There are 9 notable differences between a Manatee and a Dugong.
Both manatees and dugong's are classified in the order Sirenia. They are both slow-moving herbivores (mostly) that can be found in areas of shallow waters along warm coastlines. There are (4) four living species of Sirenia – (1) the West Indian manatee, (2) the Amazonian manatee, (3) the West African manatee, (4) the dugong and the extinct Stellar’s sea cow (hunted to extinction in the 18th Century). They are all found in different areas, so depending on where you are, you will know what you are looking at!
Some people mistakenly think dugongs and manatees are the exact same animal with different names. Though manatees and dugongs have a lot in common, they are different animals with distinct characteristics. Both dugongs and manatees are part of the same taxonomic order, Sirena. The word “siren” means mermaid in many languages, a nod to the animals’ history of being mistaken for mermaids. At one time, there were five different types of sirena, three types of manatees (Amazonian, West African and West Indian), Steller’s sea cow, and the dugong. Sadly, Steller’s sea cow was hunted to extinction in the 1700s.
Basic Facts About Manatees - Manatees live in shallow, marshy areas in the Amazon Basin, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and West Africa. Unlike dugongs, who live their entire lives in saltwater, manatees can spend some or all of their time in freshwater.
Cold water can be stressful for manatees. When water temps drop below 20°C/68°F, manatees travel to warmer water, including natural springs and even power plant outflows.
On average, manatees grow to 3.6 meters/11.8 feet long and weigh 200-600 kg/440-1300 lbs. These enormous vegetarians eat plants found in shallow water such as sea-grass, mangroves and sometimes algae. The Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is the largest of all sirenas and can grow up to 4 meters/13 feet long and weigh 1590 kg/3500 lbs.
DIFFERENCE #1 - Habitat (where you find them)
Habitat - Manatees inhabit the marshy areas of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico (West Indian Manatee), the Amazon Basin (Amazonian Manatee) and West Africa (West African Manatee). Dugong's spend their entire life in shallow, protected areas such as bays and mangrove swamps (they can be found in places like Bazaruto / Vilanculos in Mozambique and Marsa Alam in Egypt) as well as the waters off northern Australia.
DIFFERENCE #2 - Tail
Tails - Manatees have a large, horizontal, paddle-shaped tail with only one lobe, which moves up and down when the animal swims. Dugong's have tail flukes with pointed projections, like a whale with a slightly concave trailing edge.
DIFFERENCE #3 - Nails
Nails - West Indian and West African manatees have very basic nails on their forelimbs. Amazonian manatees and dugongs don’t have any nails.
DIFFERENCE #4 - Nostrils
Nostrils - The nostrils of a Dugong are placed further back on its head than in the case of manatees.
DIFFERENCE #5 - Mouths
Mouths - The angle of the dugong’s mouth is more pronounced than that of the manatee. It has a short, broad, downward facing trunk-like snout that is horseshoe-shaped with a slit-like mouth with an undivided upper lip. Because of this they are bottom-dwelling. Manatees have a divided upper lip and a shorter snout which means they are able to gather food to eat and are also able to feed on plants growing at or near the surface of the water.
DIFFERENCE #6 - Teeth
Teeth - Mature male dugongs have a pair of tusk-like incisors and manatees do not. Manatees have no incisors, only cheek teeth (molars) which are continuously replaced – its molars move forward in the mouth, stimulated by the chewing motion, towards the front of its jaw until it falls out at the front. As the teeth move forward, they are replaced by new ones at the back – rather like a conveyor belt! They usually have no more than 6 teeth in either jaw at any one time. The two rear molars in dugongs are open rooted which means as they are worn away, they just continue to grow.
DIFFERENCE #7 - Social Life
Social Life - Manatees are generally solitary creatures and a male manatee may have several female partners; while Dugongs are more solitary and tend to live in pairs and have only one mate.
DIFFERENCE #8 - Offspring
Dugong with Calf
Dugong's Offspring - Female dugong's usually only give birth at 10 years and usually only every 3 – 5 years after that. Because of their long lifespan (70 years) and slow rate of reproduction, and because dugongs continue to be hunted in Africa for their blubber and meat, they are IUCN’s list of being vulnerable to extinction.
Manatee with Calf
Manatee Offspring - Female manatees usually give birth at 3 years and continue to do so every 2 – 3 years. Their gestation period is 12 months.
DIFFERENCE #9 - Weight
Weight - Manatees are generally larger than Dugongs and can weigh between 400 and 500 kg and grow to a length of 3.6 meters. Dugongs rarely grow larger than 3 metres and weight is, on average 420 kg.
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