A Simple Guide To Identifying Angel Sharks

Angel Shark

Often mistaken for rays, Angel sharks are found all over the planet. There are 23 known species of angel sharks living all over the world, each with unique physical characteristics. Here is a brief identification guide for this unique type of sharks:



  • African Angel Shark (Squatina Africana): Living along Africa’s Southeast coast, African Angel Sharks are reddish-brown with dark bands of spots. They have no thorns, flat tapered barbels, and grow to 3 feet in length.




  • Angel Shark (Squatina squatina): Found in the coastal waters of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, Angel Sharks are mottled with gray and brown spots. They have conical barbels, a broad stout body, a thornless back, and grow up to 7.9 feet long.





  • Angular Angel Shark (Squatina Guggenheim): Angular Angel Sharks are found along the East coast of South America. They have speckled brown coloration, flat thorns along their back, conical barbels, and grow up to 3 feet long.





  • Argentine Angel Shark (Squatina Argentina): Argentine Angel Sharks are found along the coast of Argentina. Growing to 5.5 feet long, Argentine Angel Sharks are purple-brown, with flat barbels, thorns on their head, and small dents behind their eyes.





  • Australian Angel Shark (Squatina Australis): The Australian Angel Shark lives in the coastal waters of Southern Australian. Growing up to 5 feet in length, they have fringed barbels and light grey-brown skin with white speckles.





  • Clouded Angel Shark (Squatina Nebulosa): Found along continental shelf of the Northwestern Pacific Ocean, the Clouded Angel Shark has black and white marbled spots that look like a cloud formation. They have unique nasal flaps with flat barbels, tapered thorns, and grow to 5.3 feet in length.





  • Chilean Angel Shark (Squatina Armata): The Chilean Angel Shark is found along the entire West coast of South America. At an average of 3.5 feet long, they are grey-brown with olive spots, notched barbels, and thorns on their head and back.





  • Disparate Angel Shark (Squatina Heteroptera): Found throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Disparate Angel Shark is dark brown with two black spots on its dorsal fins. It has no thorns, small thin barbels, and grow to just under two feet in length. The Disparate Angel Shark is the smallest Angel Shark species.





  • Eastern Angel Shark (Squatina Albipunctata): Eastern Angel Sharks are found along the Eastern coast of Australia. They are a yellow-brown with white symmetrical spots along its back. Eastern Angel Sharks have fringed barbels, orbital thorns, and grow up to 4.2 feet.





  • Hidden Angel Shark (Squatina Occulta): There is some controversy of the classification of the Hidden Angel Shark. Some scientists believe it is the same species as the Spiny Angel Shark as it shares the same habitat and physical characteristics.





  • Indonesian Angel Shark (Squatina Legnota): The Indonesian Angel Shark is found all throughout the coast of Indonesia. It is brown with two large black spots on the dorsal fins. It has smooth rod-shaped barbels, thorns on its back, and grows to 4.4 feet long.





  • Japanese Angel Shark (Squatina Japonica): Found along the coasts in the Sea of Japan, the Taiwan Sea, the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and parts of the Northwest Pacific Ocean, Japanese Angel Sharks are brown with dark brown square-shaped spots and a white underside. They have two sets of barbels, the outer barbel is thin and the inner barbel is spoon-shaped. Japanese Angels Sharks have a large row of thorns down their back and tail and can grow up to 8.2 feet in length.





  • Mexican Angel Shark (Squatina Mexicana): This is a recently divergent species from the Pacific Angel Shark. It lives along the Pacific Coast of Mexico and though genetically different than the Pacific Angel Shark it is biologically similar.





  • Ocellated Angel Shark (Squatina Tergocellatoides): Found in the South China Sea along the Taiwan straits, the Ocellated Angel Shark is pale brown with large black spots on it’s tail and dorsal fins. They have thorns along the middle back, fringed barbels, and an unknown maximum size.





  • Ornate Angel Shark (Squatina Tergocellata): Only found along the Southeastern coast of Australia, very little is about Ornate Angel Sharks. They are pale brown with large ornate blue and black spots.





  • Pacific Angel Shark (Squatina Californica): Living in the rocky reefs and kelp forests along the Eastern Coast of the Pacific Ocean, Pacific Angel Sharks have large red, grey, and brown spots. They have conical barbels, a thorned back, and grow to 4.9 feet in length.





  • Philippines Angel Shark (Squatina Caillieti): The full extent of the habitat of the Philippines Angel Shark is unknown, but it has been found recently around the coast Philippines Islands. They are green with brown spots and white tipped fins. They have cylindrical barbels that overhang the mouth and the maximum size is unknown.





  • Sand Devil (Squatina Dumeril): Also known as the “Atlantic Angel Shark,” the Sand Devil lives in the coastal waters of the Northwestern Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Sand devils have small blue-grey, green, and brown spots, pointed, fringed barbels, and large thorns along the mid back. They grow to 4.9 feet in length.





  • Sawback Angel Shark (Squatina Aculeata): Sawback Angel Sharks are the most recently discovered species of Angel Sharks. They live along the Western and Northern coasts of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Sawback Angel Sharks are light grey and brown with white spots. It has large thorns down it’s head and upper back. They have fringed barbels and can grow up to 6.2 feet in length.





  • Smoothback Angel Shark (Squatina Oculata): Living along the African Coast in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, the Smoothback Angel Shark gets its name from having no thorns on the back and only on the nose. The Smoothback Angel Shark is light brown with white marbling and grows to 5.2 feet.





  • Spiny Angel Shark (Squatina Punctata): Found along the Atlantic coast of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, the Spiny Angel Shark is yellow with brown marbling. A small species, the Spiny Angel Shark grows to just about 2.2 feet in length. It has thorns along the fins and conical barbels.





  • Taiwan Angel Shark (Squatina Formosa): Taiwan Angel Sharks are found around the entire coast of Taiwan. They are light brown with large black splotches and small black and white spots. Taiwan angel sharks have rod shaped barbels and thorns the length of their tail. Their maximum size is unknown as an adult specimen has never been caught.





  • Western Angel Shark (Squatina Pseudocellata): Living along the Western coast of Australia, very little is known about the Western angel Shark. All that is known of its biology is that it is light brown and grows up to 2 feet in length.




As you can see from this guide there is a wide diversity among this type of sharks. The best ways to tell Angel Sharks apart is by their coloring, barbel shapes, and placement of their thorns. They are also very territorial so they tend to stay within one regional habitat.


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