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‘Vegetarian’ shark discovery: First omnivorous species of sea predator stuns scientists

File photo – a Bonnethead shark in Chessington World of Adventures, Surrey, united kingdom (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)

(PA Images)

Surprised scientists have determined that the seagrass-munching bonnethead as the first omnivorous species of sharks.

The shark, the smallest member of the hammerhead family, was examined by experts from the University of California, Irvine and Florida International University. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“We were very surprised to find that the bonnethead sharks were taking an omnivorous digestive strategy,” Samantha Leigh, a doctoral student at the University of California, Irvine and the study’s lead author, told Fox News.

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The bonnethead was once considered to be exclusively carnivorous, thanks to a diet with small fish, crabs, shrimp and molluscs.

However, scientists have found that in areas where seagrass is abundant, the shark is a lot of greens in his diet. Nevertheless, it is unclear how effective the sharks were actually digesting the seagrass nutrients. To find the answer, in captive bonnetheads were fed with a mostly seagrass-based diet.

In their paper, the researchers explain that the sharks are doing a good job of digesting the seagrass. “We have always thought of sharks as strict carnivores, but the bonnethead is throwing a wrench in that idea by digesting a fair amount of sea grass that they consume,” Leigh told Fox News.

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The study notes that the sharks’ guts are generally considered to be very suitable for a high-protein diet, making the findings of the bonnethead study particularly noteworthy.

“Given the fact that bonnetheads have a digestive system that is similar to that of closely related species that we know to be strict carnivores, we need to re-think what it means to be a ‘carnivorous ‘ gut’,” Leigh said.

In addition, the shark is the impact on the environment should be considered, according to the researcher. “In an ecological context, we should also evaluate the role that this abundant shark is playing in the crucial and fragile sea-grass meadow ecosystems, so that we can be sure to effectively manage these habitats,” she said.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

 

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