|While there is
little physical difference between Florida manatees and Antillean
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.
Staff Biologist, Save the Manatee Club
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