Diet and Eating Habits of Manatees

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Manatees are gentle giants in all senses of the phrase: in addition to spending their time eating all day, playing with each other and, when encountered on one of our Manatee Tours, swimming with our guests (and sometimes coming eye-to-eye with them), they’re herbivores.

Manatees eat between 100 to 200 pounds of algae and sea grasses every day. They’ll eat fresh and saltwater grasses including pickereleweed, floating hyacinth, water lettuce alligator weed, hydrilla, water celery, and musk grass (freshwater grasses). When it comes to saltwater food, manatees enjoy shoal grass, manatee grass, turtle grass, sea grasses, widgeon grass, marine algae, and sea clover.

They tend to eat up to seven hours each and every day.

They harvest their food by pulling plants to them with their two front flippers. They sometimes “walk” along the bottom of the lake/stream or shallow sea floor with those flippers to dig for grass roots hidden in the mud below.

While manatees are herbivores, they do sometimes eat plankton or tiny fish that have the misfortune of hanging out on some grass when a manatee comes along to eat.

While manatees do eat in sea water, they can’t drink it. They must return to fresh water (streams, rivers, lakes) in order to drink. They need to drink once every one or two weeks or so.

One would think that being herbivores would mean that manatees would be much more petite. What’s more, many people erroneously believe that manatees are quite fat, with lots of blubber. But a great deal of their body actually is taken up with their gut tract (stomach and intestines). Grasses aren’t nutritionally dense (they don’t carry a lot of nutrients per weight), so manatees must eat 10-15 percent of their body weight each day in order to get enough nutrition.


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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