Although they are active all the time, manatees feed mostly at night on aquatic plants, but they will also pluck at leaves from ground plants which overhang the water. Their lips grip their food, and their bristles help push it into their mouths sometimes helped by their flippers. They will eat any vegetation their lips can pull apart.
Manatees are natural weedkillers, and have been used since 1885 in ornamental ponds at the Georgetown Botanic Gardens to keep them weed-free. In I960 there was hope that manatees might be used to clear the water hyacinth that was spreading in the tropics of Africa and America, choking waterways. This was not a complete success, however, as the manatees did not enjoy being transported very much.
Manatees have attracted human attention for at least 500 years, but we still know little about their way of life. Mating takes place in April and August. A dozen manatees come together and move as a herd into shallow water. There they pair off, making a great commotion in the water. The pairs then drag themselves half out of the water and embrace lying on their sides. After this they return to the water and play vigorously as a herd. The whole thing takes only about 15 minutes, after which the manatees split up and go their separate ways.
One, or sometimes two calves are born under water and immediately brought to the surface by the mother to take their first breath. The teats are near the mother's 'armpits', and people are confused as to how she suckles her calf. Some say the mother lies belly up, others that she lies belly down, with the calf at her side. Sometimes she clasps the baby to her with a flipper while she is vertical with her head and shoulders out of water, quite like a human mother. This might well be unusual behaviour, though. The young become mature at 2-3 years old, when they are about 8ft long. Although manatees in zoos have not survived for long, it is thought they may live for more than 50 years in the wild.Read More: Harmless Heavyweights