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35 Frilled Shark Facts: Snake Fish of the Deep (Chlamydoselachus anguineus)

Looking for facts about frilled sharks? You're in the right place! Frilled sharks are fascinating; and kind of terrifying. Read on to learn what we know so far about this amazing monster of the deep!

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35 Frilled Shark Facts

They live in the darkest depths of the ocean. They have a jagged, dinosaur-like appearance, and they're often called “living fossils.” They've existed for millions of years, but they're so rare that we didn't have any footage of them until 2004.

Say hello to frilled sharks!

Frilled sharks are some of the most fascinating creatures in the water, but many people don't even know that they exist. They live too far away from humans to make the news like hammerheads or great whites.

When you get down to it, however, frilled sharks might be even cooler than the better-known sharks. Are you ready to learn some frilled shark facts? Buckle up.

1. What does the frilled shark look like?

Frilled sharks look a bit like underwater snakes. They have long, smooth bodies that can coil and contort in a serpentine way, and they can propel themselves through the water with the power of their tails.

Their faces are also quite snakelike. They have deep-set eyes and vertical slits for noses, and unlike other sharks, their jaws are positioned at the end of their snouts instead of underneath them.

When they open their mouths, you'll be able to see more than 300 teeth. They're thin, spiky and angled backward at a sharp degree. 😳

Watch on YouTube

As for their namesake “frills,” that comes from their gill slits. There are six on each side of the body, and they come together at the front of the throat like a collar. Frilled sharks are sometimes called “fringed” sharks because of this unusual feature.

2. Does the frilled shark still exist?

Yes. The frilled shark is one of the only surviving species in its particular shark family, but it can still be found throughout the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

3. Why is the frilled shark considered a living fossil?

A “living fossil” is a species that hasn't changed much since prehistoric times. The name can be applied to plants, animals and even bacteria.

In the case of frilled sharks, they've been minding their own business deep in the ocean for thousands of years, and they haven't been forced to adapt to new environments or compete with new species for food.

Scientifically speaking, they're also one of the last of their kind; all of their relatives have gone extinct. When you think about it, it's no wonder that frilled sharks are described as ancient, primitive, prehistoric and fossil-like.

4. Does the frilled shark have any sub-species?

There aren't any sub-species, but there's a sibling species known as the Southern African frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus africana).

These creatures are extremely similar to frilled sharks, but they were given their own species classification in 2009. They're smaller and have different body and snout proportions.

5. When was the first frilled shark discovered?

The frilled shark was discovered sometime between 1879 – 1881 when a German scientist visited Japan. They didn't have a name or species classification at this time, so the scientist just detailed their appearance in a manuscript and took a couple of specimens overseas for viewing.

Unfortunately, the manuscript was lost. Then an American scientist took a trip to Japan and found his own frilled sharks in 1884.

The American scientist published his findings first, so he's often the one credited with discovering and naming the frilled shark. However, we shouldn't forget the German scientist who technically got there before anyone else!

5. Who discovered the frilled shark?

The German scientist was a zoologist named Ludwig Doderlein. The American scientist was a zoologist and naturalist named Samuel Garman.

If you want to read Garman's paper about frilled sharks, it's called “An Extraordinary Shark” and was published in Proceedings of the Essex Institute.

6. Is the frilled shark a mammal?

No. Unlike whales and dolphins, frilled sharks are considered fish. They have scales like other sharks, and they don't give birth to live young. They're also cold-blooded creatures who live deep underwater and never surface for oxygen.

7. Are frilled sharks good swimmers?

It depends on your definition of “good.” Frilled sharks are naturally buoyant because they have large livers that are filled with low-density lipids, so they don't actually need to flap or wiggle to float around in the water.

That said, frilled sharks aren't known for being great swimmers. They move slowly, and their bodies curl and coil like snakes instead of swimming in a straight line. Their most direct movements are when they use their tails to propel themselves forward in search of prey.

8. How big is a frilled shark?

Most frilled sharks are somewhere between 4 – 5 feet.

However, males have been recorded at lengths up to 5.6 feet, and females have clocked in at 6.6 feet. This is called sexual dimorphism, a difference of size between male and female.

9. How did the frilled shark get its name?

Frilled sharks get their name from their gills. Not only do they have six instead of the usual five, but their gills connect at the front of the throat like a collar, and that's quite unusual for deep-water sharks. It's actually kind of beautiful in a terrifying sort of way…

The whole thing has a fringed or frilled appearance, so the name was probably inevitable.

10. What is the frilled sharks Latin name?

The scientific name of the frilled shark is Chlamydoselachus anguineus.

The first part is actually Greek; it comes from the words for “frill” (chlamy), “cape” (idos) and “shark” (selachus).

The second part, anguineus, is Latin. It means “snakelike” or “eel-like.”

11. What other names does the frilled shark have?

The frilled shark has several different names, including frill shark, fringe shark, lizard shark, scaffold shark, and silk shark.

12. Why does the frilled shark have crazy teeth?

It's a mystery! Frilled sharks have literally hundreds of razor-sharp teeth, but scientists can only guess at their purpose.

The obvious assumption is that they're used to catch and kill their prey, but some experts theorize that frilled sharks actually swallow their food whole, so teeth wouldn't help much with things like chewing.

Watch on YouTube

It's possible that they only clamp down on their prey to hold them still. Another possibility is that the bright whiteness of their teeth is used as a sort of beacon to lure in unsuspecting animals.

13. Are frilled sharks aggressive?

The truth is that we don't know enough about frilled sharks to answer this question.

Are they violent? Are they territorial? Do they exist in harmony with other aquatic species? There simply hasn't been enough research into frilled sharks to draw any conclusions. 🤷‍♀️

14. Why aren't people studying frilled sharks?

Frankly, because it's hard. Frilled sharks are distant, solitary creatures that are most comfortable in the pitch blackness of deep water, so there just aren't a lot of opportunities to study them.

They weren't even recorded on film until 2004, and that footage was taken by a remotely-operated underwater vehicle!

Even when they pop up somewhere unexpectedly, the circumstances are less than ideal. If a frilled shark is close to the surface, they're lost, sick, dead, injured or caught in a fishing net, so they don't exactly represent a healthy and active frilled shark in its natural habitat. There's a limited amount that we can learn from these specimens.

15. Do frilled sharks attack humans?

No. Frilled sharks don't have much human contact at all, but even when they make an appearance on the shore, they don't show any aggression towards humans.

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The worst injuries sustained from frilled sharks are incidental cuts and bites when scientists are studying their mouths. Kind of hard not to get cut when you have your hands in a dark and twitchy pit full of razors…

16. How long do frilled sharks live? Frilled sharks lifespan

Scientists think that the frilled shark lives around 25 years or so, but this is just an approximation.

17. What eats a frilled shark?

Frilled sharks are mysterious creatures, so we aren't quite sure what threatens them in the wild. However, it's possible that they're preyed on by bigger shark species. Some captured ones have bite marks on their tails that suggest predation.

18. Do humans eat frilled sharks?

It's rare, but when frilled sharks are caught or killed in the wild, they can be sold for meat. They're also turned into fishmeal.

19. Is the frilled shark endangered?

For awhile, it wasn't known if frilled sharks were endangered. There just wasn't enough data to form any kind of conclusion.

However, New Zealand conservation groups considered them “at risk,” and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had them listed as “near threatened” because of their slow reproductive rates.

Today, frilled sharks are considered “least concern” by the IUCN, so they're probably doing okay. We don't know their exact numbers, and we can't be sure that their population is stable, but it's a good sign that they have a wide range with few known extinction threats.

History is on their side, too. Knowing that they've survived in the cold, black depths of the ocean for thousands of years already gives them pretty good odds for the future.

20. What could hurt the population of frilled sharks?

It isn't considered a widespread problem, but frilled sharks can get caught in commercial fishing nets when they venture too close to the surface. These creatures are usually sold for meat or used for fishmeal.

Pollution is another issue that's having an impact on oceanic animals. Frilled sharks live too deep to get caught in plastic bottle rings, but the accumulation of trash can force migrating species to seek newer, cleaner waters, and that can affect the predators that consume them.

Chemicals and oil spills can also poison certain species. In the circle of life, this can disturb everything about an ecosystem.

21. What do frilled sharks eat?

Frilled sharks like to eat fish, squid, octopus and smaller sharks. This is based on the stomach contents of dead individuals. The largest remains ever found in a frilled shark belonged to a Japanese catshark that weighed 1.3 pounds.

Watch on YouTube

22. How do frilled sharks detect their prey?

Like most fish species, frilled sharks have lateral lines that allow them to detect vibrations in the water. They might also be able to see, hear or feel electrical pulses that are given off by animal muscles; this isn't uncommon in deep-sea species.

They have an innate sense of direction thanks to their ability to feel changes in water pressure. They can always tell up from down.

23. How do frilled sharks hunt?

Fun fact: No one has ever seen the hunt of a frilled shark. It's never been caught on camera. However, scientists have a few ideas about how the frilled shark might hunt:

  • They might strike like a snake. With their long, flexible bodies, they're able to curl themselves into a smaller size before propelling forward with speed and momentum. They might surprise their prey this way.
  • They might suck their prey into their mouths. Their unusual gill slits could allow them to create negative pressure and suction their prey like a vacuum.
  • They might lure their prey towards them with their bright white teeth. Scientists have observed a weird habit in frilled sharks: They swim with their mouths open. It's possible that their sparkling smiles are meant to attract curious fish, and by the time that the fish realize their error, it's too late.

What a weird animal!

24. How long can frilled sharks go without eating?

It's possible that frilled sharks can last a long time without sustenance. Only a small number of dead and captured individuals have had stomach contents to analyze; most of them were swimming with empty bellies.

Either they didn't eat a lot, or they digested their food so quickly that there was nothing to be found when scientists went looking.

25. Do frilled sharks live on the ocean floor?

As always, it's hard to say anything definite about frilled sharks because of the uncertainty surrounding their lives. However, it's true that some frilled sharks have been observed swimming along sand dunes on the ocean floor.

26. Do frilled sharks mate for life?

It isn't known whether frilled sharks mate for life. It isn't even known if they form monogamous pairs for mating! But neither are likely.

As elusive, deep-water creatures, a lot of their reproductive habits are shrouded in mystery.

27. Is there any particular mating season for frilled sharks?

No. Frilled sharks live so far below the surface that they're unaffected by seasonal changes, so there's no weather or migration activity that prompts them to mate. They can reproduce at any time of year.

28. How do frilled sharks reproduce?

One thing that we do know about frilled sharks is that they're ovoviviparous. This means that they develop eggs, but they don't lay them in a nest. Instead, the eggs are nurtured and hatched inside of the mother's body, and the live young are independent from the moment that they're born.

How do the eggs survive? Most ovoviviparous embryos are sustained through the unfertilized egg yolks of their moms, but it's possible that frilled sharks also “feed” their babies with gland secretions from the womb.

There's a noticeable difference in the weight of embryos and newborns, so they're probably being nourished on something more than just egg yolk.

Newborn frilled sharks are about 16 – 24 inches long. They grow rapidly once they're in open water.

29. How long are frilled sharks “pregnant?”

Frilled sharks have one of the longest gestation periods in the entire animal kingdom. They can be pregnant for up to 3.5 years! Their eggs stay inside of them the entire time until they're ready to hatch.

30. How many babies do frilled sharks have?

Frilled sharks have between 2 – 15 live babies. It isn't known how many eggs and embryos might be developed and lost before that.

31. How long does it take for frilled sharks to mature?

Do you want to know something strange about a lot of reptile and fish species? Instead of reaching sexual maturity in a certain number of years, they become mature when they reach a certain body length.

For frilled sharks, males are considered mature when they hit 3.3 – 3.9 feet, and females are mature between 4.3 – 4.9 feet.

32. Do frilled sharks carry disease?

It's unlikely that frilled sharks carry any diseases that could pose a risk to humans. They've been found with parasites, including tapeworms and nematodes, but no one has ever gotten infected from contact with a frilled shark.

33. Where does the frilled shark live?

Frilled sharks can be found all across the globe. Their distribution is wide but spotty, so they have small, scattered populations in the various oceans of the world:

  • In the Atlantic Ocean, they've been spotted off the coasts of Norway, Scotland and Ireland.
  • In the Pacific Ocean, they've been seen in Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

The species Chlamydoselachus africana is found off the shores of South Africa in the Indian Ocean.

34. What is the habitat of the frilled shark?

Frilled sharks live deep within the ocean. Their general range is anywhere from 100 – 1,000 feet below the surface, but it isn't uncommon to see them at depths of 3,000 feet or more, and a few have been located as far as 5,100 feet.

35. Where can I see the frilled shark?

It isn't easy to find a frilled shark. In fact, unless you're an animal or marine researcher, it'll probably be impossible! They aren't easily located in the wild, and they aren't kept captive in zoos. You'll have to be satisfied with pictures and videos of these elusive sea monsters.

Jurassic Frills

What did you learn today? Most people have no idea that frilled sharks even exist, so now you can share some fascinating facts about them and impress your friends. Let me know in the comments what you found fascinating and if you have any questions. Happy exploring!

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More about Drew

Drew Haines

Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast who enjoys travel and photography. She graduated high school at sixteen and started her own business, Everywhere Wild.

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