How do manatees reproduce?

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Manatees give birth to young ones called calves. But like most large mammals, they have a very low reproduction rate. The females called cows do not become sexually mature until they are 5 years old while the males called bulls are not sexually mature until they are 9 years old. On average, a female manatee will give birth to one calf every 2-5 years, with a two-year interval occurring in cases where a cow loses her calf soon after birth. Twins are quite rare and the gestation period is about 12 months. The reproduction rate also may be reduced by environmental factors such as temperature changes, food scarcity and stress.

What triggers mating?

While research is still ongoing on manatee reproduction, it is known that hormonal changes in the females are what trigger the mating process. As hormone levels increase, the females change their behavior and attract the attention of the males. A flurry of social communication occurs including verbal communication and touching, which drives several bulls to accompany one cow. The bulls compete with each other to mate with the cow in a process that increases the chance that an estrus female will successfully conceive before the end of a mating season.

Mating Process

Breeding herds develop during the mating season, consisting of one cow in estrus and several bulls. The cow moves several times and takes different postures as she is pursued by the bulls for weeks. The cow usually twists and turns violently to escape the many suitors, but the bulls will keep up with her and remain close to her as they compete with each other to mate with her. The males are typically not aggressive with each other and the cow in estrus will mate with different bulls during a season without forming a permanent bond with any one of them.

Conception to Birth

After conceiving, a cow takes roughly 12 months to give birth. In Crystal River, Florida, most manatees give birth during the summer and spring. Only one calf is born at a time, but there are rare cases in which a cow can give birth to twins. At birth, a calf weighs between 60-70 pounds, is 4 to 4 1/2 inches long, and is nourished exclusively on the milk produced by the mother. Once they give birth, the females take utmost care of their calves and do not interact with other adult manatees during this period. The mothers nurse their young ones until they are 1-2 years old and are able to swim and survive on their own.

For more information on manatee reproduction, behavior and survival, visit the site, Swimming with the Manatees.

Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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