Digesta passage rates in the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris)

Zoo Biol. 2007 Nov;26(6):503-15. doi: 10.1002/zoo.20150.


The Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris (Sirenia: Trichechidae), is an herbivorous marine mammal found within coastal areas throughout the state of Florida, which feeds on both fresh and salt water sea grasses. Manatees, like other Sirenians, are a tropical species with little tolerance for water temperatures below 20 degrees C, rely on a relatively poor nutritional food source, and have a low metabolic rate. Although manatees are hindgut fermenting herbivores, they are very efficient at extracting nutrients from the plants on which they feed. Slow passage rates of digesta have been suggested to be a factor in this increased efficiency. Two studies monitored the digesta passage times and mixing of particulate digesta within the manatee digestive tract using MicroGrits colored corncob grit as a fecal marker. Fecal samples were collected subsequently from four manatees in Study 1 and 3 manatees in Study 2, grit pieces removed, counted, and measured. The digesta passage times ranged from 6 and 10 days in Study 1, and 4.3 and 8.3 days in Study 2, supporting data presented in previous studies. When two different colored markers were administered on sequential days, minimal to no mixing was seen in recovered feces, suggesting that the digesta from a given day traveled through the tract as a bolus. Less than 1% of the marker fed was recovered and we hypothesize that perpendicular folds of the large intestine may be the major contributing factor, with pieces being retained and eventually digested. Zoo Biol 26:503-515, 2007. (c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.