Meet manatees the cow of the sea


Picture of a manatee or sea cow.

Sea cows are more commonly known as manatees, a name derived from the Indian word manati, meaning “breast.”


Voracious vegetation eaters



Just about every variety of sea-growing plant can be found on the sea cow’s menu.

These strict vegetarians spend at least eight hours daily satisfying their voracious appetite for seaweed, hyacinth, widgeon grass, and leaves and stems of other aquatic plants.

They eat 60 to 100 pounds (27 to 45 kg) of food daily.

On an average, sea cows eat one pound of food for each 10 pounds of body weight.

No water plant is safe from the muscular upper lips of the sea cows, which have powerful muscles for ripping up tasty morsels.

It makes no difference if plants grow in salt water or fresh water, on the water’s surface or beneath, and even along riverbanks a foot above the water.

Despite their size, sea cows undauntedly overcome such obstacles in their quest for a lunch.

Should the meal be at the bottom, sea cows fill their lungs up with air and submerge for five- to 10-minute grazes.

Some strong-lunged beasts stay underwater 16 minutes.

Eating habits of sea cows have been beneficial to man.

In southern Florida, manatees have been used to clear weed-choked canals that act as drainage ways.

In Guyana, about 70 of these weed mowers recently were brought in to unclog waterways.

Officials there figure the manatees saved them thousands of dollars.

Then in Xochimilco, Mexico, vegetable farmers faced a crisis when superabundant water lilies affected their irrigation systems.

In came four manatees to replace a crew of 300 men.

Manatees oftentimes feed in groups of 10 to 20 animals, moving lazily about to graze on sea “meadows” in the same fashion as cattle.

That is why these gentle giants are called sea cows.

Considering their low-keyed activity you might think that sea cows are clumsy or inept.

But appearances are deceiving.

Frighten one of these titans and you will see immediate reaction from that powerful hind flipper.

Extremely sensitive to disturbance, the animals can stream away at 20 miles (32 km) an hour, leaving a foamy, wavy surface behind.