The New International Encyclopædia/Manatee

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MAN'ATEE' (Sp. manatí, from Haitian manati, big beaver). An American sea-cow of the genus Manatus, now nearly extinct on the coast of the United States, but still to be found in the West Indies, Eastern Central America, and tropical South America. Manatees are large, seal-like animals, sometimes 10 feet long and weighing more than a ton, with rounded, fleshy tail-fins, no hind legs, and the fore legs modified into swimming paws, the bones within which are of the normal type, and which have small, flat nails, except in the Orinoco species. The skin is very thick, dark gray, finely wrinkled, and sparsely provided with stout hairs, most numerous about the head and muzzle and on the palmar surface of the flippers. These animals are entirely aquatic, and spend their lives in estuaries, lagoons, and rivers, rarely going out into salt water. They ascend the Amazon and Orinoco almost to their sources, and are incessantly hunted by the natives for their veal-like flesh and the oil which may be obtained from the layer of blubber beneath the skin. They are good but by no means active swimmers, are sluggish in their movements, and spend most of their time in weedy places where they browse on the aquatic plants, often by standing upright among them on their bent tails. The upper lip is cleft into halves, which are covered with bristles and work against each other like forceps, forming an instrument by which they seize and draw into their mouths the leaves and grasses that form their fare. Connected with this food and manner of feeding is a remarkable dental feature, namely the large number of molar teeth. These seem indefinitely to increase during the animal's life, and it is suggested that they are worn away by the character of the food — chiefly algæ mixed with much sand. Only one young one is produced annually, but this is nursed and guarded by the mother with extreme care. The young apparently are entirely defenseless, but have few enemies to menace them after they get their growth. Manatees have frequently been kept alive in aquariums for a few months, and have proved gentle and docile. Once they were plentiful along both coasts of Florida, but their helplessness led to their destruction, until at the close of the nineteenth century none were left but a small, protected herd in the Miami River. Whether the Florida form, called Manatus (or Hydrodamalis) latirostris, is really distinct from the widely distributed Manatus Americanus is undecided. The animal of the Orinoco is certainly a separate species (Manatus inunguis), distinguished by lack of fingernails. See Sea-Cow; and compare Dugong.


NIE 1905 Manatee - skeleton.jpg

SKELETON OF A MANATEE.