What Do Manatees Eat? 7 Things They Like to Eat

Manatees

what do manatees eat
30 Mar, 2023

Manatees are large, slow-moving marine mammals known as sea cows. They are part of the order Sirenia, including dugongs and the extinct Steller’s sea cow. You can find manatees in warm, shallow waters in coastal regions and rivers in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and West Africa. They are herbivorous and eat a variety of aquatic plants. 

But, What do manatees eat? Manatees consume a variety of vegetation, and they typically eat whatever they come across. Their nutritional choices are greatly influenced by their surrounding environment and the season. Manatees consume more than 60 species of submerged, floating, emergent, and seashore plants.

What Do Manatees Eat?

Manatees are herbivorous marine mammals that feed on seagrass and other aquatic vegetation. They have large, flexible lips and a split upper lip, which they use to grasp and pull foliage into their mouths. Manatees have also been known to feed on some algae and invertebrates, but their diet mainly consists of seagrasses.

A manatee consumes marine algae, sea grass, turtle grass, shoal grass, and sea clover in its saltwater habitat. However, the manatee can also eat pickerelweed, water lettuce, hydrilla, celery, alligator weed, hyacinth, tape grass, and musk grass in a freshwater habitat

Because manatees have a slow metabolism, they require much vegetation to sustain their daily energy needs. It is estimated that an adult manatee can consume up to 10-15% of its body weight in vegetation every day.

7 Things Manatees Like to Eat

Manatees are herbivores, and they feed on different aquatic plants. Here are seven things that manatees like to eat:

1: Seagrasses

Seagrasses, a flowering plants that live underwater and grow in shallow marine environments such as estuaries, bays, lagoons, and coral reefs. They form extensive underwater meadows and provide critical habitat and food sources for many marine animals, including manatees, sea turtles, dugongs, and various fish species.

Manatees feed on several species of seagrasses, including turtle grass, manatee grass, and shoal grass.

2: Algae

Manatees consume different types of algae, including red algae, green algae, and blue-green algae. Algae are a diverse group of photosynthetic organisms ranging from single-celled microorganisms to large, multicellular seaweeds. They can be found in almost every aquatic environment, from freshwater to marine habitats. 

Algae play a crucial role in aquatic ecosystems as they are primary producers, converting energy from sunlight into organic matter through photosynthesis.

3: Aquatic Plants

Manatees eat various aquatic plants, including water hyacinth, hydrilla, and lettuce. Aquatic plants are plants that grow entirely or partially in water. They can be found in various aquatic environments, such as freshwater, brackish water, and marine habitats. 

4: Mangrove Leaves

Manatees also feed on the leaves of mangrove trees, which grow along the coastlines in tropical regions. 

Mangroves are salt-tolerant trees that grow in coastal intertidal zones in tropical and subtropical areas. Mangroves have specialized leaves that help them to cope with the harsh, salty environments in which they grow. These leaves are often thick, leathery, and waxy, which helps to reduce water loss and protect them from the sun’s heat. 

5: Waterweeds

Manatees also like to eat waterweeds, such as coontail and eelgrass. Waterweeds are a group of aquatic plants found in freshwater environments like ponds, lakes, and rivers. Some common examples of waterweeds include Eurasian watermilfoil, curly-leaf pondweed, and hydrilla. 

Waterweeds are considered invasive in many parts of the world, as they can overgrow and outcompete native plants for resources, leading to a decline in biodiversity. 

6: Saltmarsh Plants

Manatees also eat salt marsh plants, such as saltwort, sea lavender, and marsh elder. Saltmarsh plants are a group of plants that grow in intertidal areas where saltwater and freshwater mix, such as estuaries, bays, and salt marshes. 

7: Macroalgae

Manatees also consume macroalgae such as Sargassum, a brown seaweed commonly found in the open ocean. Macroalgae, or seaweeds, are diverse multicellular, photosynthetic aquatic plants in marine and brackish water environments. They come in many forms, from tiny thread-like species to large leafy or bushy plants.

How Much Do Manatees Eat?

Manatees eat a lot to meet their daily energy requirements, which can vary depending on their size, activity level, and metabolism. As herbivores, they feed on seagrasses, aquatic vegetation, and algae.

It is estimated that adult manatees can consume between 5% to 10% of their body weight in vegetation every day. It means:

  • An adult manatee weighing around 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) may eat between 50 to 100 pounds (22 to 45 kilograms) of vegetation daily.
  • Juvenile manatees may consume a more significant proportion of their body weight in vegetation than adults, up to 15% in some cases, as they require more energy for growth and development.

It’s important to note that manatees are a protected species, and feeding them in the wild is prohibited as it can disrupt their natural feeding behavior and alter their diet.

How Do Manatees Find Food?

Manatees use their sense of smell and touch to locate food in the water. They have long, sensitive whiskers on their upper lip, called vibrissae, which they use to feel around for vegetation and detect changes in water currents. The whiskers are equipped with nerve endings highly sensitive to vibrations, allowing the manatee to see subtle movements in the water.

When feeding, manatees will often swim slowly along the seafloor or near the surface, using their flippers and tail to maneuver and maintain their position. They will then use their flexible lips and prehensile upper lip to grasp and pull up vegetation from the substrate.

Manatees are also known to feed in areas with strong water flow, which can help bring more vegetation within their reach. They have been observed using their body to block the current and create a calmer area to feed more efficiently.

Finally, manatees have good spatial memory and can remember the location of food sources. It allows them to return to areas where they previously found abundant vegetation and reduces the time and energy spent searching for food.

How Often Do Manatees Eat?

Manatees are herbivores and typically eat between 5-10% of their body weight in vegetation daily. The exact frequency of their feeding depends on various factors, including their age, size, and food availability in their habitat.

Adult manatees can feed up to eight hours daily, while younger and smaller individuals may feed more frequently throughout the day. Manatees are also known to be opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat whenever food is available, regardless of the time of day.

Manatees feed continuously throughout the day and night, taking breaks to rest and digest their food. They can eat while swimming or floating and consume various aquatic plants, including seagrasses, algae, and other vegetation.

When Do Manatees Eat?

Manatees feed throughout the day and night, taking breaks to rest and digest their food. They can eat while swimming or floating and consume various aquatic plants, including seagrasses, algae, and other vegetation.

However, the timing of their feeding can also depend on various factors, including food availability in their habitat, water temperature, and season. For example, manatees may need to feed more frequently during winter to maintain their body weight and stay warm.

Adult manatees can generally feed up to eight hours daily, while younger and smaller individuals may feed more frequently throughout the day. Manatees are also known to be opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat whenever food is available, regardless of the time of day.

Conclusion

So, when it comes to what do manatees eat? Manatees are herbivorous marine mammals that primarily feed on a diet of aquatic plants, such as seagrasses, water hyacinths, and algae. However, they also eat other types of aquatic vegetation, such as mangrove leaves and freshwater plants like waterweeds. 

Manatees prefer certain kinds of seagrasses, such as turtle grass and manatee grass, which are high in nutrients and easier to digest. In addition, they have been known to enjoy the leaves of red mangroves and other salt marsh plants. Overall, the diet of manatees is an essential part of their biology and survival in their aquatic habitats.

FAQ

Do manatees eat lettuce or cabbage?

Manatees are herbivorous and eat various aquatic plants. They can consume water, lettuce, or cabbage.

Do manatees eat bananas?

Manatees are herbivores and primarily eat aquatic plants such as seagrasses, algae, and other vegetation in freshwater and saltwater habitats.

What is a manatee’s favorite food?

Manatees do not have a favorite food, but they tend to prefer seagrasses over other aquatic plants. They also eat algae and other vegetation found in their habitat.

Do manatees fast?

Manatees do not fast but can go without food for several days or weeks if necessary. They have a slow metabolism and can store fat reserves for energy when food is scarce.