responsible care for both species when held in captivity.

2. Environmental Risks:

  • Habitat Loss and Damage: The disappearance of crucial feeding areas like seagrass beds, often due to coastal development, pollution, and algal blooms, is a significant danger to manatee populations.
  • Boat Collisions: Manatees frequently face injuries and fatalities from colliding with boats and propellers, especially in areas with busy water traffic.
  • Entanglement in Marine Debris: Manatees may get caught in fishing gear, discarded plastics, and other debris in the water, resulting in injuries, infections, and, in severe cases, death.
  • Red Tide: Toxic algal blooms, such as red tide, can harm manatees when they consume contaminated seagrass or breathe in toxins from the air.

Although manatees don’t often deal with being hunted by other animals, the dangers from their surroundings, like changes to where they live and getting hit by boats, are much bigger and last longer. 

It’s really important to work on protecting where they live, making sure boats don’t hurt them, and cleaning up the oceans to make sure these gentle giants can keep going in the future.

Lastly, let’s look at how people affect where manatees live and get their food.

The Impact of Humans on Manatees’ Habitats

People doing things greatly impact where manatees live and how they survive. 

Some important things to know are:

1. Building Near the Coast: When people build houses or businesses close to the coast, it often leads to losing important places where manatees live, like seagrass beds and warm-water springs.

2. Dirty Water: Pollution caused by people, like waste from cities and factories, can make the water dirty. 

This can hurt the places where manatees find their food, like seagrasses.

3. Too Many Boats: When there are lots of boats in the same water where manatees live, it’s not good. 

Sometimes, boats can accidentally hit manatees and hurt them. The loud noise from boats can also bother the manatees.

4. Fishing Equipment: Manatees might get stuck in things used for fishing, like fishing lines and nets. 

This can hurt them and make it hard for them to eat or move around.

4. Climate Change: Changes in the world’s climate can affect where manatees live. 

The water might get too warm or the sea levels might change, making it hard for manatees to find good places to eat and stay warm.

We need to do things to help, like being careful when building near the coast, keeping the water clean, being mindful of boats, and not leaving fishing gear in the water. 

These steps, along with fixing and restoring their homes, are important to make sure manatees and their homes are safe.


Knowing what manatees eat, how they eat, and the problems they face in their homes is vital for keeping them safe. 

As caretakers of the sea, it’s up to us to lessen the harm caused by humans and protect these amazing creatures. 

By spreading the word and taking steps to care for their environment, we can help ensure that manatees thrive in the oceans.

I hope this guide has been useful to you, and thanks for reading!


Do manatees eat seaweed?

Yes, manatees do eat seaweed! They’re herbivores, which means their diet mainly consists of plants.
Seagrasses, water hyacinths, and other aquatic plants are some of their favorites.

Has a manatee ever attacked a human?

No, manatees are gentle giants and are not known for attacking humans.
They are peaceful creatures and usually keep to themselves.
It’s important to treat them with respect and avoid any actions that could disturb or harm them.

How do manatees have babies?

Manatees give birth to live young. Female manatees, known as cows, have a gestation period of about a year.
Once the calf is born, they form a close bond, and the mother takes care of the baby, nursing it with her milk until it’s ready to eat plants on its own.

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