Manatee Manatee
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Adaptations that Are Unique to Manatees &
The Match Game
Reading Writing Selection


Every species is unique, and possesses unique physical and behavioral characteristics - known as adaptations - which accomodate that species' manner of surviving. For example, some species live on land, while other live in the water or in the air. Some species eat only meat, while other eat only plants, and still others eat both plants and meat. And some species can survive great temperature ranges, while others must stay within narrower ranges. Species which can accomodate broad ranges of temperature, geography, food etc are known as generalists, while species whose tolerance of temperature, geography, food, etc is much narrower, are called specialists.

Manatees are specialists. They migrate and breed over a fairly wide geographical range, but only near coasts in warm water. They depend on specific aquatic plant life for food, seagrass, and when coastal development destroys seagrass beds, the manatees have to go elsewhere to eat.

Any scientist seeing a Manatee for the first time could instantly guess that this mammal spends its entire life in the water, eats grasses and other plants, can stay underwater for long periods, has few or no natural enemies, and is vulnerable to cold. How? By understanding how bodies and behavior are adapted to habitat and life history.

In this lesson, we'll look at a Manatee's body from head to tail to see just how this mammal is designed precisely for the kind of life it leads. Students will then engage in an Adaptation Matching activity to see what they'd need to add to their own bodies to live like Manatees.

Follow these links to learn about Manatee adaptations!


The Skeleton

The Organs

Try This! The Match Game
The most important part of a human body is the brain, which allows us to solve a lot of problems and adapt to a lot of different environments without changing our whole body. Let's think of some human inventions and how they could help us live like Manatees.

Human Inventions and Manatee Adaptations!
Directions: Match the Manatee's needs with a human invention that allows us to do what Manatees do naturally.
(Print student worksheet.)

Manatee Ability

Human Invention

1. Holds breath underwater for up to 20 minutes while resting.  
2. New teeth grow throughout life--"marching molars"  
3. "Grab" and eat aquatic plants with prehensile lips  
4. Solid bones for ballast, no marrow in ribs  
5.Each breath replaces 90%+ of air in lungs-far more than other mammals  
6. Nostrils open and close like a valve  
7. Migrates long distances in water  
8. Lungs run lengthwise along almost entire length of body for floatation.  
9. Communicate underwater  
10. Can eat 10%-15% of their own body weight in vegetation each day.  

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