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The manatee is a herbivore which feeds solely on aquatic vegetation. It feeds and rests in short bouts throughout the day, directing vegetation into its mouth with its dextrous forelimbs or gathering it with its large, deeply split upper lip.
Because of the type of sea grass eaten by the manatee – combined with the fact that it often takes in large quantities of sand with each mouthful – the manatee’s teeth wear down very quickly. To compensate for this, the teeth are constantly replaced. New teeth are formed at the back of the mouth and move forward at the rate of 1 mm a month to push out worn front teeth at regular intervals.
The manatee needs an immense amount of food in order to maintain its great weight of up to 680 kg! To achieve this, it will eat between 8% and 15% of its own body weight each day.
The dense bulk of the manatee helps to keep it steady in the water as it feeds. It usually feeds submerged, but will occasionally rise above the water.
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