The zebra shark is a docile, slow-moving shark, considered harmless to humans. It spends most of its day resting on the ocean bottom, becoming more active at night, when it feeds on a variety of bottom-dwelling invertebrates. The species gets its name from the coloration of its young. Newly hatched zebra sharks are dark with lighter, yellowish bars, resembling the stripes of a zebra. As the shark matures, these bars begin to break up into the adult coloration. Mature adults are light tan in color with a dark spotted pattern along the sides and back – leading to one of its other common names – the leopard shark.
  • Size

    12 feet (3.65 m)
  • Diet

    Benthic invertebrates such as snails, shrimp, crabs and sea urchins, as well as small fishes
  • Range

    Indian Ocean and West Pacific
  • Habitat

    Coral reefs, usually in areas with sandy seafloor

Physical Characteristics


  • Maximum length of 12 feet (3.65 m); the long tail fin may account for about half of the total body length.

Body Composition

  • Body is cylindrical and thick, with prominent ridges along the flanks. Head is broad and conical with a very rounded snout and fleshy barbels at the corners of the mouth. Upper lobe of the caudal fin is greatly elongated.
  • Spiracles located behind the eyes allow this shark to rest motionless on the bottom and still circulate water over its gills.


  • Coloration of adults is tan with dark spots.
  • Juvenile is dark with yellowish bars, lending to the name, “zebra shark.”


Animal Fact

Sharks have multiple methods of reproduction – some species give birth to live young, while others lay egg cases, called mermaids purses. The zebra shark lays large, dark brown to purplish black egg cases.

Diet / Feeding


  • Diet consists primarily of benthic invertebrates such as snails, shrimp, crabs and sea urchins, as well as small fishes.

Feeding Behaviors

  • Can fit into small crevices and holes in the reef as it searches for food.

Range / Habitat

  • Occurs in the shallow waters of the Indian Ocean and West Pacific from South Africa to the Red Sea, from Pakistan, India and Southeast Asia to China, Indonesia and the Philippines and from Australia and New Caledonia to Southern Japan.
  • Found on and adjacent to coral reefs, usually in areas with sandy seafloor.

Reproduction & Growth


  • Oviparous, or egg-laying, species; female lays large, dark brown or purplish black egg cases.


  • Newly hatched young is 8 to 10 inches (20-26 cm).
  • Juvenile will begin feeding on its own in the protected reef shallows.

Conservation Status

  • “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • Nocturnal; rests on the ocean bottom during the day.
  • A slow moving shark, considered harmless to humans.


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