sirenian

/suy ree"nee euhn/, n.
an aquatic, herbivorous mammal of the order Sirenia, including the manatee and dugong.
[1880-85; < NL Sireni(a) (see SIREN, -IA) + -AN]

* * *

mammal
Introduction
 any of four large aquatic mammalian species now living primarily in tropical waters where food plants grow. The three species of manatee (genus Trichechus) occupy warm latitudes of the coastal Atlantic and associated rivers, and the dugong (Dugong dugon) inhabits the coastlines of the Indian and Pacific oceans. The extinct Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas), formerly of the Bering Sea, also belonged to the dugong family, but all were killed off by humans less than 30 years after they were first scientifically described in 1741. Steller's sea cow was the largest sirenian and one of the few sirenians to occupy cold water. The term sea cow is now sometimes used to refer collectively to sirenians.

Natural history
      The order Sirenia was named after the Sirens (Siren) of Greek mythology, and sirenians are believed to be the basis for the mermaid myth. Modern sirenians have two front limbs in the form of flippers but no hind limbs; even the pelvis is vestigial, and there are no skeletal remnants of leg or foot bones at all. Sirenian bodies are basically round in cross-section and taper toward the tail, which is flattened horizontally and provides propulsion. Dugong tails are deeply notched, similar to those of whales, whereas in manatees the tail is rounded outward like a paddle. Sirenians in general are slow-moving but capable of short bursts of speed. There are no marked differences between the sexes; females have two inconspicuous mammary glands with one teat near the base of each flipper. Both dugongs and manatees have thick tough skin (that of Steller's sea cow was even tougher). All sirenians are nearly hairless except at the muzzle, where there are thick sensory hairs called vibrissae. The upper lip is enlarged and muscular and serves to grasp and manipulate food plants. The eyes are small, and the external ears consist only of tiny pits. Nostrils on the upper surface of the snout function as valves to exclude water. Sirenian bones are exceptionally dense, most of them lacking marrow. This adaptation is thought to help maintain neutral buoyancy.

      Manatees and dugongs differ in a number of traits besides the shape of the tail. Manatees lack incisor teeth, but incisors do occur in dugongs, erupting as tusks in the males. Manatees grow a never-ending series of molars that continuously move forward in the jaw to replace those that wear and fall out at the front. Dugongs, on the other hand, have a finite number of six molars and premolars in each jaw, and they are not replaced; in older individuals only two remain. Manatees have six neck vertebrae instead of the seven typical of mammals. Dugongs are exclusively marine, but manatees inhabit both marine and freshwater systems.

      Sirenian populations are easily depleted by activities of people, often falling victim to hunting, drowning in nets, collisions with boats, and habitat degradation. They are protected by law and international agreements in almost all countries, but in many areas populations remain very low or are extirpated as a result of past and present human activities.

Classification and paleontology
      Sirenians arose from terrestrial hoofed mammals (tethytheres) during the Paleocene Epoch (65 million to 54.8 million years ago) in what is now the Old World. Tethytheres also gave rise to elephants (order Proboscidea), and early sirenians spread to shallow waters throughout the tropics. The family Dugongidae, which eventually included Steller's sea cow, was an early offshoot, giving rise to the Trichechidae about 40 million years ago.

Order Sirenia (sea cows)
 Four living species in two families
      Family Trichechidae (manatees (manatee))
 

      Genus Trichechus
 Three species

      Family Dugongidae
 Two genera, one now extinct

      Genus Dugong ( dugong)
 One species

      Genus Hydrodamalis (Steller's sea cow)
 One species hunted to extinction

Thomas O'Shea

Additional Reading
John E. Reynolds III and Daniel K. Odell, Manatees and Dugongs (1991), is a substantive and well-illustrated account of the biology and conservation of dugongs and manatees. Warren Zeiller, Introducing the Manatee (1992), a first-hand account of manatee experiences from a former curator of the Miami Seaquarium, also covers other sirenians. Daryl P. Domning, “Fossils Explained 24: Sirenians (Seacows),” Geology Today, 15(2):75–80 (March–April 1999), provides a general overview of the fossil history of manatees, dugongs, and their extinct kin.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • sirenian — SIRENIÁN, sirenieni, s.m. (La pl.) Ordin de mamifere acvatice cu corpul în formă de torpilă, cu coada dispusă în plan orizontal şi cu membrele anterioare transformate în lopeţi înotătoare (Sirenia); (şi la sg.) animal care face parte din acest… …   Dicționar Român

  • Sirenian — Si*re ni*an, n. (Zo[ o]l.) Any species of Sirenia. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sirenian — [sī rē′nē ən] n. [< ModL Sirenia < L Siren (see SIREN) + AN] SEA COW …   English World dictionary

  • sirenian — adj. & n. adj. of the order Sirenia of large aquatic plant eating mammals, e.g. the manatee and dugong. n. any mammal of this order. Etymology: mod.L Sirenia (as SIREN) * * * noun any of two families of large herbivorous aquatic mammals with… …   Useful english dictionary

  • sirenian — noun Etymology: New Latin Sirenia, from Latin siren Date: 1883 any of an order (Sirenia) of aquatic herbivorous mammals (as a manatee, dugong, or Steller s sea cow) that have large forelimbs resembling paddles, no hind limbs, and a flattened tail …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • sirenian — noun Any of a group of aquatic, herbivorous mammals, of the order Sirenia, including the manatees and dugong …   Wiktionary

  • sirenian — si·re·ni·an …   English syllables

  • sirenian — si•re•ni•an [[t]saɪˈri ni ən[/t]] n. mam an aquatic, herbivorous mammal of the order Sirenia, including the manatee and dugong • Etymology: 1880–85 …   From formal English to slang

  • sirenian — /saɪˈriniən/ (say suy reeneeuhn) noun any of the Sirenia, an order of aquatic herbivorous mammals that includes the manatee and dugong. {New Latin Sīrēnia (from Latin sīrēn siren) + an} …   Australian English dictionary

  • sirenian —   a.,n. Zoology, (animal) belonging to an order of aquatic mammals including the manatee and dugong …   Dictionary of difficult words

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.