Dugong (Dugong dugon) | Characteristics, Habitats & Amazing Facts

Name - Dugong

Scientific Name : Dugong dugon

Type : Aquatic Animal 

Age : 70 years or more 

Diet : herbivorous

Physical Characteristics:

Length : 2.4 m to 4 m.

Weight : 230 kg to 400 kg

Top Speed : 6.2 mph

Colour : pale cream colour at birth, but darkens dorsally and laterally to brownish-to-dark-grey with age

Skin Type : thick, smooth

Lifespan : 70 years or more 

Current Population : 30000 to 35000

Current Population Trend : decreasing

Native : coastal waters from East Africa to Australia, including the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Pacific.

Facts

Main Prey : seagrass and marine algae (complementing its diet with shellfish and sea squirts, found in seagrass, as well as various invertebrates, including polychaete worms.)

Habitat : Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean

Predators : saltwater crocodiles, killer whales, and large, coastal sharks.

Lifestyle : nocturnal and diurnal 

Favourite Food : seagrass

Amazing Facts

·        Dugongs are known as sea cows because they graze on sea grasses that they uproot from the seafloor with their solid, cleft upper lips.

·        Since dugongs are sirenians, they are closely related to manatees. Dugongs and manatees are thought to be descendants of land mammals, making them more closely related to elephants than whales, despite their resemblance to cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises).

·        The brain of the dugong, like that of most herbivores, is small in comparison to its body size, owing to the fact that it does not need to learn complex hunting strategies to catch prey.

·        Throughout most of its range, the dugong has some or full legal protection, but it is still hunted in some areas and is endangered by habitat loss, boat collisions, and accidental capture in fisheries targeting other species.

·        Scientists say the dugong is vulnerable to extinction because populations are depleted in some areas and regionally extinct in others. The dugong could become extinct in more places if human activities that threaten it are not carefully managed.

·        Before surfacing, these mammals can remain underwater for up to six minutes. They will also “stand” on their tails with their heads above water to breathe.

·        Dugongs spend much of their time alone or in pairs, though large herds of a hundred animals are sometimes seen.

·        After a year of pregnancy, female dugongs have one calf, and the mother assists her young to hit the surface and take its first breath. For around 18 months, a young dugong stays close to its mother, sometimes catching a ride on her large back.

·        These languid creatures are an easy target for coastal hunters, and their meat, oil, skin, bones, and teeth have long been pursued. Dugongs are now constitutionally protected throughout their entire range, but their populations remain vulnerable.

·        The growth of algae on the skin of a dugong can change its colour. Short hair covers the body sparsely, a common feature of sirenians that may allow for tactile perception of their surroundings. The mouth, which has a broad horseshoe-shaped upper lip and a highly mobile muzzle, has the most developed hairs.

·        The tail flukes and flippers of the dugong are identical to those of dolphins. To drive the animal forward, these flukes are raised and lowered in long strokes and can be twisted to turn. Paddle-like flippers on the forelimbs help in turning and slowing.

·        A dugong’s skull is one of a kind. The premaxilla are sharply down-turned in males, and the skull is widened. There are between 57 and 60 vertebrae in the spine. Unlike manatees, the dugong’s teeth do not regrow horizontally as they do in manatees.

·        The dugong, like other sirenians, suffers from pachyostosis, a disease in which the ribs and other long bones become unusually strong and lack marrow. These massive bones, which are among the densest in the animal kingdom, could serve as a ballast to hold sirenians suspended just beneath the surface of the water.

·        The dugong differs from manatees not only by having a fluked, dolphin-like tail, but also by having a distinct skull and teeth. It has a sharply downturned snout as a feeding adaptation in benthic seagrass populations. Unlike the more complex molar dentition of manatees, the molar teeth are plain and peg-like.

·        It has been shown that dugongs once lived in the Mediterranean Sea, probably before the emergence of civilizations along the inland sea. Due to geographical factors and climate changes, this population may have shared origins with the Red Sea population, and the Mediterranean population has never been high. The Mediterranean, along with the Caribbean Sea, is where the Dugongidae family originated in the mid-late Eocene.

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