This shyshark is a master of camouflage, concealed in clever markings, that look like its other family members

The Dark shyshark or Pretty Happy (Haploblepharus pictus) is a species of catshark, belonging to the family Scyliorhinidae. It is endemic to southern Namibia and western South Africa, inhabiting shallow, inshore waters and favors rocky reefs and kelp forests. This small, stocky shark has a wide, flattened head with a rounded snout and a large flap of skin extending from before the nostrils to the mouth. Its dorsal coloration is extremely variable and may feature black-edged orange to blackish saddles and/or white spots on a light brown to nearly black background. When threatened, the Dark shyshark or Pretty Happy curls into a ring with its tail covering its eyes. It preys on a variety of organisms, and has even on occasion been documented ingesting algae, which may or may not be knowingly.  


Family: Scyliorhinidae – Catsharks

Genus: Haploblepharus 

Species: pictus


Phylum– Chordata

Class– Chondrichthyles


Common NameGround Sharks

Family– Scyliorhinidae

Common NameCatsharks




Average Size and Length: Each egg case measured 6×3 cm. Hatchlings measure around 11 cm/4.3 inches. Adult males measure between 40-57 cm/1.3-1.8 feet. Adult females measure between 36-60 cm/1.1-1.9 feet. The maximum recorded is 60 cm/1.9 feet.

Current Rare Mythical Sightings: German physicians and biologists Johannes Peter Müller and Friedrich Gustav Jakob Henle originally described the Dark shyshark in their 1838–41 Systematische Beschreibung der Plagiostomen, based on five specimens caught off the Cape of Good Hope and deposited in the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie in Leiden, The Netherlands. Because of the shark’s ornate coloration, they gave it the specific epithet pictum from the Latin for “painted”. It was originally placed in the genus Scyllium. Subsequent authors moved this species to the genus Haploblepharus.

The Dark shyshark was often viewed to be the same as the Puffadder shyshark (H. edwardsii) until 1975, with the publication of A.J. Bass, Jeanette D’Aubrey, and Nat Kistnasamy’s review of southern African sharks. It continues to be confused with other shyshark species because of its extremely variable coloration. The common name Pretty Happy (“Happy” refers to the genus name Haploblepharus) was recently introduced to the public as an easily remembered alternative to the everyday names shyshark and sometimes called doughnut, which can apply to several species and have confounded research efforts.

Teeth and Jaw: The mouth is short but wide and bears furrows at the corners extending onto both jaws. There are 45–83 upper and 47–75 lower tooth rows. Each tooth has a long central cusp flanked by a pair of smaller cusplets. Females have slightly larger teeth than the males.

Head: The head is broad; short, wide and flattened. The snout is bluntly rounded. The nostrils are very large with greatly expanded anterior nasal flaps that reach the mouth. The flap covers the nasal excurrent openings and a pair of grooves that run between them and the mouth. The large, horizontally oval eyes have nictitating membranes and have strong ridges beneath.

Denticles: The skin is thick and covered by well-calcified arrowhead-shaped dermal denticles.

Tail: The broad caudal fin comprises about a fifth of the total body length and has a strong notch near the tip of the upper lobe and an indistinct lower lobe.

Demographic, Distribution, Habitat, Environment and Range: The Dark shyshark or Pretty Happy can be found in temperate waters in the southeast Atlantic and southwest Indian Ocean (29°S – 36°S). They can be found in central Namibia to South Africa in East London on the continental shelf in kelp forests, rocky inshore reefs and sandy environments close inshore to 115 feet. It is considered subtropical, demersal, benthic. It is abundant, particularly west of Cape Agulhas. More than likely there is subpopulation differentiation across parts of its range.

Diet: They eat bony fish, cephalopods, sea snails, crustaceans, polychaetes and echinoderms. On occasion they have been documented to ingest algae (possibly involuntary). Larger sharks consume proportionately more crustaceans.

The Dark shyshark is preyed upon by the Broadnose Sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus), and potentially also other large fishes and marine mammals.

In captivity, the whelks Burnupena papyracea and B. lagenaria have been documented piercing the egg cases of shysharks and extracting the yolk.

Aesthetic Identification: The Dark shyshark or Pretty Happy has beautiful markings that are highly variable. The dorsal saddle markings are without edges that are obviously darker, that are sparsely dotted with large white spots, which are mostly larger than the spiracles, and absent between the saddles. The background color ranges from light brown to reddish to grayish to almost black above, transitioning abruptly to white or cream ventrally, sometimes with dark blotches beneath the paired fins. There may be 6–8 orange, brown, or blackish variably shaped saddles along the back and tail, edged more or less obviously in black. The gill slits are on the upper sides of the body. It is slender-bodied when juvenile and stocky-bodied when adult. The two dorsal fins are of nearly equal size and placed far back on the body, with the first originating over the latter third of the pelvic fin bases and the second over the latter half of the anal fin base. The pectoral and pelvic fins are broad and rounded. Males have stout claspers. The pelvic and anal fins are about as large as the dorsal fins.

Biology and Reproduction: They are oviparous, laying one egg per oviduct. Each egg case or mermaid purse is plain amber to dark brown in color and has thin, coiled tendrils at the four corners. In captive aquaria, the eggs hatch in about 3.5 months. Some suggest they hatch between 6-10 months in their natural environments not in captivity, but this is not confirmed. Reproduction is year-round. In one observation of an egg that hatched after 104 days, the developing embryo had external gill filaments until it was 50 days old, and completely absorbed its yolk sac shortly before hatching, this may be a confused species. Both sexes grow at approximately the same rate, reaching sexual maturity at around 15 years of age. The maximum lifespan is 25 years.

Brett Human’s 2006 phylogenetic analysis, based on three mitochondrial DNA genes, found that the Dark shyshark and the Brown shyshark (H. fuscus) are sister species, and that the two make up the more derived clade within the genus.

A known parasite of the Dark shyshark or Pretty Happy is the trypanosome Trypanosoma haploblephari, which infests the blood.

Behavioral Traits, Sensing and Intelligence: The Dark shyshark or Pretty Happy will curl up with its tail over its eyes when it is threatened or captured.

Speed: More than likely slow and sluggish in nature.

Dark Shyshark or Pretty Happy Future and Conservation: They are currently of least concern. They have a limited range, but are quite common. They have been known to be killed by sport anglers, and have also been caught in lobster traps and bottom trawlers. Like other species of shyshark, this species is often regarded as a pest. It eventually could become threatened by habitat degradation. They are sometimes traded in aquaria.

Dark Shyshark or Pretty Happy Recorded Attacks on Humans: Not a threat to humans.