May look like a venomous snake, but behaves in a much more gentile way

The Puffadder shyshark, also known as the Happy Eddie (Haploblepharus edwardsii) is a species of catshark, belonging to the family Scyliorhinidae, endemic to the temperate waters off the coast of South Africa. This common shark is found on or near the bottom in sandy or rocky habitats, from the intertidal zone to a depth of 436 feet. It is a slender shark, with a flattened body and head that can reach up to 2.3 feet. It is strikingly patterned with a series of dark-edged, bright orange saddles and numerous small white spots over its back. It is social in nature, and has been observed curling into a circle, covering its eyes with its tail when threatened. 


Family: Scyliorhinidae – Catsharks

Genus: Haploblepharus 

Species: edwardsii


Phylum– Chordata

Class– Chondrichthyles


Common NameGround Sharks

Family– Scyliorhinidae

Common NameCatsharks




Average Size and Length: Each egg case measures around 3.5-5 x 1.5-3 cm, which are smaller than other shyshark species. Hatchlings are around 10 cm/3.9 inches. Adolescent males have been measured between 36-45 cm/1.1-1.5 feet. Adolescent females have been measured between 39-44 cm/1.3-1.4 feet. Mature males have been measured between 37-60 cm/1.2-1.9 feet, and mature females between 39-69 cm/1.3-2.3 feet. The longest recorded has been 69 cm/2.3 feet. Sharks found west of Cape Agulhas are smaller than those found east, which was 48 cm/1.6 feet long.

Current Rare Mythical Sightings: The first known reference of the Puffadder shyshark in literature was by the English naturalist George Edwards in 1760, by the name Catulus major vulgaris, of three individuals caught off the Cape of Good Hope that have since been lost. In 1817, French zoologist Georges Cuvier described this species as “Scyllium D’Edwards“, based on Edwards’ account, though he was not considered to be proposing a true scientific name. In 1832, German zoologist Friedrich Siegmund Voigt translated Cuvier’s description under the name Scyllium edwardsii, thus receiving attribution for the species. However, in 2001 M.J.P. van Oijen discovered that Swiss naturalist Heinrich Rudolf Schinz had provided an earlier translation of Cuvier’s text with the proper scientific name in 1822, and subsequently the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) rendered a decision that this species is properly attributed to Schinz. In 1913, American zoologist Samuel Garman created the new genus Haploblepharus for this and other shyshark species.

The common name Puffadder shyshark refers to the puff adder (Bitis arietans) because of its strikingly similar coloration and pattern.  Happy Eddie is used by academics for this shark, and was recently introduced to the public as an easily remembered alternative to the ambiguous vernaculars “shyshark” and “doughnut”, which can apply to several different species and have confounded research efforts.

Teeth and Jaw: The mouth is short with furrows at the corners on both jaws. There are 26–30 tooth rows in the upper jaw and 27–33 tooth rows in the lower jaw. Tooth shape is sexually dimorphic: those of males are longer and three-pointed, while those of females are shorter and five-pointed. Unusually, the two halves of the lower jaw are connected by a special cartilage, which allows a more even distribution of teeth and may increase bite strength. This shark uses its teeth for grasping prey.

Head: The head is stalky, broad, and somewhat flattened. The snout is narrowly rounded. The eyes are large, and oval shaped. The pupils appear as cat-like slits. They have nictitating membranes. The eyes have a prominent ridge underneath. The nostrils are very large. There are greatly expanded anterior nasal flaps that reach the mouth. There is a deep groove connecting the excurrent opening of each nostril to the mouth, obscured by the nasal flaps.

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

Tail: The caudal fin is sort and broad, and comprises about one-fifth of the body length and has a deep ventral notch near the tip of the upper lobe and a barely developed lower lobe.

Demographic, Distribution, Habitat, Environment and Range: The Puffadder shyshark or Happy Eddie can be found in the southeast Atlantic and western Indian Ocean in South Africa around the eastern and western Cape from Langebaan Lagoon in Western Cape Province to the western shore of Algoa Bay, reports from Durban are more than likely another species. They are found on the continental shelf on or near the sandy bottom and rocky bottom between 0-436 feet, but possibly 945 feet on the slope. They are most commonly found between 98-295 feet, closer inshore in the west. It is found in progressively deeper water towards the northeastern portion of its range, from 0–49 feet off Cape Town to 131-427 feet, off KwaZulu-Natal. This distribution pattern may reflect this shark’s preference for cooler waters. They are considered demersal.

Diet: They eat small bony fish, fish offal, crustaceans (being the most mportant), polychaetes, and cephalopods. Some prey items include crabs, shrimp, crayfish, mantis shrimp, and hermit crabs, anchovies, jack mackerels, gobies, and squid. Prey preference may differ in sex.

The Puffadder shyshark or Happy Eddie has been observed attacking a common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) by tearing off an arm with a twisting motion (Lechanteur, Y.A.R.G. & C.L. Griffiths (October 2003). “Diets of common suprabenthic reef fish in False Bay, South Africa“. African Zoology. 38 (2): 213–227).

The Puffadder shyshark is preyed upon by larger fishes, such as the Broadnose Sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus). (Ebert, D.A. (December 1991). “Diet of the seven gill shark Notorynchus cepedianus in the temperate coastal waters of southern Africa“. South African Journal of Marine Science. 11 (1): 565–572). The Cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) has been documented capturing and playing with Puffadder shysharks, tossing them into the air or gnawing on them. The shark is often injured or killed during these encounters; the seal may eat torn-off pieces of flesh, but seldom consumes the entire shark. On occasion, black-backed kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus vetula) take advantage of this behavior and steal the sharks from the seals. (Martin, R.A. (2004). “Natural mortality of puffadder shysharks due to Cape fur seals and black-backed kelp gulls at Seal Island, South Africa“. Journal of Fish Biology. 64 (3): 711–716).

In captivity the eggs of the Puffadder shyshark are fed upon by the whelks Burnupena papyracea and B. lagenaria.

Aesthetic Identification: The Puffadder shyshark or Happy Eddie is pale to dark brown or grey-brown dorsally with prominent golden-brown or reddish saddles with darker brown margins and many white spots on the saddles or between them that are mostly smaller or the same size as the spiracles. They are white in color ventrally. The body is slender and somewhat flattened. It is more slender than other shysharks. The gill slits are on the upper sides of the body. The dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins are all of similar size. The dorsal fins are located far back on the body, the first originating behind the pelvic fin origins and the second behind the anal fin origin. The pectoral fins are broad and of moderate size.

Biology and Reproduction: They are oviparous. Breeding occurs year-round. The egg cases are laid in pairs, one per oviduct. They are laid on underwater vertical structures such as sea fans. The thin-walled egg cases are brown with distinctive pale transverse bands. They have a slightly furry texture and long adhesive tendrils at the corners. Young sharks hatch after 3 months.

The length at maturation for both sexes has been reported as anywhere from 35-55 cm/1.1-1.8 feet, so this high degree of variation may reflect regional differences as sharks from deeper waters in the eastern part of its range seem to mature at a larger size than those from the west. The age at maturation is estimated to be around 7 years, and the maximum lifespan is at least 22 years.

A 2006 phylogenetic analysis, based on three mitochondrial DNA genes, found that the Puffadder shyshark is the most basal member of its family, with a sister relationship to the clade containing the Dark shyshark (H. pictus) and the Brown shyshark (H. fuscus). The Natal shyshark was not included in the study, though it is very close morphologically to this species.

Known parasites of this species include the trypanosome Trypanosoma haploblephari, which infests the blood, the nematode Proleptus obtusus, which infests the intestine, and the copepods Charopinus dalmanni and Perissopus oblongatus, which infest the skin. Another parasite is the praniza larval stage of the isopod Gnathia pantherina, which infests the nares, mouth, and gills. The deep-penetrating mouthparts of these larvae significantly damage local tissue, causing bleeding and inflammation. (Hayes, P.M.; N.J. Smit & A.J. Davies (2007). “Pathology associated with parasitic juvenile gnathiids feeding on the puffadder shyshark, Haploblepharus edwardsii (Voight)“. Journal of Fish Diseases. 30 (1): 55–58).

Behavioral Traits, Sensing and Intelligence: They are social in nature, resting in groups in captivity. One interesting behavior is that they curl up in a circle, with the tail over the eyes when they are threatened or captured. This is where the name “shyshark” comes from. At times they could be reclusive.

Speed: They are sluggish in nature, and often lie still on the sea floor.

Puffadder Shyshark or Happy Eddie Future and Conservation: They are currently near threatened due to its limited range where there is high fishing activity and habitat degradation. They are caught by surf anglers and discarded by bottom trawlers (operating between Mossel Bay and East London), and fishing boats (operating in False Bay). Many are hooked by recreational anglers casting from the shore, who also generally discard or kill them as minor pests. They are also kept in aquaria and are big in aquarium trade, and also exploited as lobster bait.

Puffadder Shyshark or Happy Eddie Recorded Attacks on Humans: Not a threat to humans. They are even easily caught by hand.