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Also called the sea cow, the manatee is the only herbivorous mammal specially designed to live its entire life in the water. The Florida manatee is at home in saltwater, as well as fresh water, but needs access to fresh water frequently. Its forelimbs are reduced to simple paddles for swimming yet are flexible enough to bring food to its mouth. The tail pumps up and down to propel the body. Though it is streamlined in shape to reduce water resistance, the manatee is a slow swimmer, averaging a speed of about three to five miles per hour. Fortunately, the manatee has no natural predators from which it must flee. Avoiding collisions with speed boats, however, is another story. Speed limits are posted in manatee zones to prevent boats from crashing into manatees.

manatee swimming facing camera

Did You Know?

Holding its Breath: A manatee comes up for air as often as every 30 seconds, but can stay under water for up to 20 minutes when resting.

Quick Facts

Latin Name:
Trichechus manatus latirostris

Southeastern United States

Coastal wetlands

8 to 15 ft

50 to 60 yrs

Zoo Location:
Manatee Springs

Aquatic plants

Risk Status:
Species at Risk (IUCN—Vulnerable)