What Do Manatees Eat?

West Indian Manatees
James R.D. Scott / Getty Images

Manatees are herbivorous, meaning they feed on plants. Manatees and dugongs are the only plant-eating marine mammals. They forage for about 7 hours a day, eating 7-15% of their body weight. This would be about 150 pounds of food a day for the average, 1,000-pound manatee.

Manatees can eat both freshwater and saltwater (marine) plants. Some plants they eat include:

Saltwater Plants:

  • Manatee grass
  • Sea clover
  • Shoal grass
  • Turtle grass
  • Widgeon grass

Freshwater Plants:

  • Alligator weed
  • Floating hyacinth
  • Hydrilla
  • Musk grass
  • Pickerelweed
  • Water lettuce
  • Water celery

Interestingly, it appears that the rostrum of each species of manatee is positioned to take advantage of the location of their preferred plants in the water column. Basically this means that the snout of each species of manatee is well adapted to easily eating the types of plants found in its particular range.