Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, North American Mammals
Search the Archive

  Sirenia · Trichechidae · Trichechus manatus
   Smithsonian Institution
   Copyright Notice
   Privacy Notice
Trichechus manatus

West Indian Manatee

Order: Sirenia
Family: Trichechidae

Image of Trichechus manatus
Trichechus manatus - male holding some plants, right; female with juvenile, center; inset on the left shows nipple located just under flipper
Click to enlarge. (79 kb)

Conservation Status: Vulnerable.

West Indian manatees are big, slow-moving, gentle vegetarians. They live in warm, shallow water in coastal rivers, estuaries, and lagoons. In winter, large groups of manatees sometimes congregate where warm water is being discharged from factories. Manatees feed on underwater vegetation, including algae, and sometimes graze on plants growing on shore that hang within their reach, but they never haul themselves out of the water. When they are active, they surface every few minutes to breathe, but when they are resting they can stay submerged for almost half an hour. Females produce a calf (occasionally twins) every two or three years. The calf stays very close to its mother until it is weaned, which can be as long as two years. Mother and calf communicate with squeaks and grunts.

Also known as:
Caribbean Manatee, Sea Cow, Manati, Vaca Marina

Sexual Dimorphism:
Females are larger than males.

Range: 2.8-3.5 m

Range: 500-1,650 kg


Linnaeus, C., 1758.  Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classis, ordines, genera, species cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, p. 34, Tenth Edition, 2 vols, Holmiae: impensis direct. Laurentii Salvii, vol. 1, 532 pp.


Mammal Species of the World

Mammalian Species, American Society of Mammalogists' species account

Distribution of Trichechus manatus

Image of Trichechus manatus
Click to enlarge. (34kb)

Skull of Trichechus manatus
Click to enlarge. (21kb)