Today’s animal has got to be one of the most beautiful sharks I have ever seen. Their intense markings caught my eye as soon as I saw a picture of one. The chain catshark (also known as the chain dogfish, so it’s named after both cats and dogs) is a small but very pretty shark.

Chain catsharks live in the Atlantic Ocean, particularly around the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and around Virginia and North Carolina. They are usually found at depths of 75 to 550 meters, and prefer areas with rough, rocky bottoms.

See how pretty they are? Image by NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

These guys don’t get super large, generally growing to be about half a meter in length. They have brown skin, sometimes with a yellowish tint. The neatest part about catsharks’ looks is the patterns that grace their bodies. These are what give the shark the ‘chain’ part of its name: the black stripy patterns on the shark’s back look like chains. They have been observed to fluoresce, though the function of this bioluminescence is unknown.

Chain catsharks are lazy animals, spending most of their time motionless on the sea floor. They tend to hide out near rubble, either broken rocks or man-made structures. Their chain markings make them difficult to see in such surroundings, allowing the sharks to hang around in relative safety. When they do move, it is to hunt. Chain catsharks will eat squid, fish and crustaceans.

Chain catfish eggs, in development. Image from a video, by Bernskbarn, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikipedia

Mating in chain catsharks is a strange affair. A male and female shark will swim together for some time, and then the male will bite the female’s tail. He then continues to bite her, moving up her body until he can wrap himself around her. The female then goes and lays a pair of eggs on some kind of structure, like a sponge or a manmade object. Little sharks emerge from the eggs after eight to twelve months, and become sexually mature around eight or nine years of age.

Due to their beautiful patterning, chain catfish are popular in aquaria. They don’t have any other commercial value, however, so their population remains unthreatened. They are also very docile and shy sharks, meaning we humans have no reason to hunt them. Which is great news for the chain catshark!

Cover image by D Ross Robertson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons