Marine Biology

The Mating Habits and Life Cycle of the Lemon Shark



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The Lemon Shark is one of the larger shark species, and gets its name from the browny yellow coloring of its skin. It grows to between 8 and 13 feet in size, and is a nocturnal shark. Unlike many other sharks, it can rest motionless of the sea floor, and thus lie in wait for it's prey. The colour of it's skin allows it to be well camouflaged. It feeds mainly on fish, and occasionally other smaller sharks. Virtually no attacks have been recorded on humans, and it is highly unlikely that it presents any threat to swimmers or divers. The Lemon shark is a widely studied creature, but it's mating habits have proved quite difficult to research.

It is known that the shark reaches sexual maturity around the age of 12 years. The female Lemon Shark returns to her birth waters to mate, and infact never strays to far from those waters throughout her life, while the male is a nomadic creature. This is an unusual arrangement, but it works to ensure that inbreeding is reduced and genetic variation is maintained.

As the female reaches sexual maturity, she will return to the area where she was born, at the same time as other females. This group of females is believed to release pheromones into the water, attracting a large number of male sharks. Once there are plenty of males in the area, the mating begins. Lemon Sharks are not so concerned about being faithful to one another, and it is known that each litter of sharks is sired by several males. Ten to twelve months after the mating process, the female gives birth to a large litter of up to eighteen young.

Being a Lemon Shark baby is a tough life as the young are deposited in shallow water nurseries by the mother. They are literally abandoned there to survive, or not, alone. It is estimated that a little over 30% of the babies survive their first year, fending for themselves from the outset. Relatively little is known about the nurseries, how the baby sharks survive or feed themselves, but more research is being carried out in this area. The young sharks remain in the shallow waters for two or three years, until they are large enough to defend themselves from bigger predators. Then they head out into the open seas, and the cycle begins again.

An attractive and interesting member of the shark family, the Lemon Shark is declining in numbers. Further research on their mating habits and life cycle aims to find ways to protect their numbers before they become seriously threatened.

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