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Keywords:

  • manatee;
  • Trichechus manatus latirostris;
  • touch;
  • vibrissae

Abstract

Two male Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) demonstrated sensitive tactile discrimination in a two-alternative forced choice task, using a modified staircase method. Stimuli were acrylic plates with vertical gratings of ridges and grooves. The standard stimulus, present on every trial, had 2 mm gratings and the comparison stimuli had wider gratings. The blindfolded subjects were trained to demonstrate discrimination by pressing the target with wider gratings. Discrimination thresholds (75% correct) for the subjects were 2.05 mm and 2.15 mm, corresponding to Weber fractions of 0.025 and 0.075, respectively. These results indicate thresholds on similar stimuli comparable to humans (index finger tasks) and better than harbor seals, Phoca vitulina, and the closely related Antillean manatee, Trichechus manatus manatus. Memory for the tactile task was quite stable for both subjects, over 2 yr in the case of one of the subjects. Video analysis of responses indicated that bristle-like hairs, perioral bristles, and skin on the oral disk were involved in the discrimination response.