Epaulette Shark: Discover the Shark that can Walk on Land!

Written by Michelle Stacy
Published: September 5, 2021
Written by Michelle Stacy
Published: September 5, 2021


Are land sharks real?

As far as sharks go, the Epaulette shark is a rather remarkable animal with a lifespan of 20-25 years. They are creamy-tan in color with dark brown spots covering the dorsal side of their body. Growing to sizes between 27 and 35 inches long, they reach a maximum of 42 inches long. The caudal peduncle is over half the shark’s length. Twenty-six to thirty-five teeth in the upper jaw and twenty-one to thirty-two in the lower jaw. 

They are slender and more flat than deep, giving them more surface area to make contact with objects on the ground. They can be found on the northern shores of Australia, along the Papua New Guineas shores, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands. 

One of the most fascinating features of the Epaulette shark is the ability to walk on land. 

Epaulette Sharks: A shark that can walk on land!

Shark that Walks on Land - Epaulette Shark

If you are like me, the vision I get from that idea is an upright shark using tail fins to sort of walk like a woman who has a long narrow dress, forcing her to shuffle-walk. That is not the case at all. 

When the shark “walks” happens when they unintentionally become stranded on land, usually due to the tide moving out. The water is too shallow, or not there at all for the shark to swim out to deeper waters. They have the unique ability to use their pectoral and pelvis fins as legs and feet. The movement resembles that of a salamander-like walking gait. 

It is a slow process, but the ability to use their fins this way gives them the ability to get to safety. One other question that comes to mind is that of breathing. A fish out of water doesn’t typically last long. The Epaulette shark also has the ability to slow its breathing, using very little oxygen for a whole hour. They do not experience any lasting effects from being out of water for this hour. 

Epaulette sharks are bottom feeders that prefer sand and coral reef areas to get their food. A nocturnal animal, they are often observed feeding during the daylight hours with dusk and dawn being the favorite hours. Invertebrates are the food of choice but juveniles usually choose polychaete worms and adults prefer crabs. Bony fish and shrimp are a favorite of all ages of the shark, and they will take other foods when available. 

The shark does not typically go below 50m, preferring to spend more time in warm, shallow waters with sandy bottoms. People have frequently observed this shark hunting food in tide pools. Unlike other sharks, the Epaulette shark sometimes chews its food, moving it back and forth in the mouth until the shark is ready to swallow.

You can see a video of the epaulette shark walking on land in the embedded PBS video from YouTube below.

Epaulette Shark Size: Sexual maturity is measured by length. 

Females epaulette sharks are mature at 25.2 inches, and males at about 23.6 inches. They reproduce by laying eggs, but fertilization is internal. Producing two eggs per breeding, the female may produce up to 50 eggs per year. The male will grasp a female pectoral fin to stabilize her during the mating process.

Once the eggs are released into the water, the egg will become entangled in structures at the bottom of shallow water in coral and rocky areas. It takes about 120 days for full gestation but may vary depending on water temperature. Once the egg is left in the reef, the parent sharks do not return to care for the eggs or the hatching newborn pups. The pups are about 5.9 inches long when they are born. 

Watching out for predators, this shark will find areas in coral reefs, under ledges, and other small spaces to hide. When they are hiding around corals they only need the head to be covered. They will also sun in open or sandy areas of reefs, facing the current so they can watch for predators. Their colorings help to camouflage them from predators. 

Predators are larger fish, sharks, or groupers. Humans do not target these sharks, since there is no great value in them as a food source, and the sport of catching them is not a challenge. They are a common shark to have in aquariums.