There is a shark on the seafloor that you shouldn’t step on.

Have you ever wondered what could be the most special looking shark species? Well, the tasseled wobbegong shark is definitely a good candidate. Sometimes called carpet sharks, these animals have a remarkable, flattened appearance, due to their distinctive branching lobes that extend from their heads. Although these sharks were first described in 1867, they remain mysterious as we don’t know about them yet.

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A wobbegong with tassels. You definitely shouldn’t step on it! Source UPDATE: This is apparently not a wobbegong but a type of anglerfish in the family Lophiidae. You still shouldn’t step on it!

The tasseled wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon) is a species of carpet shark in the family Orectolobidae that inhabits the shallow coral reefs of northern Australia, New Guinea, and adjacent islands. Measuring 1.8 m (5.9 ft) in length, this species has a broad, flattened body and head, but its most distinctive feature is a fringe of branching skin flaps around the head, extending to the chin. and allows it to camouflage itself against the coral reef environment, in which it lives.

During the day, the solitary tasseled wobbegong can usually be found lying inside caves or under ledges with its tail curled up, but come nightfall it will emerge and actively forage for food, even for humans if the opportunity arises. They have been reported to bite and kill people even when unprovoked, with most attacks likely due to people accidentally disturbing them or being mistakenly perceived as prey.

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No, it is not part of the coral reef. Image Credit: Jon Hanson

The tasseled wobbegong is considered the most specialized member of its family. Its ornate coloration and complex appearance give it excellent camouflage, while it is probably a slower swimmer than related species. But that in no way means a disadvantage for this guy.

Although these animals are solitary and individual sharks have a small range, containing several preferred resting spots that are used repeatedly, this species becomes most active at night, swimming on the reef to hunt. Its huge mouth allows it to swallow even sizable prey, with one documented case of a 1.3 m (4.3 ft) long individual consuming a 1.0 m (3.3 ft) brownbanded bamboo shark. long. Although the carpet shark is most active at night, it is an opportunistic ambush predator during the day, feeding on nocturnal fish such as soldierfish and squirrelfish, and sweepers that often take refuge in the same cave. Additionally, small fish and crustaceans have been seen alighting on the head of the resting wobbegong, attracting larger fish which in turn are attacked by the wobbegong. Wow.

In fact, observations of these animals in captivity have further revealed that this species appears to engage in active attraction behaviour. And a really special one, for that matter. When the tasseled wobbegong senses food nearby, it begins to slowly flick its tail from side to side, making its tail fin look like a small fish, complete with a dark eyespot at the base. And since the shark normally rests with its head elevated, it stays within an easy distance of any prey attracted by that curious tail. Even humans.

Yes, wobbegongs have several records of attacking people that were apparently unprovoked, and the tasseled wobbegong has a reputation for even more aggressive behavior than related species. The Australian biologist Gilbert Whitley even wrote in 1940 that it “attacks and generally kills the natives” of Papua New Guinea. And while it’s unclear if Whitley’s claim is true, this species is certainly capable of inflicting serious injury on humans. That said, the tasseled wobbegong is also an ecotourism attraction and many divers have approached it without incident. But given this shark’s cryptic appearance and poor eyesight, humans definitely need to take care to avoid accidentally harassing it or causing it to mistake a hand or foot for prey.

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Perfect camouflage. Again, don’t step on it! Image Credit: Leonard Low

So, in those few places where the tasseled wobbegong can be found, you should definitely be on the lookout. Unfortunately, even those few locations are declining in number, as the shark’s range is adversely affected by extensive fishing activity and habitat degradation from pollution, blast fishing, and coral mining.

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We definitely shouldn’t step on it indefinitely.

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