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Species: Ginglymostoma cirratum, Nurse Shark

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eye: small, oval, behind mouth
2 large Ds
2 barbels under snout

Ginglymostoma cirratum (Bonnaterre, 1788)

Nurse Shark

Head broad and flattened; snout broad, rounded; nostrils with large barbels; eyes small, oval, behind the mouth; mouth small, transverse, opens a little under snout; teeth small, multicusped; five small gill arches, last two close together and over pectoral fin; fins blunt and rounded; two large dorsal fins, second dorsal ~½ size of first, base of first one over base of pelvics; tail asymmetrical, lower lobe hardly developed.

Yellow brown to grey brown; young with small dark spots and obscure saddle markings on back.

Size: to ~ 300 (possibly 430) cm.

Lives around reefs, mangroves, and sand flats.

Depth range: 0-130 m, usually nearshore.

The E and W Atlantic; in the W Atlantic from Rhode Island to S Brazil.

Note: Compared to its East Pacific sister species, G unami, the Atlantic species G cirratum has: (i) the 1st dorsal fin origin further back relative to the pelvic fins (ii) the pelvic fins not reaching as far towards the 2nd dorsal fin; (iii) the two dorsal fins are further apart; (iv) the 2nd dorsal fin does not reach as close to the tail fin; (v) the anal fin does not reach as close to the base of the tail fin; (vi) the pelvic fins are further from the anal fin; (vii) the body is more slender; (viii) the teeth have fewer secondary cusplets (2-3 on each side vs 5-6), which are pointed rather than blunt; and (ix) the skin denticles are narrower and with fewer keels.

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  • Hypersaline
  • Brackish
  • Marine
  • Inshore
  • Inshore Only
Water Column Position
  • Bottom
  • Bottom only
  • Submerged vegetation
  • Rocks
  • Sand & gravel
  • Soft bottom (mud/sand/gravel/beach/estuary/mangrove/seagrass)
  • Mangrove
  • Estuary
  • Reef (rock/coral/oyster)
  • Reef and soft bottom
  • Reef associated (reef + edges-water column & soft bottom)
FishBase Habitat
  • Reef Associated
Feeding Group
  • Carnivore
  • Data
  • Data
  • Bony fishes
  • Mobile benthic crustacea (shrimps/crabs)
  • Mobile benthic gastropods/bivalves
  • Octopus/squid/cuttlefish
  • Sea-stars/cucumbers/urchins
Egg Type
  • Data
  • Live birth
  • No pelagic larva
  • No pelagic phase
Global Endemism
  • All species
  • Greater Caribbean non-endemic
  • Transatlantic (East+West Atlantic)
Regional Endemism
  • Also in Brazil
  • Continent
  • Continent + Island (s)
  • Extends N + S of GC
  • Extends North of GC
  • Extends South of GC
  • GC non-endemic
  • Island (s)
  • All species
  • Resident
Climate Zone
  • Equatorial (0-10N, Costa Rica / Venezuela)
  • Subtropical (23-35N, Florida / Carolinas / Bermuda)
  • Temperate (>35N)
  • Tropical (10-23N, Nicaragua / Cuba)
IUCN Red List
  • Data deficient
  • Listed
  • Not listed
Length Max
  • 300
Depth Range Min
  • 0
Depth Range Max
  • 130