Walking Shark Are the Most Recently Evolved Shark on Earth (Forbes)

Walking Shark Are the Most Recently Evolved Shark on Earth

To some people, a walking shark may be their worst nightmare. Often imagining a 20-foot monster with razor-sharp teeth, they would be baffled to see that the species within Hemiscyllium are small (up to 42 inches or 107 centimeters in total length but average 28 in or 70cm) and that not much is known about them. Also known as epaulette sharks, the walking sharks are nocturnal and feed on benthic crustaceans, worms, and small bony fish. Restricted to a ring around Northern Australia, the island of New Guinea and the satellite islands of Raja Ampat, Aru, and Halmahera in eastern Indonesia, there are nine currently recognized species that call this region home. The most intriguing thing is that all of these benthic sharks share a unique form of locomotion where instead of swimming, they use their highly muscular paired fins to essentially ‘walk’ along the ocean floor while foraging.

As it turns out, a new paper from Conservation International, the University of Queensland, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the Australian CSIRO and the University of Florida, published in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research, shows that these walking sharks are the most recently evolved shark species on Earth.

“The walking sharks in the genus Hemiscyllium represent the most recent radiation of sharks, which are likely still differentiating in western New Guinea. These sharks provide a rare and exciting opportunity for us to see ‘evolution in action’ in a group whose origins predate dinosaurs by 200 million years,” said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History and co-author on the paper.

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