The Eating Habits of Herbivorous Manatees

The Eating Habits of Herbivorous Manatees

If you have traveled along the coast of Florida, you may have seen a manatee grazing and wondered about what they are eating and how they find their food and chew it. Manatees are herbivores and feed almost exclusively on plants that grow in fresh and saltwater environments.

Freshwater plants include hyacinth, pickerelweed, alligator weed, water lettuce, hydrilla, water celery, and musk grass. Saltwater plants include sea grasses, shoal grass, manatee grass, turtle grass, widgeon grass, sea clover, and marine algae.

Manatees eat an average of 100-200 pounds of sea grasses and weeds each day. They large herbivores graze on the grasses and weeds for up to seven hours each day, ultimately consuming about 10 – 15% of their body weight.

Manatees use their two front flippers to pull or collect plants toward them. They also use their flippers to coast along the sandy bottom and dig for roots in the sand. The flippers scoop of vegetation and carry it to their mouths.

Manatees have prehensile lips, which means the upper lip is split so that the left and right sides can move almost independently. The lips use seven different muscles to tear away at the plants and the front flippers and well-muscled lips then guide the plants to their mouth.

Manatees do not have front teeth, but behind the lips, on the roof of the mouth, a manatee has ridged pads, which (along with the lower jaw) tear through the sea grass and then allow bite-sized pieces to go into their teeth for grinding.

The manatee has four rows of teeth twenty-four to thirty-two rough-textured teeth, which allow them to chew and grind vegetation.