Mind Over Manatee | Loh Down on Science

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A Loh Down is a capsule of intriguing scientific research presented clearly, in a witty way, because we believe humor makes knowledge sticky. There is no limit to the science we can present—whether it be in astronomy, biology, computers, evolution, global warming, psychology, politics, sports or beyond—as long as we can make the gist of it graspable in 90 seconds. Our audiences are experts and novices, old and young. Explore the site to customize your journey in your area(s) of interest!

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Mind Over Manatee

05.09.16

In this photo taken Aug. 6, 2014, a manatee comes up for a breath of air at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla.

In this photo taken Aug. 6, 2014, a manatee comes up for a breath of air at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla.; Credit: Alan Diaz/ASSOCIATED PRESS


Manatees: Just slow-witted, underwater bean bag chairs who swim into boat propellers, right? But wait!



This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.



Manatees got their bad rap a century ago. That's when an anatomist cracked open the skull of a dead manatee and declared its smooth brain looked like that of, well, in his words, a human idiot.



That's long been conventional wisdom: Smarter animals have more brain folds. Think predators: Sharks. Hawks.



But, as University of Florida veterinary medicine professor Roger Reep has argued, manatees have much to teach us about brain development. Since manatees eat sea grass, which isn't hard to find and doesn't run away, they had no evolutionary need to develop complex moves. And manatees process a rich stream of tactile input that's quite different from sight and sound-focused human intelligence. Their snouts are sensitive like elephant trunks. Their whiskers can literally grab. Their body hairs are dense with nerves that detect movement.



Still, it's no fun when they smack into that boat propeller. Not their fault, though, more of a case of manatee versus humanity. Sorry!

    

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