7-9 feet in length
Bottom-dwelling invertebrates and small fish
Coral reefs, usually in areas with sandy seafloor
Indian Ocean and West Pacific
Extinct in Wild
“Zebra” may seem like a strange name for these spotted sharks, until you see them as pups. As their name suggests, these sharks start as dark-colored pups with white stripes. As they mature, they lose their stripes and gain spots that blend in with the coral reef floor. This change in coloring is essential for survival, as the stripes mimic those of venomous sea snakes when the shark is young, deterring predators from attacking. However, as the zebra shark grows larger and less vulnerable, the stripes give way to spots that help it blend in with its surroundings. The spots they develop as adults make it easy to confuse them with leopard sharks – but their distinctive ridges that run along their bodies help set them apart.
Adult zebra sharks are usually 7-9 feet long, although the longest zebra shark ever recorded was 12 feet. Their tail is as long as their body and gives them extra flexibility.
Behavior & Diet
Zebra sharks are a slow-swimming, nocturnal species that hunts at night and rests during the day. Zebra sharks can pump water over their gills, so they do not have to keep swimming to breathe as some shark species must do.
Zebra sharks feed mainly on mollusks and crustaceans as well as small fish. Their long, sleek bodies help them wriggle into tight caves and crevices to find food.
Zebra sharks are usually solitary animals but form loose groups of 20-50 individuals during the breeding season.
Lifespan & Reproduction
Zebra sharks can live up to 25 to 30 years. Male zebra sharks reach maturity when they are 5-6 feet, and females when they are about 5.6 feet in length.
They are an oviparous species, which means they lay eggs. Female zebra sharks release one to four large dark brown or purplish-black egg cases that hatch after about 6.5 months. Zebra shark pups are 8-10 inches long when they emerge and are immediately able to swim and hunt on their own.
Zebra sharks are one of about 80 vertebrate species capable of parthenogenesis or a “virgin birth.” In these cases, eggs can develop into living embryos without any male fertilization or involvement.
At Mystic Aquarium
Mystic Aquarium is home to a female zebra shark that hatched from an egg in September 2022. At first, she was just 11 inches long, but she's growing quickly. She is currently residing in the SHARKS! Touch Habitat, but she will move to a larger habitat when she gets too big.
Zebra sharks are endangered, and the shark at Mystic Aquarium is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA’s) Species Survival Plan. This plan aims to manage a genetically diverse, demographically varied, sustainable, and biologically sound zebra shark population. In the future, she may be selected to breed with another shark in the program to diversify the genetics within the population.
Experience Zebra Sharks Up Close
Learn even more about zebra sharks with our Marine Biologist For A Day Encounter!