Arabian carpetshark (Chiloscyllium arabicum)
|Also known as:||Arabian bamboo shark, Arabian carpet shark, confusing bamboo shark|
|Size||Length: up to 70 cm (1)|
Length at birth: less than 10 cm (1)
- Carpetsharks are named for their interesting colours and patterns, but the Arabian carpetshark differs in being plain brown.
- The Arabian carpetshark is a bottom-dwelling species, and so does not have a particularly streamlined body shape.
- The Arabian carpetshark is an egg-laying species.
- Squid, shelled molluscs and crustaceans form the bulk of the Arabian carpetshark’s diet.
- The Arabian carpetshark looks very similar to the grey bamboo shark.
The Arabian carpetshark is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Like other bottom-dwelling shark species, the Arabian carpetshark (Chiloscyllium arabicum) does not require a streamlined body for rapid movement, as it tends to spend much of its time lying on the ocean floor. Instead, its head and body are relatively broad and flat (2), the eyes are moderately large and the snout is fairly thick and rounded (3).
The two large, spineless dorsal fins of the Arabian carpetshark have an almost straight back edge (3) and are located at the rear of the body, towards the tail (2). In this species, the base of the second dorsal fin is usually longer than the first (3) (4) (5), and is one of the features used to differentiate between the Arabian carpetshark and the similar-looking grey bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium griseum) (5). A further distinguishing feature is the presence of ridges on the back of the Arabian carpetshark (3) (4) (5). Both the anal fins and the caudal fin are small as, unlike in many other shark species, they are not needed to create powerful tail flicks for rapid propulsion (2).
Carpetsharks typically have a variety of colourful markings and cryptic patterning, including splotches, spots and sometimes bodily frills or fronds, all of which aid camouflage (2). However, throughout all stages of its life the Arabian carpetshark is almost plain brown (5), and generally lacks a distinctive colour pattern (3) (5). However, the edges of the fins are sometimes an orange hue (4), and the fins of the juvenile shark are usually decorated with a few light spots (3) (6).
Understanding the exact distribution of the Arabian carpetshark has proved difficult. Its range requires further clarification, as misidentification of this species with the commonly found grey bamboo shark leads to inaccuracies in the knowledge regarding its distribution (1). However, the Arabian carpetshark is believed to occur in the western Indian Ocean (1) (3), from the Persian Gulf to the west coast of India (5), and is thought to be native to India, Pakistan, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (1).
The Arabian carpetshark is common in both inshore and offshore waters (6), and is often found in benthic environments, lying on the floor of mangrove estuaries, lagoons and coral reefs within a depth range of between 3 and 100 metres (1) (6).
Little is known about the biology of the Arabian carpetshark in comparison to other shark species. However, it is known to predate squid, shelled molluscs, crustaceans and snake eels (1) (3) (6), using its camouflaged body to enable it to blend in with the sea floor and ambush its prey (2).
The Arabian carpetshark possesses several biological systems shared by all sharks to help it detect prey, including ampullae of Lorenzini. These are electrosensory receptors that sit within gel-filled pores around the mouth and head of the shark and allow it to detect the smallest of electric fields given off by living animals. Remarkably, these receptors are still functional even when the shark is buried under sand. Sharks are also sensitive to changes in pressure, and vibrations in the water are picked up by the inner ear and allow the Arabian carpetshark to hone in precisely on its prey. In addition, sharks possess well-developed eyes that assist with efficient hunting (7).
Sexual maturity occurs when the Arabian carpetshark reaches a length of between 45 and 54 centimetres. The courtship of this species has been witnessed in captivity, and involves the male biting the pectoral fins of the female while mating (3) (6). Copulation in sharks is often an aggressive act which can leave females scarred. All species of shark require internal fertilisation, and once the male has a firm hold on the female, it uses its claspers to transfer sperm across (7). The Arabian carpetshark is an egg-laying species (1), laying up to four eggs at a time on a coral reef (1) (3) (6). Shark eggs are often referred to as “mermaids’ purses” and are fixed firmly to items found on the sea bed. As the egg is laid, salt water hardens the egg case, forming a protective exterior which contains an internal yolk that provides the developing embryo with food (2). Arabian carpetshark eggs hatch after 70 to 80 days (1) (3) (6).
One of the greatest threats to the Arabian carpetshark is human degradation of its environment in the form of habitat loss and modification, due for example to coastal development. Another serious threat is the commercial fishing industry. Although it is not specifically a targeted species, the Arabian carpetshark is often caught as bycatch during trawling (1).
The Arabian carpetshark is thought to have suffered a 30 percent population decline over the past 27 years due to an increase in the intensity of habitat loss, pollution and the fishing industry (1). Carpetsharks are often popular targets for use in traditional medicines and in the increasing market for shark fins to meet the demands for shark fin soup (2).
Sharks are particularly susceptible to population declines as most species are characterised by slow growth and late sexual maturation, as well as low reproductive rates (5).
There are currently no known conservation actions targeted specifically towards the Arabian carpetshark (1). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has made efforts to encourage all states catching elasmobranch species, either as targeted species or as bycatch, to voluntarily participate in an International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) (8).
Further research is needed to inform and encourage the creation of practical conservation plans to protect the Arabian carpetshark in its native waters (8).
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- Ampullae of Lorenzini: jelly-filled tubes located in the heads of sharks, which act as electroreceptors. They open to the surface by a pore in the skin, and allow the shark to sense electric fields such as those produced by potential prey.
- Anal fin: in fish, an unpaired fin on the under surface of the fish, behind the anus.
- Benthic: relating to the lowermost region of a body of water such as an ocean or lake, or to the organisms that live there.
- Bycatch: in the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
- Caudal fin: the tail fin of a fish.
- Claspers: in sharks and rays, a pair of appendages that extend from the rear of the male’s pelvic fins and are used to transfer sperm to the female during mating.
- Crustaceans: diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
- Cryptic colouration: colouration that makes animals difficult to detect against their background, so serving to reduce predation. The colouration may provide camouflage against a background, break up the outline of the body, or both.
- Dorsal fin: the unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).
- Elasmobranch: a member of a group of cartilaginous fish that includes sharks, skates and rays.
- Fertilisation: the fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
- Molluscs: a diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following: a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
- Pectoral fins: in fish, the pair of fins that are found on either side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.
IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
- Parker, S. (2008) The Encyclopedia of Sharks. Firefly Books, Ontario.
Compagno, L.J.V. (1984) Sharks of the World. An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date. Volume. 2: Bullhead, Mackerel and Carpet Sharks (Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes and Orectolobiformes). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
- Randall, J.E. (1995) Coastal Fishes of Oman. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.
- Weigmann, S. (2012) Contribution to the taxonomy and distribution of six shark species (Chondrichthyes, Elasmobranchii) from the Gulf of Thailand. International Scholarly Research Network (ISRN) Zoology, 2012: 1-24.
FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department - Chiloscyllium arabicum (July, 2012)
- Compagno, L., Dando, M. and Fowler, S. (2005) Collins Field Guide: Sharks of the World. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., London.
- Moore, A.B.M., McCarthy, I.D., Carralho, G.R. and Pierce, R. (2012) Species, sex, size and male maturity composition of previously unreported elasmobranch landings in Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi Emirate. Journal of Fish Biology, 80(5): 1619-1642.