African Angelshark

The African angelshark is a bottom-dwelling fish found in the Western Indian Ocean. It is the only member of its genus characterized by its large mouth and flat body.

African angelshark scientific classification

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Chondrichthyes
Order Squatiniformes
Family Squatinidae
Genus Squatina
Scientific name S. africana


The adult males grow to around 80 cm (2.6 ft), while females can reach 90 cm (3 ft) in length. The largest specimen caught measured 122 cm (4 ft).

African angelsharks have distinctive flattened bodies, giant mouths, and expandable necks. They havetrap-like jawslined with long, needle-like teeth, which can lengthen and snap shut swiftly to snap up prey. The eyes and nostrils are foundat the front of the head. There is a concave spot between the eyes, and barbels hang from the nostrils. Five pairs of gill slits can be found on the side of the head. There are large thorn-like dermal denticles on the head but nowhere else.

They are grayish and reddish-brown with many light and dark spots. In juveniles, these are often granular-centered ocelli. These ocelli are light-sensing photo-receptorsused for detecting movement.There are more prominent symmetrical dark bands and blotches on the pectoral fins. The base of the tail is dark with lighter margins.

The pectoral fins are triangular and look similar to wings. The pectoral and pelvic fins are flat and placed horizontally on the body. There are two equal-sized dorsal fins and a caudal fin, but no anal fin.

Where do they live

Map Of The African Angelshark’s Habitat

African Angelshark Habitat Map

They are found in the Western Indian Ocean, specifically in the east and southern Africa. Their range is from 4°S to 32°S including South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, and perhaps Somalia. They inhabit the continental slope and upper shore, usually at depths of around 60-300 m. However, they have been found as deep as 494 m offshore.



It feeds on small bony fishes, octopuses, squid, and some crustaceans like shrimp.


They are ovoviviparous, and litters have between 7-11 pups. Newborn pups measure around 28-34 cm (11-13 in).


The sharks hunt by burying themselves in the sand and waiting still for long periods to ambush prey. When prey approaches, they lunge out of their hiding place and suck them into their massive mouths.


African angelsharks breathe uniquely compared to other benthic species. Instead of pumping water via the oropharyngeal cavity, which is the space right behind the mouth, gill flaps on the sides of their head pump water during respiration. This helps them stay unnoticed by both prey and predators.

Human interactions

They generally do not attack humans unless threatened. They use their sharp teeth and strong jaws to defend themselves when provoked. There have been cases of them injuring divers that tried to get closeand restrain them.

They are standard on the east coast of South Africa and are caught only as bycatch. They are highly vulnerable to commercial fishing methods as their population increases at a meager rate, and there is not enough data to take conservative action.

The IUCN haslabeled this species as “Near Threatened” or “NT.”

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