This month we're showcasing the confusingly named Zebra Shark...

Tan in colour with lots of dark brown spots, adult Zebra Sharks are often confused for Leopard Sharks. But, when they’re young they look very different. Undergoing a rapid transformation as they grow up.

Born dark brown with white stripes, it’s the pups that give Zebra Sharks their name. Yet it’s an entirely different animal they intend to mimic.

Their pattern, along with the snake-like way they move make juveniles look just like banded seasnakes. By mimicking these venomous snakes when they’re young, they have a much greater chance of surviving this vulnerable stage of their life.

Young Zebra Shark © The National SEA LIFE Centre, Wikimedia Commons. Banded Seasnake © Massimo Rudon, Shutterstock

Pups begin life in shallow coastal areas including mudflat, mangrove and seagrass beds. As they get older, they move further offshore and can be found on, or around, coral and rocky reefs.

By day they’re sluggish and can often be seen propped up on their pectoral fins, resting on the soft sandy seabed. Like many bottom-dwelling sharks, they can pump water over their gills, enabling them to ‘breathe’ whilst not swimming.

At night they hunt. Extremely agile, they can wriggle into the smallest of nooks, where their prey hides. They also have barbels, similar to whiskers, which help them find food.

With powerful crushing teeth, Zebra Sharks are perfectly equipped for crunching through the hard shells of molluscs, crabs and shrimp.

They reproduce by laying eggs, which they anchor to the seafloor. Remarkably female Zebra Sharks are also capable of reproducing without having a male fertilise her eggs. A process known as parthenogenesis.

Less is known about Zebra Sharks in the wild. But, in captivity, females mature at 6-8 years, and males at 7 years. They can also live for over 28 years.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Stegostoma tigrinum (previously known as Stegostoma fasciatum)

  • FAMILY:  Stegostomidae

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 2.4m

  • DIET: Molluscs, crabs, shrimp & small fish

  • DISTRIBUTION: Tropical Indo-Pacific.

  • HABITAT: Coral & rocky reefs, as well as sandy flats. Found in shallow waters up to depths of 62m.


Related Links:

► Check out more incredible sharks and rays covered in our Creature Features

► Discover more fin-tastic facts by visiting our Discover Sharks section