Sirenia (commonly referred to as sea cows) is an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit swamps, rivers, estuaries, marine wetlands, and coastal marine waters. Four species are living, in two families and genera. These are the dugong (1 species) and manatees (3 species). Sirenia also includes Steller's sea cow, extinct since the 18th century, and a number of taxa known only from fossils. The order evolved during the Eocene, more than 50 million years ago.
Sirenia, commonly sirenians, are also referred to by the common name sirens, deriving from the sirens of Greek mythology. This comes from a legend about their discovery, involving lonely sailors mistaking them for mermaids.
Sirenians have major aquatic adaptations: forelimbs have modified into arms used for steering, the tail has modified into a paddle used for propulsion, and the hind limbs (legs) are but two small remnant bones floating deep in the muscle. They appear fat, but are fusiform, hydrodynamic, and highly muscular. Their skulls are highly modified for taking breaths of air at the water's surface and dentition is greatly reduced. The skeletal bones of both the manatee and dugong are very dense which helps to neutralize the buoyancy of their blubber. The manatee appears to have an almost unlimited ability to produce new teeth as the anterior teeth wear down. They have only two teats, located under their forelimbs, similar to elephants. The elephants are thought to be the closest living relative of the sirenians.
The lungs of sirenians are unlobed. In sirenians, the lungs and diaphragm extend the entire length of the vertebral column. These adaptations help sirenians control their buoyancy and maintain their horizontal position in the water .
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