West Indian manatees are scientifically classified as Trichechus manatus. They belong to the Order Sirenia, which includes all manatees and dugongs, and the Family Trichechidae, which includes West Indian, Amazonian, and West African manatees. (Photo © David Schrichte)

What Does Trichechus Mean?

Q. I was wondering what Trichechus means in the manatee's scientific name?

A. The name Trichechus means "hairy" and was originally coined by Peter Artedi in 1738 in his book Ichthyologia (=Ichthyology). (This was before Linnaeus used it as part of a binomial name in 1758, whence we get the official modern zoological usage.) It included both manatees and dugongs, under the heading of "fish" in the broad sense, and was meant to distinguish these "fish" with hair from the other fish having scales.

--Dr. Daryl P. Domning
Professor of Anatomy at Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Domning's research on the evolution of sirenians has most recently involved paleontological fieldwork in Jamaica, Austria, and France. He has long been active as an advisor on manatees to the federal government, the state of Florida, and in other conservation efforts, and is presently secretary of the Board of Directors of Save the Manatee Club. Read more about his work>>

Get More Info!

  • See a photo of the skeleton of Pezosiren portelli, an early sirenian discovered by Dr. Domning that shows the evolution from a land animal to an aquatic animal.

  • Read more about manatee tactile hairs in an article by Dr. Roger Reep (also a Save the Manatee Club Board Member) in How Manatees Find Their Way.

  • Learn more about Sirenians of the World.

  • Please donate today to help us produce manatee education materials to distribute to teachers and students.
If you look closely at this photo, you'll see the tactile hair that manatees and their relatives, the dugongs, possess over their entire body. In most mammals, this specialized type of hair is present only on the muzzle, and is known as whiskers. (Photo © David Schrichte.)

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