Differences Between Subspecies
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David Schrichte manatee photo.
While there is little physical difference between Florida manatees and Antillean manatees, research has shown each subspecies has different DNA, showing that the two subspecies do not interbreed. This also allows researchers to identify a manatee’s original habitat. (Photo David Schrichte)

Q. The Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. What is the difference between the two, to classify them as a subspecies?
--Tim Upham, Washington

A. There are two subspecies of the West Indian Manatee: the Florida manatee and Antillean manatee. The main difference between them is simply their location. Florida manatees, as their name suggests, are typically found in the southeastern U.S., mostly around Florida. However, they have been known to travel further north and west, such as to the Carolinas and Alabama. Generally, these manatees do not travel south of Florida, but there have been a few cases of Florida manatees in places like the Bahamas and Cuba. Antillean manatees live in the Central America region, including parts of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the northern coast of South America. While there is little physical difference between the two subspecies, research has shown each subspecies has different DNA, showing that the two subspecies do not interbreed. This also allows researchers to identify a manatee’s original habitat. For example, if an Antillean manatee accidentally swims into Florida waters and gets injured, researchers would be able to tell it is an Antillean manatee based on DNA samples and would be able to release him back into Central American waters where he belongs.

--Courtney Edwards
Staff Biologist, Save the Manatee Club



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