Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/642

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

through the skin, with which they are connected; but no evidence of digital organs is outwardly visible, except the rudimentary nails on the edges of the flippers. The flippers, flexible and possessing much of the power of the hand, have given the animal its name, from the Latin manus, a hand. The head is conical, with a fleshy nose,

PSM V20 D642 Manatee.jpg
Fig. 1.—Manatee.

like that of a cow, and large nostrils, and appears as if joined immediately on to the body, without visible neck. Anatomy furthermore shows that one of the cervical vertebræ, of which there are generally seven in mammals, including the dugong, is wanting. The mouth is small, and without front teeth, but is provided with two mobile, lateral, bristle-covered pads, with which it seizes its food quite dexterously. The mammæ are on the breast, and so resemble those of the human being as to make it easy to believe that the fable of the mermaid was derived from this animal.

The manatees feed in herds on the bottoms of rivers and the shallow waters along the shore, where they browse on algæ and aquatic herbs. They associate together in the most peaceable manner, and show a great community of feeling. They combine for defense when attacked, taking especial care of their young, by putting them in the center of the group, and, it is said, showing so much intelligent sympathy as to try to pull out the weapon from one of their companions which may have been struck with a harpoon. It is, indeed, a great shame to attack them wantonly, for no animal is more gentle and inoffensive, or more easily domesticated; but their flesh is excellent food, being much like pork, and is, moreover, allowed by the church to be eaten as fish on fast-days, and must, therefore, be considered legitimate prey for man. These animals are the most numerous inhabitants, after the turtles, of the waters around Greytown, Nicaragua,