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the web of life in southern Africa

Guide to southern African cartilaginous fish (sharks, rays and chimaeras)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Chondrichthyes

Cartilaginous fish home

Subclass: Elasmobranchii (sharks and rays)


Superorder Galeomorphii (galeomorph sharks)


Order: Heterodontiformes (bullhead sharks)

These small, stout-bodied, mostly inshore bottom sharks have a piglike snout, small mouth, five gill slits, and enlarged rounded teeth in the back of their mouths for crushing invertebrate prey. They lay large, conical, helical-flanged egg-cases on the bottom. Only 1 family, Heterodontidae, with 8 species, 1 in the area: Heterodontus ramalheira (Whitespotted bullhead shark)


Order: Lamniformes (mackeral sharks)

Typical large sharks with 2 spineless dorsal fins, an anal fin, 5 pairs of gill slits, long mouths, and no nictitating eyelids. All species probably live-bearing and with uterine cannibalism. 15 species in 7 families, of which 11 species in the Families Odontaspididae, Mitsukurinidae, Pseudocarcharidae, Alopiidae, Cetorhinidae, and Lamnidae occur in the area.


Order: Orectolobiformes (carpet sharks)

The only sharks that combine 2 spineless dorsal fins, an anal fin, nasal barbels, and a short mouth well in front of the eyes. These are variably egg-laying or live-bearing. 32 living species in 7 families; only the Families Stegostomatidae, Ginglymstomatidae, and Rhincodontidae occur in the area, each with a single species.


Order: Carcharhiniformes (Ground sharks)

The dominant major group of sharks, with 2 spineless dorsal fins, 5 pairs of gill slits, movable nictitating lower eyelids that protect the eyes, and a long mouth extending behind the eyes. Egg laying or live-bearing, some with a placenta. Over 209 species in 8 families; 6 families, Scyliorhinidae, Proscylliidae, Triakidae, Hemigaleidae, Carcharhinidae, and Sphyrnidae, in the area, with 49 species.


Superorder: Squalomorphii (squalomorph sharks)


Order: Hexanchiformes (cow sharks)


Order: Squaliformes (dogfish sharks)


Order: Pristiophoriformes (sawsharks)


Order: Squatiniformes (angel sharks)


Superorder: Batoidei (rays)


Order: Rajiformes (rays)


Suborder: Pristoidei (sawfishes)


Suborder: Rhinoidei (sharkrays)


Suborder: Rhynchobatoidei (wedgefishes)


Suborder: Rhinobatoidei (guitarfishes)


Suborder: Torpedinoidei (Electric rays)


Suborder: Rajoidei (skates)


Suborder: Myliobatoidei (stingrays)

Subclass: Holocephalii (chimaeras or silver sharks)

Text by Leonard J.V. Compagno, David A. Ebert and Malcolm J. Smale