The Burmese bamboo shark, also called Chiloscyllium burmensis, is a rare fish that lives in the tropical waters off Burma (Myanmar) in Southeast Asia. It belongs to Family Hemiscylliidae, the group known as Longtailed Carpetsharks or Bamboo Sharks.
This species is a small shark: the “type” specimen (the individual that was used to describe this species) measured just 57.5 cm (22.6″) long. It is housed at the Smithsonian Institution, in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
This genus of sharks has a long, distinctive snout. The pectoral and pelvic fins are thin and not very muscular. The species has no distinct color pattern.
As a whole, this shark family consists of 13 species that belong to 2 genera (that funny word would be the plural of “genus”!). They have long, cigar-shaped bodies, and their remarkably long tails are longer than the rest of the entire body. You can find these kinds of sharks in tropical shallow waters throughout the Indo-Pacific region of the world.
Bamboo sharks have large “Spiracles“. These openings just behind the eyes occur on all rays and some sharks. They are modified gill slits that allow fish to take in oxygenated water. Spiracles help a shark to breathe when it is lying on the sea bottom, or even buried right under the sand. So they are very small or absent in active, deep-water sharks, who don’t need the extra help breathing.
Bamboo sharks also have many “cirri” on their heads. These are small, fleshy skin flaps that grow on some fish and invertebrates. They can help a fish to camouflage itself. In some fish species they are found near the mouth and may be linked to feeding.
Habitat and Range
The Burmese Bamboo Shark is found in the Northeastern Indian Ocean. It has been observed at a depth of about 29 to 33 m (97 to 110 ft). These sharks not very active, and instead they prefer to stay on the sea floor. In keeping with a cryptic lifestyle, they are dorso-ventrally flattened – meaning they look a bit squashed from their backs to their bellies, sort of like a pancake.
Due to its small size, they do not consume large amounts of food and only hunt small prey. They are thought to feed mainly on small bony fish and invertebrates.
The social behavior of the Burmese Bamboo Shark has not been widely studied, however, it is believed that they are a mostly solitary shark and do not typically socialize with each other or stay in large groups.
Reproduction is presumed to be “oviparous”, meaning that the females lay eggs and the pup develops inside the egg, not inside the female shark.
Humans and Conservation
Many kinds of bamboo sharks have been maintained and have bred successfully in captivity. These calm creatures are harmless. They are even sometimes used in “touch tables”, interactive exhibits that allow people to have a hands-on experience with sharks.
For example, the Burmese bamboo shark has been kept at the Shark Aquarium at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, although no details are available about its life history in captivity. That facility is dedicated to dispelling incorrect myths about sharks, and to breeding programs for the conservation of shark species.
Bemis, WE & Dagit DD. SHARKS! Biology, Evolution, and Conservation of Sharks and Allies (course syllabus). Shoals Marine Laboratory, August 9 – 18, 2010
Dingerkus G & DeFino TC. 1983. A revision of the Orectolobiform shark family Hemiscyllidae (Chondrichthyes, Selachii). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 176: 1-94.
DRUM and CROAKER. A Highly Irregular Journal for the Public Aquarist. Special Edition No. 2, December 2004. Additional Conference Papers from the 2001 Elasmobranch Husbandry Symposium, October 3-7, 2001, Orlando, FL, USA
Practical Fishkeeping, September 2009 issue (article on cirri)