Beautiful shark with an angel-like appearance, that cunningly waits for the moment to strike
The African angelshark (Squatina africana) is a shark belonging to the family Squatinidae. They can be found off the east coast of Africa, and on the southern coast of Africa. On the east coast, they are common, but because of their low reproduction rates, and limited range, they may be vulnerable. Like other sharks in its family, the African angelshark has beautifully light and dark patterned coloring used for camouflage when they rest on the bottom and in the mud, motionless waiting to strike at unmindful prey.
Family: Squatinidae – Angel Sharks
Common Name– Angel Sharks or Angelsharks
Status: IUCN Red List NOT EVALUATED
Average Size and Length: They are born between 28-30 cm/ 11-11.8 inches. Mature males are around 80 cm/2.6 feet. Mature females are around 90 cm/3 feet. The maximum recorded has been 122 cm/4 feet.
Teeth and Jaw: The mouths of African angelsharks are very large. They have expendable necks and trap-like jaws that can rapidly snap upwards and hinge shut. They have long, needle-like teeth in the upper and in the lower jaws used for gripping.
Head: African angelsharks have large and granular centered ocelli in young sharks. The barbels are flat with tapering tips. The anterior nasal flaps are smooth or slightly fringed. The eyes and spiracles are on the top of the head. There is a concave area just between the eyes. The 5 pairs of gill slits are on the side of the head.
Denticles: There are no angular lobes on the lateral dermal flaps. There are enlarged thorns on the head, but not the back.
Demographic, Distribution, Habitat, Environment and Range: The African angelshark can be found in east and in southern Africa. They can be found from South Africa to Mozambique, in Tanzania and Madagascar, and maybe even Somalia. The are nominal in west Africa, which means those records could possibly be from another species. They can be found over continental shelves and upper slopes on muddy bottoms to surf lines, down to 494 m, but typically between 197-984 feet. They are demersal marine in subtropical climates.
Diet: They eat small bony fish, shrimp and cephalopods.
Ram-Suction Index: They have an RSI more towards the suction end of the scale. They lay flat and still on the bottom, when the time comes, they lung at prey and suck it into their mouths with negative pressure.
Aesthetic Identification: The African angelshark is reddish-brown to greyish in color. They have an abundance of light and dark spots that aid in camouflage. There are large, symmetrical blotches, saddles or bands on broad, angular, high pectoral fins. The tail base is dark with white margins. African angelsharks have large and granular centered ocelli in young sharks.The bodies are flat and broad. The pectoral fins are triangular in shape and appear like wings. The pectoral fins and the pelvic fins are large and of a horizontal origin. There are two dorsal fins and no anal fin.
Biology and Reproduction: They are ovoviviparous, having 7-11 pups per litter.
Behavioral Traits, Sensing and Intelligence: The African angelshark lies buried on the muddy bottom waiting and ready to ambush prey. They can remain still on the bottom for extremely long and extended periods of time.
African angelsharks have a unique way of breathing compared to most other benthic sharks and fish. They do not pump out water from the oropharyngeal cavity. Instead, they use gill flaps located on the sides of their head to pump out water during respiration. Doing so also allows them to be more unnoticeable and prevent detection from unwanted predators.
African Angelshark Future and Conservation: There isn’t enough data to evaluate. They are quite common on the east coast of South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal. They are bycatch. Their reproduction is low, the minimum population doubling time is 14 years, and thus leaves them highly vulnerable and susceptible to being threatened.
African Angelshark Recorded Attacks on Humans: African angelsharks aren’t dangerous to humans unless provoked. Because of their powerful jaws and sharp teeth, they can inflict injury on anyone or anything that may pose a threat to them. There have been cases of Angel sharks biting divers that have tried to restrain them, approach too close to the head, corner them, or grab their tails.