Today we are traveling through the southern coast of New Guinea to the coast of Australia to learn about the Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum). The small, mostly nocturnal shark can reach an average length of three feet. It has a slender “eel like” body with notable eye spots on its sides, and paddle-like pectoral fins. Pectoral fins (the paired fins located on the sides of a fish) help to control direction during movement. For Epaulette Sharks, these fins help them to “walk” on the sand and coral, pushing its slender body along the bottom. Scientist believe that this is the same movement that was used by the first vertebrates that transitioned from living in water (aquatic) to living on land (terrestrial).
Crawling along using its pectoral fins, the Epaulette shark forages for invertebrates. As they push themselves through intricate patterns of coral reefs, they use their extremely powerful sense of smell and their delicate, sensory barbells to locate and feast on a variety of prey. Epaulette Sharks are known as opportunistic feeders (feeding on whatever is available). These sharks have been seen chewing their food instead of just swallowing in whole like many of its shark cousins.
Another cool adaptation that helps these sharks survive is their ability to live in water with low oxygen content (hypoxic), such as tide pools. Epaulettes redirect blood to the key parts of their bodies in hypoxic waters, allowing them to feed in these habitats.
These sharks are oviparous—they lay eggs. They produce up to 50 egg cases in a year, and are able to produce two eggs per breeding session. The gestation period is approximately 120 days and can be influenced by the temperature of the water. Once hatched, Epaulettes shark pups are about ½ foot long. These sharks can live up to 25 years.
Join us next week as we stay in Australia to learn about another bottom-dwelling shark.
Edited by Felicia Van Stolk
Photography credit: Ron and Valerie Taylor (link http://www.arkive.org/epaulette-shark/hemiscyllium-ocellatum/image-G110027.html) and Jeff Rotman (link http://www.arkive.org/epaulette-shark/hemiscyllium-ocellatum/image-G110364.html) courtesy of ARKIVE (www.arkive.org)