Creature Feature: Spotted Wobbegong

Spotted-wobbegong-lying-on-sandy-seabed Gary Bell

In the past few posts we have discussed nocturnal shark species, or sharks that are active at night. The Spotted Wobbegong (Orectolobus maculatus) is another shark that and is endemic to Australia. Hunting in the dark of night is a good way to avoid detection by prey, but the Spotted Wobbegong has additional camouflage to help it hide. It being a “Spotted” Wobbegong, you may have guessed that spots play a role in this shark’s camouflage technique. The body of this shark is flattened and with the green-brown coloring and white circular spots on its back, the Spotted Wobbegong is able to camouflage in reefs, sandy benthos, even under docks in shallow waters.

Spotted-wobbegong-on-sea-floor Andy MurchThis shark is pretty sluggish, not moving around too much and preferring to just hang out in the sand. The Spotted Wobbegong is so lazy that when luring prey to its mouth, it will occasionally prey nibble on the dermal lobes (hanging skin flaps located around its mouth) until it musters the energy to eat. They have a slow-motion ambush style of attack, where they sneak slowly up on their prey and eat them without being noticed. They like to feed on a variety of invertebrates like crabs and lobsters and sometimes bony fish.

Being a predator does not mean that you are never prey. The Spotted Wobbegong serves as a tasty entre for lots of large fish and marine mammals. The same camouflage that hides the Wobbegong from its prey also shields it from the view of its predators. However, there are some ocean diners that even the Wobbegong can’t hide from. This shark has a tendency to host an array of parasites. A parasite is on organisms that lives in a host (like our Wobbegong) extracting nutrients from its host. Some of the typical parasites that feed on the Spotted Wobbegong include thirty-three species of cestode (a parasitic flatworm) that live in the intestines. What a belly-ache!

Join us next week as we continue our journey through a year of sharks.

References:
Edited by KC O’Shea
Photography: Gary Bell and Andy Murch courtesy of ARKIVE 
http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/gallery/descript/spotwobbegong/spotwobbegong.html
Huveneers, C. Pollard, D., Gordon, I., Flaherty, A. & Pogonoski, J. 2009. Orectolobus maculatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 30 July 2015.

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