Barbeled Houndshark, Leptocharias smithii

The Barbeled houndshark (Leptocharias smithii) is a species of bottom dwelling shark and sole member of the Leptochariidae family. It is a fish found in the Atlantic Ocean, inhabiting coastal waters of Africa from Mauritania to Angola and found at depths up to 246 feet. It is occasionally found as far north as the Mediterranean Sea. Its habitat is typically muddy water around river mouths.

This fish can grow up to 32 inches in length, and is characterized by its long, slender body, superior oval eyes equipped with internal nictitating membranes (transparent blinking third eyelids), nasal barbels, deep furrows that appear at the corners of the mouth, and sexually distinct teeth: males have longer middle teeth than females.

The furrows extend from the corners of the mouth and onto both jaws, just in front of the nostrils. The mouth consists of 46–60 upper tooth rows and 43–54 lower tooth rows. The teeth are small and uniform in size. There are two small dorsal fins equal in size with the first found between the pectoral and pelvic fins, and the second located over the anal fin. Its color is a plain gray above and white below.

The houndshark is a very strong swimmer–largely due to its muscular stature, long tail, short trunk and small liver. Like most sharks, it is opportunistic in nature, feeding on a wide variety of foods, including bony fish, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, sardines, anchovies, snake eels, blennies, gobies, flatfish, fish eggs, octopus, sponges and invertebrates. It will also ingest inanimate objects on occasion.

The female Barbeled houndshark is viviparous (bearing live young instead of eggs) and unlike any other shark, the yolk-sac placenta of the breeding female is globular and spherical. In breeding areas, the female produces up to 7 young after a gestation period of at least four months.

This species is often caught in fixed bottom gillnets and bottom trawls by fishermen and is sometimes kept for its meat and leather. This accumulative action by commercial fisherman has left the species near threatened. While no conclusive data has been compiled, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has determined the species as threatened due to the intense pressure from fishing throughout its range.

An adult male of the species was taken from the coast of Cabinda Province, Angola by South African physician and zoologist Andrew Smith. He applied the genus Leptocharias and declared no associated species. There was some question whether the species was actually in the same family as the Carcharhinidae and Triakidae but it was eventually placed in its own family once its validity was confirmed by Johannes muller and Friedrich Henle, authors of an 1838 Magazine of Natural History.

Kingdom: Anamalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Chondrichthyes Subclass: Elasmobranchii Order: Carcharhiniformes

Image Caption: Triaenodon smithii (=Leptocharias smithii). Credit: Müller & Henle/Wikipedia