At first glance you might think it was related to seals or walruses, but its closest living relatives are actually elephants [pic: Bernard Dupont] and small, stocky hyraxes. [pic: D. Gordon E. Robertson]
The three species of manatees, along with the related dugong, are the only living members of the Sirenia order that evolved from the same land mammal as elephants over 50 million years ago. [pic: Edwardtbabinksi]
Although some of them still have fingernails on their flippers -- old souvenirs from their ancient days on land -- manatees are purely aquatic.
They live in shallow coastal waters and rivers in tropical areas, and believe it or not, historians suspect some of the old mermaid legends sprung from really, …show more content…
It’s thick and tactile, and each one has it’s own personal nerve connection wired to brain’s sensory cortex. Like your cat’s whiskers, [pic: PD] these tactile hairs can sense objects around them.
Most other non-human mammals possess a smattering of these specialized vibrissae hairs on their heads and faces, but manatees sprout them all over their bodies.
Biologists estimate a manatee’s 3000 or so tactile body hairs help the animals navigate through shallow, murky waters, and even detect movement and vibrations.
They use their additional 2000 bristly face whiskers to feel out and even grasp foods while foraging. The right and left sides of their upper lip are prehensile -- like the tip of an elephant’s trunk [pic: Jenny Downing] -- and can move independently of one another to manipulate food.
Manatees’ tendency to stay in shallow waters near humans puts them at great risk of injury, and many die each year after being hit by boats, sliced by propellers, tangled in nets, or crushed in locks and canals.
They’re also greatly impacted by habitat loss, and all three species are considered