How Do Manatees Nurse Their Young?

manatees-nurse-young Credit: Jeff Rotman/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Manatees are large aquatic mammals that nurse their young with a nipple that is located underneath the female manatee's flippers on each side of the body; though these are mammals that breathe air, the calf nurses while submerged. Baby manatees, which are known as calves, will nurse very shortly after birth and will continue nursing for the duration of the time they spend with their mother, which is typically about a year. Though manatee calves nurse for a relatively long period, they also begin eating plants while still nursing, which typically happens when they are a few weeks old.

Manatee calves are able to swim independently and make vocalizations very shortly after birth. Once they start eating plants, they are mostly responsible for finding their own solid food, though most do continue to nurse in addition to foraging during this adolescent period. Manatees drink water in addition to eating plants, and their kidneys can process excess salt if they end up drinking brackish water.

It can take both male and female manatees as many as 9 years to reach sexual maturity, and females have a gestation period of 13 months. Mature manatees can weigh multiple thousands of pounds and can be as much as 10 feet long.