The Unusual Biology Of Bottom-Dwelling Sharks

Most of the time when we think of sharks we think of Great White Sharks or Bull Sharks roaming out in the open water. However, with over 440 different species of shark in our oceans, that there is actually some interesting diversity. Sharks live all over our oceans from the deep water along the continental shelves to shallow coral reefs and along the sandy bottoms near the seashore. Where sharks live helps determine their physical characteristics, behavior, and diet. Bottom-dwelling sharks are a really unique variety of sharks that have adapted to their particular environment. They look and act very different from their open water cousins. Here are some of our favorite bottom-dwelling sharks.

Angel Shark

Ambush Predators

Before we go into the unique species of bottom-dwelling sharks found all over our oceans, we need to understand why these sharks live on the bottom of the of the ocean floor. Bottom-dwelling sharks are all ambush predators. Which means that they hide themselves, often times by burying themselves in the sand or mud or using camouflage to blend in and lie in wait for their prey. When their prey appears, they maintain stillness and then at the perfect moment, they quickly strike. This is a very effective method of hunting because it expels less energy than swimming around looking for prey. Also, many of these sharks are invisible until they strike, so most of the time their prey doesn’t even see them coming. So living along the bottom of the ocean has some serious advantages.

The Three Most Unique Bottom-Dwelling Sharks

There are several varieties of bottom-dwelling sharks in our oceans and they are found all over the planet. Here are just a few of our favorite bottom-dwellers:

Tasseled Wobbegong

Wobbegongs are a family of sharks with 12 different species. Though all Wobbegong Sharks are very unusual, of the 12 different types, the Tasseled Wobbegong has to be the most unique. It lives alongs the coral reefs around Australia, Oceania, and up to Papua New Guinea and Malaysia. They tend to spend their days caves or ledges, waiting to ambush unsuspecting fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods. At night it will occasionally hunt schooling fish in open water while it searches for its next home.

Looking at the Tasseled Wobbegong you would barely be able to see it among the coral reefs. It’s body is covered with small blotches and lines in grey, yellow, and brown, that mimics the texture of the coral. The Tasseled Wobbegong also has a very flat body that grows to 5.9 ft (1.8 m) in length, so it blends right into the surface. It also has a chin beard that branches like coral or plants and long spiracles on its nostrils that help it detect prey. So it is really an unusual-looking shark.

The Tasseled Wobbegong also has a very wide mouth with 26 rows of sharp tiny teeth. When prey approaches it launches out quickly and sucks the prey into its mouth and grasps them with their teeth. When it hunts in open water, it uses a large black spot on its caudal fin to lure fish into its grasp. The Tasseled Wobbegong is the most aggressive of Wobbegong Sharks and has a ferocious bite.

Zebra Sharks

Zebra Sharks are a species of Carpet Sharks. Zebra Sharks have a wide habitat range. They are found in the coral reefs of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Their range stretches from Madagascar to Japan and down to Northern Australia. They are nocturnal and spend most of their days lying on the seafloor. At night it will hunt molluscs, crustaceans, and fish from inside caves and crevices of the reef. They tend to be solitary hunters but will hunt in groups during mating season.

Zebra Sharks are very unique looking. When they are young they are born with dark stripes to help camouflage them along the reefs. These stripes resemble the stripes of a Zebra and are how they got their name. As they get older though, the stripes fade. As adults, they are brown and light yellow and have small spots and stripes all over their bodies that helps them blend into their environment. Another unique feature of the Zebra Shark is that they have five ridges along their bodies which helps them mimic the texture of the rocks and reefs they hunt in. Their extremely narrow bodies grow to 8.2 ft (2.5 m) in length and helps them maneuver their way into tight holes and caves.

Zebra Sharks are very slow during the day, preferring to use their energy at night when prey is more abundant. During the day, they usually hunt by resting their weight on top of their pelvic fins while waiting for prey. They use barbels locating on their top of their nose to detect their prey. Once prey approaches they use strong suction force to attack and grab on to their prey with 33 rows of cusped teeth. Then at night Zebra Sharks will hunt in more open waters. Their long, slender bodies make them fast swimmers and agile hunters so they can attack prey very quickly.

Japanese Sawsharks

Sawsharks are some of the most unique sharks on the planet. There are only 9 species of Sawshark on the planet and they are incredibly rare. They get their name from the long saw-like blade on their nose. Japanese Sawsharks are found along the sandy and muddy bottoms of the Pacific Ocean near Japan, China, and Korea. They tend to lie right on the ocean floor and wait for prey.

Japanese Sawsharks are smaller sharks, measuring 4.5 ft (1.36 m) in length including their long nose. They are grey and brown, which helps them camouflage themselves along the ocean bottom. Unlike the other two bottom-dwelling species, they tend to cruise along the ocean floor. Though they will sometimes rest and ambush prey when they’ve detected them with their barbels.

The long saw-like nose of the Japanese Sawshark is used to both detect prey and attack prey. Their saw nose is made up of thousands of tiny sensory organs that detect the electrical energy put off by their prey. They also use their nose for hunting crustaceans. When they detect a crustacean or mollusks under the sea floor, they will use the nose to dig them up and kill them. Japanese Sawsharks have also been known to defend themselves against predators with their nose.

As you can see, bottom-dwelling sharks are truly unique creatures. Where sharks live has a profound impact on their evolutionary biology. They develop truly unusual physical characteristics like beards and saw noses and hunt very differently than their cousins that live in open water. These three sharks are just some of our favorite bottom-dwelling species, if you’d like to learn about more bottom-dwellers check out our other articles at Shark Sider.

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