What Do Manatees Eat?

February 17, 2024
David Sunnyside

Manatees are primarily herbivores and graze on a variety of aquatic plants. They consume about 4-9 percent of their body weight each day in the form of grass and algae. The sea cows spend an average of 7 hours every day foraging and consuming vegetation.

As opportunistic feeders, manatees will also eat small fish and invertebrates. They are also capable of breaking down and digesting human food if necessary. In captivity and rehabilitation centers, most of the locations feed their manatees romaine, iceberg lettuce, cabbage, and other green vegetables that they wouldn’t normally find in nature.

Despite their enormous size, manatees don’t have front teeth and can’t bite into sea grass to eat it. They rely on a series of specialized adaptations to break down and consume the plant material. Their prehensile lips, which contain seven different muscles, help to grab and manipulate the vegetation. The tongue is also a useful tool for pulling vegetation to the mouth for chewing. Behind their lips, on the roof of their mouth, there are horny ridges that send bite-size morsels to the lower jaw for grinding.

The sea cows feed on more than 60 species of freshwater and saltwater plants. When in a marine habitat, the manatees will consume turtle grass, shoal grass, sea clover, marine algae, mangrove leaves, water hyacinth, and acorns. They will also eat aquatic vegetation such as water lettuce, water celery, tape grass, hydrilla, pickerel weed, alligator weed, and musk grass in freshwater environments.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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