What Does a Zebra Shark Eat

what does a zebra shark eat

Have you ever heard about the carpet sharks? The carpet sharks are known as Orectolobiformes. They are a diverse group of sharks with unique body shapes, patterns, diets, and habitats. They are found in all oceans specifically in the Australian and Indo-Pacific oceans. These bottom dweller species prefer coral and rocky reefs. Around 45 species of carpet sharks have been introduced and one popular species of this group is the Zebra Shark

The Zebra Sharks are the only member of the family Stegostomatidae and are the distinctive shark that lives in the shallow coral reefs habitat in tropical water. They wriggle into caves to hunt their favorite food. If you are wondering what these sharks eat, read this guide as we are going to discuss the details regarding the diet of the Zebra Sharks.

What is a Zebra Shark?

Scientific Name: Stegostoma tigrinum

Class: Chondrichthyes

Family: Stegostomatidae

Habitat: Coral reefs

Diet: Mollusks, crustaceans and small fish

The Zebra Sharks are slow-moving, docile bottom-dwelling species. They are nocturnal species that are known for the unique spots and stripes on their bodies. Zebra sharks are also referred to as leopard sharks in Australia and the United Kingdom. This name is derived from their similar appearance with Leopard Sharks.

The Zebra Sharks have cylindrical bodies, flattened heads, and short blunt snouts. The appearance of the bodies of adults is different from their young. The Juveniles have dark brown bodies with yellow vertical zebra line stripes and have no ridges. On the other side, the adults are light brown with dark spots spread all over their bodies and they have five longitudinal ridges. These species can reach up to a length of 8 feet

The Zebra Sharks prefer inshore marine or brackish waters. They mostly dwell in the Indo-Pacific oceans. They are found over the sand in the coral and rocky reefs, at a depth of 62m. These lethargic species rest during the day on the ocean floor facing the currents to pump all the water over their gills with ease.

Cool Facts About Zebra Shark

Below are some of the facts about Zebra Shark:

  • The female species of Zebra Shark do not need a male shark to reproduce, they can do it on their own.
  • The Albino Zebra Shark was discovered in the Indian Ocean in 1973; she has a grayish tail with dark spots on a white body.
  • The longest recorded Zebra Shark ever measured was 11 feet.
  • The body of the Zebra Sharks is slim and flexible; they can easily squirm in narrow crevices in search of food.

What Does a Zebra Shark Eat?

The bodies of Zebra Sharks are well adapted for finding and eating the prey. They can travel to narrow crevices, channels in reefs, and caves in search of food. The Zebra Sharks eat:

  • Sea Urchins
  • Snails
  • Crabs
  • Squids
  • Sea Snakes
  • Small Fish

1: Sea Urchins

The Sea urchins are small, spiny, and round-shaped species that live in all oceans from tide lines to 15,000 feet. These species cannot swim. They have hard spiny shells and have no detectable eye. Sea urchins are rich in protein, beta-carotene, and minerals which are good sources of nutrition for Zebra Sharks.

2: Snails

Snails belong to the phylum Mollusks and are found everywhere in the world. In some places of the world, they are also kept as pets. These species have hard shells and this distinct feature of snails separates them from slugs. They cannot survive without a shell as it contains all the important internal organs. The Snails are naturally adhesive, they can stick to rocks without being carried out by the surf. They are highly nutritive and provide energy to Zebra Sharks. The sharks love the taste of snails.

3: Crabs

Almost 6700 Crab’s species live in oceans, along the shoreline, and in freshwater. These species are important in keeping the environment clean and are an important source of food for various marine creatures and humans. The Crabs are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein. They provide energy to sharks.

4: Squids

The Squids have 300 known species that are found in all oceans throughout the world including the deep freezing water of the Antarctic ocean. They have specific cells that allow them to change colors. They are one of those species with multiple hearts. The Squids contain a high amount of minerals and vitamins to enhance the immune system of Zebra Sharks.

5: Sea Snakes

The Sea Snakes are also known as coral reef snakes; they include olive-headed sea snakes, banded sea snakes, and many more. They live in marine environments and are also well-adapted to thrive in aquatic water. These venomous species have flat bodies and short tails. These creatures serve as a staple in the diet of Zebra Sharks.

6: Small Fish

Small fish are also part of the diet of Zebra Sharks. The small or bony fish are rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins. They provide energy to sharks and are necessary to maintain the health of Zebra Sharks.

How Do Zebra Sharks Hunt Their Prey?

The body of Zebra Sharks is well adapted for snatching prey. The slim and flexible bodies of these species allow them to wiggle into tight places where small fish often hide. The barbels on their snout help them to find their food in the nighttime. The flattened teeth and short jaws work together to grip and crush the shelled prey. 

Like Nurse Sharks, they have small mouths with powerful muscles that allow them to create very strong suction. The Zebra Sharks do not chew their food, they suck it directly. 

Predator and Threats to Zebra Sharks

The largest predatory sharks eat the Zebra Sharks but the main threat to these species is humans. The Zebra Sharks are endangered and their population is decreasing because of overfishing and shark fin trade. Below are the listed reasons for the decreasing population of Zebra Sharks:

  • The inshore fisheries in Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere prize the meat of Zebra Sharks. 
  • The fins of these species are chopped off for the preparation of fin soup which is the traditional delicacy of Chinese. 
  • The liver of these species is processed for vitamins.
  • Another reason for the decreasing population of Zebra Sharks is human activities. These species live in shallow waters that are destroyed by humans. 

Final Thoughts

The Zebra shark is a medium-sized carpet shark that prefers the tropical and subtropical waters of the Red Sea and coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific oceans. These species feed on a diverse variety of foodstuffs. The diet of Zebra Sharks includes Sea urchins, Snails, Crabs, Sea snakes, Squids, and other small fish. These are high in nutrition and provide energy to sharks as they need energy to live a healthy life. 
Humans are not included in the menu card of Zebra Sharks. However, they have the biggest threat from humans as human activities such as overfishing, and trade of shark fins and livers are destroying their population. As these species have slow reproductive periods they cannot recover from these threats.

About the author