First known omnivorous shark species identified

07 September, 2018, 12:14 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • Bonnethead sharks look intimidating but they also eat seagrass making them the first known omnivore sharks

The discovery makes the bonnethead shark the first ever known omnivorous shark, which is just plain cool.

Scientists at the University of California in Irvine, and Florida International University in Miami, made a decision to investigate the sharks' dietary habits after reading reports of the fish chomping on seagrass, the flowering marine plant that forms subsea meadows in some coastal waters.

A UC Irvine researcher, Samantha Leigh has the department of evolutionary biology and ecology and is the lead author of the study.

'I wanted to see how much of this seagrass diet the sharks could digest, because what an animal consumes is not necessarily the same as what it digests and retains nutrients from'.

In her previous study, Ms Leigh discovered that showed bonnetheads were digesting 56 percent of the organic matter in seagrass, similar to young sea turtles.

She said she hopes the study "opens up the door for additional research" about seagrass communities and sharks in general.

"Given that bonnetheads have a digestive system that resembles that of closely-related species that we know to be strict carnivores, we need to re-think what it means to have a "carnivorous gut", Leigh said.

To see whether the sharks are truly flexitarian, the scientists retrieved sea grass from Florida Bay and hauled it back to the lab where they re-planted it.

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While scientists have long known that this shark consumes seagrass, they thought it was incidental consumption when the sharks went after their bottom-dwelling prey.

While more research needs to be done, the scientists say that there may be more omnivorous shark species lurking in the ocean.

Bonnethead sharks (Sphyrna tiburo), which live in the coastal waters around the Atlantic and Gulf coast of the United States, are very well known to scientists.

The findings, published on Thursday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, overturn the idea that all sharks are exclusively meat-eaters and have a "carnivorous gut". At the end of the three-week testing period, the team analyzed the sharks' fecal matter and digestive systems, ultimately concluding that the bonnetheads did, in fact, digest and absorb nutrients offered by the seagrass.

Leigh and a team found, however, that seagrass can form up to 62 percent of the bonnethead diet, alongside their preferred meal of crustaceans and molluscs.

Jaws would've been a lot less scary had Steven Spielberg replaced his great white villain with a bonnethead shark.

Growing in salty and brackish waters, seagrass meadows are the most widespread coastal ecosystem on Earth.

Seagrass meadows are critical ecosystems that provide habitat for thousands of fish species, filter the surrounding water, act as a sink for atmospheric CO2, and produce large quantities of oxygen.

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