TFUI is excited to introduce you to a sand tiger shark… but not the one you think. We’ll be discussing the common “sand tiger” shark (Carcharias taurus) soon. But for now, we’re talking about the smalltooth sand tiger shark (Odontaspis ferox), which may also be known to you as the bumpytail ragged-tooth shark. A species in the Odontaspididae family, they have are found worldwide in tropical and warm temperate waters (aka my kind of waters).
The smalltooth sand tiger shark has an interesting back story: it was originally described from a specimen caught off of France as Squalus ferox by naturalist Antoine Risso in 1810. You can learn about how it’s scientific name has changed throughout the years here. ‘Ferox’ is Latin for fierce, as the smalltooth sand tiger shark has other common names besides the bumptail ragged-tooth; these include the blue nurse shark, fierce shark, and Herbst's nurse shark. But are sand tiger sharks closely related to the Carcharias taurus which is also known as the common grey nurse shark? Afterall, they are commonly mistaken for them. Surprisingly, no! Naylor et al. in 1997 did a study on mitochondrial DNA that suggests that the smalltooth sand tiger (and its relative the bigeye sand tiger (Odontaspis noronhai), are related more to thresher sharks than to Carcharias taurus!
These sharks aren’t too often seen by human beings, as they prefer to hang out in deepwater rocky habitats more often than not… although they have been repeatedly observed in five shallow water dive locations. They grow to be at least 4.1 m (13.5 ft) in length, but have never been known to get into problems with humans. Besides these dive locations, it is estimated that the smalltooth sand tiger is known from less than 200 records—making these sharks pretty rare even though they are reported off the shores of more than 30 countries.
They have a rather large and bulky body with a long, bulbous snout. The have medium-sized eyes that have large, hard-to-miss round pupils (the better to see with, my dear…) and lack nictitating membranes. This is important because Carcharias taurus has slit-like pupils—a major difference! Smalltooth sand tiger sharks are a grey-ish color on top that gives way to a creamy underbelly.
Smalltooth sand tiger sharks love to munch on benthic (bony and cartilaginous) fish and invertebrates. Little is known of the biology of these sharks, but this species is thought to be ovoviviparous with uterine cannibalism (in the form of oophagy) that ultimately produces two pups (one from each uterus). Not a target of any specific fishery, they are sometimes caught as bycatch from bottom trawls, set-nets and line gear in many parts of the world like the Mediterranean Sea, Japan, Indonesia and sometimes even Australia. We know very little for a full assessment of its conservation status, and the IUCN has assessed them as Vulnerable (VU).
what new #finfact did you learn about this animal?
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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