Baby Manatee: 5 Facts and 5 Incredible Pictures of the Calf!

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The baby manatee is one of the most amazing aquatic mammals in the world. Did you know that their teeth belong to an exclusive club of only three other mammals? Read on to learn five amazing facts about baby manatees!

#1: Baby manatees are called calves!

baby manatee and mother
Like calves and elk, manatees are also known as calves.

©Lukasz Machowczyk/

Did you know that baby manatees aren't the only animals known as calves? In fact, many other mammals share the same name, such as elephants, camels, elk, and even calves! A herd of manatee calves and their families is known as a gathering. There are never more than six manatees in one gathering.

#2: The baby manatee lost its teeth multiple times!

baby manatee underwater
Manatee calves grow new teeth in a conveyor belt-like motion.

© Greg Amptman/

Most young mammals are known to lose their first set of teeth, known as deciduous or deciduous teeth, to make room for the adult chewers. Yet young manatees are one of only three mammals that lose their teeth multiple times in their lifetime to grow new ones! This means that manatees are multidentate.

Manatee calves, kangaroos, and elephants are the only mammals on Earth known as polydonts. This means that a new set of teeth is constantly growing behind the current teeth. As a new set of teeth emerges, the old teeth are pushed forward and eventually fall out to make room in a conveyor-belt process.

What's even more interesting about the teeth of manatee calves is that they don't have "biting" teeth. This means they lack some of the teeth of other mammals, such as canines and bicuspids. Instead, all of their teeth are molars, used to grind up the aquatic vegetation they eat. Their teeth move forward about a centimeter per month to allow new teeth to grow behind them.

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#3: Manatees have huge babies!

Baby Manatee Care
Manatee calves are tiny, weighing about 60 pounds at birth.


Chances are, when you think of the word "baby," you picture a tiny, adorable creature. However, manatees are not called "sea cows" for nothing! A baby manatee was born weighing a staggering 60-plus pounds.

Due to their size at birth, female manatees usually give birth to one calf at a time. Double manatee calves are rare. Manatee calves are born underwater after an average of about 12-14 months of gestation in their mother's womb. Then, for the first two years or so of their lives, they cling close to their mother. Female manatees only care for one calf at a time, so they only breed once every two to five years.

Due to their long gestation period, manatee calves are not completely helpless at birth. In fact, they can quickly swim to the surface and make noise after entering the world. Although the adult manatees always line up, the mother and calf swim side by side.

#4: Manatee Calf Can’t Breathe Underwater

west indian manatee
Manatee calves breathe from the surface.


Manatee calves make their home in slow-flowing rivers, estuaries, canals and coasts. Since they spend most of their time underwater, it might come as a surprise that they can't breathe underwater. They lack the gills necessary to extract oxygen from the water, so they must surface to breathe air.

A manatee baby suckles underwater next to its mother's flippers. You might be wondering how in the world a baby manatee can suckle without being able to breathe. Fortunately, these young mammals can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes before coming out for air. When they're not nursing, manatee calves surface every few minutes to breathe.

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Since manatees cannot sleep underwater, they have a modified sleeping pattern to avoid drowning. This means that manatees are never truly "asleep." Instead, they rest on two great adaptations. Like the sleeping habits of other marine mammals, one half of the manatee's brain is resting while the other half is alert. Unlike humans, we can rest our entire brain at once. This action helps manatees protect themselves from predators and allows them to breathe. In addition, manatees will roll over on their backs or even stand on their heads while sleeping. They then expand their chest and lungs and slowly rise to the surface to breathe. Sway through the water in super slow motion and put baby and adult manatees to "sleep"!

#5: The manatee calf has close land relatives

Little manatee portrait
Elephants and baby manatees are close relatives!

© Peter Douglas Clark/

Manatee calves are marine mammals, like whales, seals, and walruses. Therefore, many people think they are related. However, baby manatees are actually more closely related to elephants than to any other marine mammal. who knows?

Visually, manatee calves share several similarities with their elephant cousins. For example, their gray, leathery skin is nearly identical. They also share their sparse, prickly hair with the land giants. A deeper similarity, however, lies in their ancestry.

Manatees did not evolve from elephants. Instead, they share a common ancestor: Tethytheria. Tethytheria is a rodent-like hoofed mammal that lived in the Cenozoic era alongside woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and early primates. Some Tethytheria species evolved to live on land, giving rise to today's elephants. Those animals that evolved to survive in the water gave rise to today's baby manatees.

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baby manatee and mother

© Lukasz Machowczyk/

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the name of the little manatee?

Young manatees are called calves. They share this childhood name with cows, hippos, and moose. A herd of young manatees and their parents is called a congregation, and there are never more than six manatees.

How much do baby manatees weigh?

Manatee calves are huge babies, newborns weighing over 60 pounds! When they are adults, they can weigh over 900 pounds!

What do baby manatees eat?

Manatee babies drink their mother's milk for their first one to two years of life. However, they start nibbling on plants when they are about two or three weeks old. Once weaned, they feed on algae and other aquatic plants. They are almost entirely herbivorous and rarely eat meat.

Where do baby manatees live?

Manatee calves live in slow-moving rivers, estuaries, and along coastlines. They are migratory animals and are found mainly on the coast of Florida in winter.

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