Previous reports have suggested that the sparsely distributed hairs found on the entire postcranial body of sirenians are all sinus type tactile hairs. This would represent a unique arrangement because no other mammal has been reported to possess tactile hairs except on restricted regions of the body, primarily the face. In order to investigate this issue further, hair counts were made systematically in three Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris), and hair follicle microanatomy was studied in 110 specimens gathered from 9 animals. We found that the postcranial body possesses approximately 1500 hairs per side, and hair density decreases from dorsal to ventral. External hair length ranged from 2–9 mm, and most hairs were separated from their nearest neighbor by 20–40 mm, resulting in an independent domain of movement for each hair. All hairs exhibited the anatomical characteristics of follicle-sinus complexes typical of tactile hairs, including a dense connective tissue capsule containing an elongated circumferential blood sinus and innervation by 20–50 axons which ascend the mesenchymal sheath. We conclude that this represents a unique distributed underwater tactile system capable of conveying detailed and significant external information concerning approaching animals, water currents and possibly the presence of large stationary features of the environment. Such a system would be analogous to the lateral line in fish, and would be particularly useful in the turbid habitat frequented by Florida manatees.
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