How Do Manatees Give Birth?


Introduction to Manatees

  • Have you heard of an animal called the manatee? These are mammals that are classified under the Sirenia order. There are three distinct species (they look like the sea cow) living at present: (1) the West Indian manatee, (2) the Amazonian manatee, and (3) the West African manatee. The West Indian manatee is further divided into two separate sub-species: (a) the Florida manatee, which lives in fresh or sweet water and, (b) the Caribbean manatee, which lives in salty water.

The Male and Female Manatee

  • The male and female manatees are not easy to recognize, because to differentiate the gender you need to take a peek at its stomach. The male manatee has his genitals in the lower half of the body, just below the navel, while the female's genitals would be found just above the anus. As soon the female manatee reaches 8-10 years of age, she would start looking for a suitable mate. When she is ready to mate, male manatees form a huge circle around her so she can make her choice for this purpose. After mating, both the male and female lead a solitary life.

    The Florida and West Indian manatees mate throughout the year, though the calves are born most frequently in spring and summer. The Amazonian manatees reproduce in such a manner that they calve from February until May.

The Birth of a New Manatee

  • The gestation period of a manatee is 12 months and the frequency of birthing is about 3-5 years, when the female gives birth to one young that is called a calf. The calf is born as any mammal is born: through the genital opening. The calf usually exits headfirst, though there are instances that it is born tail-first. The latter is considered normal as well. When the calf is born, it has fetal folds on its skin, which are visible for about 6-8 weeks.

    The manatee calf would be very close to its mother for about 1-3 years. At birth, the manatee calf would weigh about 30-35 kilograms and would be about 80-120 centimeters long. From this modest weight, the manatee could grow into an impressive 500 kilograms and about 12 feet in length as an adult.

The Newborn Calf

  • The newborn calf is an accomplished swimmer. As soon as it exits its mother's womb, it is able to swim to the surface to take its first breath of air. These new babies are also able to "talk" with their mother right from the moment they were born. After birth, it takes the calf a little while to find the mother's teats, which are placed under the front flippers. Very soon, before the fetal folds straighten out, the calf is able and seeks to feed on aquatic plants. The newborn stops drinking mother's milk again after it completes one year of age. However, it will remain in its mother's close company and care until it is about 3-4 years old.

    The manatee can live up to 70 years of age, and they mate very slowly, which makes it crucial that calves survive.

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