Encyclopedia > Manatee

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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Sirenia
Family: Trichechidae
Genus: Trichechus
T. inunguis (Florida manatee)
T. manatus (Caribbean manatee)
T. senegalensis (African manatee)
Manatees (Family Trichechidae, genus Trichechus) are large aquatic mammals that are also called sea cows. The Trichechidae differ from the Dugongidae in the shape of the skull and the shape of the tail. The manatee's tail is paddle-shaped, while the dugong's is forked.

The manatee inhabits shallow, marshy coastal areas of North, Central, and South America, and the Caribbean Sea.

It is an herbivore, spending most of its time grazing in shallow waters.

One species (Trichechus senegalensis) inhabits the west coast of Africa, another (T. manatus) inhabits the east coast of South America, and the West Indies. The Florida manatee (T. inunguis) is by some considered a distinct species, by others it is thought to be a variety of T. americanus. It sometimes becomes 15 feet (4.6 meters) or more in length, and lives both in fresh and salt water. It was once hunted for its oil and flesh but is now legally protected.

In the United States, the manatee is an endangered species. Although it does not have any natural predators, human expansion has reduced its natural habitat in the coastal marsh areas, and many manatees are injured by the propellers of outboard motor boats.

Indigenous people of Central America made a preparation of dried manatee meat, which they called buccan. This meat became so popular among Spanish and Portuguese sailors along the Central American coast that they came to be called in slang buccaneers.

A similar creature is the extinct Steller's sea cow.

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