It’s time for another round of Weird Biology here at weird biology dot com, and this week we’ll be dipping our toes in dangerous* waters.
*Okay, you got me. it’s not actually dangerous. I just wanted people to get excited :(
Meet the wonderfully weird
(Aw, look, he’s happy to see you.)
A denizen of the deep sea, the Frilled Shark is typically found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans anywhere from 160 - 5,000 ft deep. Despite being so widespread, Frilled Sharks are hardly ever seen by humans. (They are very shy, probably because all the other sharks make fun of them.) These bashful weirdos can reach lengths of six and a half feet and have been termed “a living fossil”, which is what Science calls something that is so absolutely weird that Science doesn’t know what to do with it.
Frilled Sharks are a wonderful anomaly in an already strange family, though they are often overshadowed by their more popular relative the Goblin Shark. But today they will be appreciated, darnit. They’re almost eel-like (the scientific term for this body type is Total Noodle Boy) and kind of hard to look at directly for long because your brain keeps rejecting what it’s seeing. (It helps if you squint.) They’re weird.
(But they own it.)
Part of the reason the Frilled Shark is such a wonderfully bizarre little slimy worm child is because they’re a member of the order Hexanchiformes. This ancient order of sharks dates back to the Jurassic, when these naughty wiggle boys were spending earth time with the Dinosaurs. This means that they share a lot of characteristics with fossil sharks, possibly more than any other shark living today. The Jurassic must have been wild.
I previously described these squirmy tube men as “eel-like”, but that’s not entirely correct. I should have said “possesses large quantity of snakeitude”. It is thought that Frilled Sharks hunt by coiling themselves and striking at prey (like a cobra), using their multiple rows of rear-facing teeth to rip into their unfortunate victim and swallowing it whole. (NOT like… actually no, cobras do that too. Yeegh.) That’s pretty impressive, since these awkward slime pals will eat anything from fish to squid to other sharks. In fact, those awful awful jaws have such a wide gape that the shark is able to swallow meals up to half its own size in one go.
Another fun fact about the Frilled Shark is that they are viviparous, meaning they carry their kids around internally and give live birth like respectable vertebrates. Many sharks do this, but these wobbly slither friends have one stand-out factor that sets them apart from the pack. They have the longest pregnancy of any known vertebrate! Are you ready for this? (You’re not ready for this.) It’s 3.5 YEARS. YEARS. (No, we have no idea why this is. just be glad you aren’t a Frilled Shark.)
These wriggly danger tubes are occasionally caught as bycatch by the fishing industry, but they seem to be doing okay for now. (I’m glad, because I love them.) It is our that hope the Frilled Shark will continue to awkwardly writhe around in the world’s oceans for a long, long time.
1. Citron, Wikimedia Commons
2. OpenCage, Wikimedia Commons
3. Ibolya, Flickr