Manatees are large, grey, fully aquatic animals also known as sea cows. Manatees can weigh between 440 to 1,300 lbs and range in size from 8 to 13 feet long.
These fascinating animals have wrinkled faces with whiskers and two forelimbs called flippers.
Despite their large size, they are graceful creatures that can swim quickly in short bursts of speed. They have strong, paddle-shaped tails that help power their speed in the water.
Manatees usually swim at speeds of around 5 mph, but can swim up to 15 mph if they need to.
Manatees belong to the order Sirenia, the only group of marine mammals that are completely herbivorous. There are three species of manatee alive today: the American manatee, the African manatee, and the Amazonian manatee.
Manatees evolved from grass-eating land animals that lived on our earth more than 50 million years ago.
They play an important part in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and eat lots of sea grass which helps maintain the health of the seagrass beds.
These fascinating animals have molars that are replaced throughout their life when they get worn down.
Manatees can stay underwater for 15 minutes without taking a breath if they are resting. They usually swim in pairs or on their own.
Here are animals that share similarities with manatees.
Scientific name: Microtus arvalis
Quick summary: The closest relative of manatees.
Dugongs look very similar to manatees and also belong to the Sirenian animal order. They are found in the shallow coastal waters of the western Pacific and Indian oceans.
Like manatees, they are large, grey, slow-moving herbivores who graze on sea grasses.
Dugongs are strictly marine mammals, unlike their manatee relatives who can also graze in freshwater areas.
There are a few notable physical differences between dugongs and manatees. Manatees have paddle-shaped tails, but dugongs have fluked tails.
The snout of a dugong is more trunk-like than that of a manatee and has a slit for a mouth to help them feed off the ocean floor.
Manatees can live up to 60 years in the wild, but dugongs have an even longer lifespan of 70 years or more.
Male manatees may have several female partners, but dugongs have only one mate that they live with for life.
Scientific name: Elephantidae
Quick summary: The world’s largest land animal and a surprising relative of manatees.
Elephants and manatees are close relatives, even though they do not look very alike. Sirenians including manatees are thought to have descended from a common ancestor of the elephant.
African elephants are the largest land animal and weigh between 2 and 7 tons – much bigger than a manatee. However, there are some surprising physical similarities between elephants and manatees.
Both have thick, gray skin and sparse hair. West Indian and West African manatees also have a fingernail-like structure on the end of their flippers similar to the toenails on an elephant’s foot.
Manatees have two incisors that look similar to the tusks of an elephant. Both animals have molars that are restored when they eventually break off.
Elephants and manatees share a similar diet and are both herbivores.
Elephants eat small plants, roots, tree bark, and fruit, and eat around 300-375 pounds of food a day. Manatees consume up to 100-150 pounds a day of freshwater plants or seagrass.
Scientific name: Odobenus rosmarus
Quick summary: A large marine animal that looks similar to a manatee.
A walrus is a large marine animal with tusks and whiskers that lives in the ice-covered northern waters of Russia, Greenland, Canada, and Norway.
Like a manatee, they have thick, grey skin. Walruses are shorter than a manatee and grow to around 11.5 feet long. However, they are usually heavier and can weigh up to 3,700 lbs.
Walruses are good swimmers like manatees, and spend around two-thirds of their lives in water. Manatees use their tail to go faster, but walruses use their hind flippers as a propeller.
The average swimming speed of a walrus is 4.3mph. Just like manatees, they can go much faster if they need to and as fast as 21.7mph.
One main difference between a walrus and a manatee is diet. Manatees are herbivores, but walruses are carnivores.
Scientific name: Hippopotamus amphibius
Quick summary: A large, African semi-aquatic mammal.
A hippopotamus or hippo is a large, semi-aquatic mammal found in Africa. They have barrel-shaped bodies and greyish skin similar to manatees.
Hippos are the third largest land animal on our planet and weigh around 3.5 tons.
Like manatees, hippos spend a lot of time underwater and are also great swimmers despite their huge size. Hippos can hold their breath for up to five minutes underwater.
Although there are some similarities between manatees and hippos, these animals are not closely related. Hippos are more closely related to whales and are members of the order Artiodactyla.
Hippos and manatees are both herbivores and have a big appetite. Hippos graze on land, unlike manatees that never leave the water.
Scientific name: Delphinus
Quick summary: An intelligent aquatic mammal found in all corners of the world.
Dolphins are aquatic mammals found all over the world. These beautiful animals rely on marine ecosystems and the ocean for their survival.
As mammals, both dolphins and manatees have to come to the surface to breathe air.
Like manatees and other mammals, dolphins are born with hair. Dolphins are born with some hair on their beaks that falls out soon after they are born. Manatees keep the hair on their bodies and whiskers on their face as adults.
Dolphins are excellent swimmers just like manatees. Their streamlined and sleek bodies allow them to swim at speeds of over 18 mph.
Despite some similarities, manatees and dolphins have different evolutionary histories. Dolphins are of the taxonomic order Cetacea which also includes porpoises and whales, and Manatees belong to the order Sirenia.
Unlike manatees, dolphins are carnivores and eat mostly squid and fish.
6. Rock Hyrax
Scientific name: Procavia capensis
Quick summary: A small mammal that is related to manatees.
A rock hyrax is a brownish-gray mammal with short ears and short sturdy legs found in the Middle East and Africa. They look very different from manatees, but are one of their closest living relatives.
Rock hyraxes look like rodents but are members of the Procaviidae family. They are descended from the same common-hooved ancestor as the manatee and elephant.
Adult rock hyraxes typically weigh 4 to 12 pounds (2 to 5 kilograms). They are much smaller than manatees, but there are some surprising physical similarities.
Both hyraxes and manatees have hairs known as vibrissae. These hairs are found in the furry coats of hyraxes, and are used by manatees to sense vibrations in the surrounding water.
7. Sea Lion
Scientific name: Otariinae
Quick summary: A large marine mammal similar to manatees.
Sea lions are large marine mammals closely related to walruses and seals. They are usually grey with short, thick hair, and a large chest and belly like a manatee.
Like manatees, sea lions are mammals and need to come to the surface to breathe air but can stay submerged for between 10 to 20 minutes.
Sea lions are excellent swimmers like manatees. They can reach speeds of up to 18 miles per hour for short bursts when escaping from killer whales or sharks.
The main difference between sea lions and manatees is their diets. Manatees are herbivores, but sea lions are carnivores that eat clams, octopuses, squids, hakes, and crabs.
8. Green Turtle
Scientific name: Chelonia mydas
Quick summary: A large marine herbivore that is an excellent swimmer.
Green turtles are large marine herbivores recognizable by their distinctive hard shells. They eat mostly seagrasses and algae, just like manatees.
Like manatees, these unusual animals are well adapted to an aquatic existence and have paddlelike flippers for swimming.
Both manatees and green turtles can stay underwater for long periods of time. The heart rate of a green turtle slows down when resting underwater and they can stay submerged for 5 hours.
Scientific name: Pinnipedia
Quick summary: A semi-aquatic mammal that looks like a manatee.
Seals are aquatic mammals with a similar body shape to a manatee. Their bodies are round in the middle and tapered at each end, which helps them swim quickly and gracefully.
Like manatees, seals have flat tails and two forward flippers to propel them through the water.
Unlike manatees who are herbivores, seals are carnivores who mostly eat fish, crustaceans, squid, and mollusks.
Although these two animals look similar, seals and manatees are not closely related. Seals are semi-aquatic and spend some of their time each day on land, but manatees stay in the water.
10. Beluga Whale
Scientific name: Delphinapterus leuca
Quick summary: A small whale that resembles a manatee.
The beluga whale is one of the smallest species of whale. They have a similar body shape to a manatee and a distinctive, prominent forehead.
Adult beluga whales are a distinctive white color, and their calves are born grey. Although they are small for a whale, they grow 13 to 20 feet long and weigh 1 to 1.5 tons.
Beluga whales swim at a similar speed to manatees. They usually swim about 3 to 9 mph but can reach speeds of 13.6 mph.
Unlike manatees which are mostly solitary animals, beluga whales are extremely sociable and can live in groups of up to hundreds of whales.
Dugongs are the manatee’s closest relatives and look and behave very like them. These two animals are hard to tell apart from each other, but have differently shaped tails and snouts.
Manatees look like walruses, dolphins, and sea lions but they are not related to other marine mammals at all. They also share the same habitat and some behaviors.
Manatees are well adapted for their aquatic life. It’s hard to believe that many years ago this amazing creature’s ancestors were land animals.
Manatees share characteristics with some surprising land animals. Elephants and the gopher-like rock hyrax are both land animals that are modern-day relatives of manatees.