15 Amazing Facts About Crystal River Manatee That Would Surprise You

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These Facts About Crystal River Manatees will Surprise You

The Crystal River Manatee can be found in Crystal River, which is the name of a short river the flows in Citrus County, Florida, of the United States. This eleven-kilometer-long river has its origin in Kings Bay, where it gets its water from about 28 springs. These springs produce water at a constant temperature of 72 °F, which is why the Crystal River maintains its temperature all year long. Even then, the Crystal River is not famous for all these unique features, not even its clear waters.

Manatee swimming in tropical water
Manatee swimming in tropical water


What really makes this river a popular tourist spot are the fantastic creatures called manatees that stay in it. Every year, the warm temperature of the river attracts hundreds of these mammals that migrate from the Gulf of Mexico, looking to escape the harsh conditions of the winter. As a result, the crystal river is home to 15 to about 20% of the total population of manatees in the US. Every year during the crystal river manatee season, people travel from far and wide to come to swim with the unique Crystal River manatees, an experience that many have described as second to none. For someone who has not had that experience before, you may ask what makes it so unique.

So, here are some amazing facts about the Crystal River Florida Manatees that make these creatures worth your time. 

Manatees are aquatic mammals that look a lot like Seals and Walruses. When you see them, you might want to think they are related to the seals. Funnily, Manatees do not have any close relatives in water. Their closest living relatives are Elephants. Like elephants, crystal springs manatees have thick skins that can measure over an inch. They also have three to four toes, just like elephants. Although they do not have the signature trunk that elephants have, manatees have prominent snouts. They use these snouts to pull food into their mouths, just like elephants use their trunks.

Fact 2: Manatees breathe air

Even though manatees are aquatic animals, they do not breathe in water as fishes do. Most people imagine that they have some breathing holes like other sea mammals, but they do not. As a result, these animals have to come to the surface frequently to take a breath. The exciting part is, the Crystal River Manatee does that even when they are asleep. When resting, a manatee will come to the surface to get air in about 20 minutes intervals. However, they might come to the surface every 3 to 5 minutes to get fresh air when they are active. These animals can keep their breath for long because a single breath can replace 90% of the air in their lungs. For us humans, our breaths only replace about 10 percent of the air in our lungs.


Fact 3: Manatees are behind the famous mermaid myths

For many years, people have continued to spread myths about some half-human species that live under the water called mermaids. One of the most outstanding scientists in history, Christopher Columbus, claimed he saw one of these creatures. According to Columbus, he was surprised to not that the creatures were not as beautiful as stories claimed they were. He said they had more feminine looks than he expected. With only minor explanations, Columbus’s detailed description of the said mermaids applies most perfectly to manatees.

Interestingly, the scientific name for manatees, Sirenia, is from the Greek myth,  Sirens, a dangerous sea nymph who drew sailors and their vessels into the rocky shores with songs. Mermaids are also referred to as sirens, and those encounters are now known to have occurred with manatees. Scientists believe that many of these sightings and singings from sailors were probably a result of hallucinations due to hunger and poor nutrition.

Fact 4: Some Manatees have water preferences

Like fishes, some manatees species have their preferences for water. A good example is the Amazonian Manatee that stays in the fresh waters of the Amazonian River. This particular species does not enter the saltwater environment even though other species of its kind thrive there. However, the Crystal River Florida manatees can move from saltwater to freshwater whenever it chooses.    

Fact 5: Manatees don’t bite

Even though manatees have lots of teeth in their mouth, they do not bite people. Instead of biting you, they use all of those teeth to eat grass. These voracious eaters are the ocean’s most giant herbivores like their terrestrial cousins. They will spend most of their active hours eating during the day. On average, manatees can consume between 5 and 10% of their body weight. So, next time you wish to join in on a crystal river manatee tour, you can be sure of your safety around these beautiful creatures.

Manatee and young

Fact 6: Manatees replace their teeth about six times in their lifetime.

For an animal to eat so much food, you can be sure it will affect its teeth. As manatees age, their teeth tend to wear away due to the rigorous chewing.  However, like their terrestrial cousins, the elephants, manatees can grow new teeth throughout their lives. The only difference is, unlike elephants, manatees can only grow new teeth six times in their lifetime. The new teeth typically sprout in the back of their mouth, pushing the old ones forward. This goes further to explain why they have a mouthful of teeth.   

Fact 7: Manatees can weigh as much twice as a grand piano

At birth, manatees crystal river weight only about 66 pounds. However, as they grow, these animals can get very big. Large Manatees can grow to about 15 feet long. That’s almost the height of a female giraffe. At maturity, manatees can weigh up to 3,000 pounds which is about three times the weight of a grand piano.  

Even though they look so big, it is interesting that Manatees do not have much fat in their bodies. Most of their body is primarily composed of their large stomach and intestines. Because of that, they do not have what it takes to withstand the cold of the winter. That is why they all migrate to the warm waters of Kings Bay during the Crystal River Manatee season.  

Fact 8: There are only three species of manatees in the world

Although this is debatable, at the moment, scientists agree there are only three species of Manatees in the world. This includes the African Manatees, Amazonians, and the West Indian species. The manatees in Crystal River are the West Indian species. Although some scientists claim there is a unique Dwarf Manatee species, this claim is not yet generally accepted. Many believe that the dwarf manatee is only a subspecies of the Amazonian manatee.  

Fact 9: Manatees are also called sea cows

Even though manatees do not look like cows, they are also called sea cows. That’s because, like cows, manatees are fond of grazing all day long. They eat 10% of their body weight in plant mass every day and munch on it for nearly half the day. Considering that adult manatees can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, they consume much vegetation each day. They feed on seagrasses, mangrove leaves, and algae in shallow coastal areas and rivers, grazing freshwater and saltwater vegetation. These beautiful sea mammals also have a stout, cow-like appearance.

Fact 10: Manatees have tiny, smooth brains

Manatees have smooth brains, the smallest brain size to body size ratio among all mammals. However, manatee brains have cortical folds similar to those of humans and other mammals, and they have significant cognitive capacity. So, the fact that manatees have such tiny brains does not imply that they are stupid. While not as intelligent as dolphins, manatees can learn basic tasks, are very sensitive to touch, and distinguish between colors. Scientists have conducted several experiments, and many show that manatees are intelligent enough to differentiate colors and touch.   


Fact 11: Manatees communicate with themselves

Thanks to their tiny but intelligent brains, manatees can communicate with themselves. Although the noise is not as loud as the trumpet of the elephant but then, they are vocal animals. A Crystal River Manatee can communicate with squealing and squeaking sounds. Usually, animals can communicate for various reasons. For instance, when a mother is looking for her calf or trying to socialize or mater, etc. Each one of them has its distinct vocalizations, which make other manatees identify them.

Fact 12: Manatees take a long time to win their calves

Like their cousins, the elephants, Manatees give birth once in two to five years. Usually, they give birth to single calves after staying pregnant for a whole year, just like elephants. After a calf is born, the mother will nurse it from her teats for two years. The mother’s teats are around the upper body of the manatees, where the forelimbs join with the rest of the body. When the newborn manatee is about three to five years old, she can start breeding and have her babies. However, if it were a male, he would begin to breed when he’s around five to seven years old.

Fact 13: Manatees do not have any natural predators

In the wild, manatees do not have any known natural predators. Considering how large and heavy these animals look, it is easy to understand why. Also, Crystal River Manatees have a scary look to match their size that certainly would scare off any other animals around them. However, nature and humans have played significant roles in putting all three manatee species at risk of extinction.

In 1996, the most significant loss of manatees on record occurred when over 150 of them died suddenly in one area. Scientists believe that a deadly organism known as the red tide was responsible for this loss. This organism occasionally appears amongst other plants and can because manatees consume large amounts of food, they were highly vulnerable to it.

Research also shows that about half of the death of West Indian manatees is a result of carelessness from humans due to boat collisions. Manatees are at high risk because they are relatively buoyant and use their horizontally placed diaphragm and breathing to control their buoyancy. And since their average speed is 3-5 miles per hour, they are too slow to escape speeding boats.


Fact 14: Manatees have a relatively long lifespan

It is difficult to tell the age of a manatee, except you were there when it was born. But then, scientists say you can determine its age if you count the layers of rings on their ears after death. Following this principle, most manatees stay alive for about 30 to 40 years before they die. However, a few exceptions have remained on this planet for 60 years and even more.

For instance, in July 2017, Snooty, a manatee in the Crystal River, died at 69. All through his life, Snooty lived in captivity in the South Florida Museum, where he was loved by many manatee tours crystal river. This explains why we know his age correctly and probably why he lived that long.

Other notable old manatees include Rachel and Zach. Back in 1990, Rachel had a severe watercraft injury. Some wildlife specialists got to her and rehabilitated her before letting her back into the wild in 1997.  Since then, Rachel was last seen in 2016, but experts believe she is still alive and well somewhere in the wild.

On the other hand, Zach is the world’s oldest wild male. He was first documented in 1967 in Florida by the USGS. Ever since, Zach has always been seen returning every year until 2018, when he was last seen. 

Fact 15: Manatees are protected animals

Today, it is so sad that there are only 6,000 manatees in the world. As a result, they are regarded as threatened species, especially in the US. Therefore, you cannot hunt, capture or harass a manatee. Otherwise, you might go to jail.  Also, if you are on a Crystal River manatee tour, ensure you follow the rules.

Amazing fact about amazing Crystal River Manatees

So what did you think? Did you already know any of these? I knew manatees were also call sea cows, but I never knew they replace their teeth six times. Wow, sounds painful! Let us know what you think of any of these facts below.

If you are ever interested in swimming with real live Crystal River manatees, we provide manatee tours and charters year round, and are always getting five star reviews. Come check us out, and look forward to seeing you soon!

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