The Family — Manatee Style

After breeding, the male manatee has no further involvement with the mother or calf. Once the calf is born, the mother will nurse the calf for one to two years. The cow-calf bond is very strong during this time. (Photo © David Schrichte)

Q. Do manatees form families? I know some animals "mate for life." What do manatees do?
--Leyla Stuckey, Louisiana

A. Male and female manatees do not mate for life. During breeding, a single female manatee, or cow, is usually followed by a group of a dozen or more males, or bulls, forming a mating herd. They appear to breed indiscriminately during this time. After breeding, the male manatee has no further involvement with the mother or calf. Once the calf is born, the mother will nurse the calf for one to two years. The cow-calf bond is very strong during this time, as the mother teaches the calf important survival skills, such as migration routes and where to find food and warm water. Once the calf leaves its mother, the breeding process will start again.

A manatee mating herd. (Photo courtesy of Irene Arpayoglou)

--Courtney Edwards
Staff Biologist, Save the Manatee Club

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