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Epaulette Shark

(Hemiscyllium ocellatum)

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 Quick Care Facts

• Care Level: Expert   • Temperament: Aggressive   • Maximum Size: 40"
• Minimum Tank Size: 300 gallons   • Water Conditions: 72-80° F, dKH 8-12, pH 8.1-8.4, sg 1.020-1.025
• Diet: Carnivore   • Origin: Indo-Pacific, Australia
• Family: Hemiscyllidae   • Species: Sharks   • Aquarium Type: Predatory

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Native Habitat and Species Information

Epaulette Shark native habitat, distribution, behavior & aquarium compatibility.

Epaulette Sharks are found living in shallow tropical lagoons, coral reefs and tidal pools from New Guinea to the coasts of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. Epaulette Sharks have adaptations that make them adept at living in shallow waters, which also makes them one of the most well suited sharks for aquarium life. Epaulette Sharks use their pectoral fins to navigate tight rocky crevices and coral formations that are commonly found both in shallow reefs and home aquariums.

Living in a naturally shallow water environment, Epaulettes have become very tolerant of both low oxygen levels and wide temperature ranges. These traits make them excellent aquarium sharks, as home aquariums typically experience more water chemistry and temperature swings than a natural ocean environment. Epaulette Sharks have thin bodies with their tail fins making up almost half of their overall length.

Unlike ram ventilation species of sharks that need to keep swimming in order to breath, the Epaulette Shark is able to use muscles in its neck in order to pump water over their gills. This allows Epaulette Sharks to live in aquariums that are much smaller in size than is typically required for many shark species. Being able to sit stationary within the aquarium, walking on their pectoral fins to move about and having long slender bodies with long tails make Epaulette Sharks arguably the ideal home aquarium shark.

Aquarium Care

How to successfully keep Epaulette Shark in the home aquarium.

The adult Epaulette Shark should ultimately be housed in a fairly large aquarium, typically about 300 gallons in size. Juvenile Epaulettes however can be kept in aquariums as small as 55 gallons as long as they are moved to larger aquariums as they mature. All sharks including the Epaulette Shark put out a fairly sizeable bio-load on the filtration as they eat large meaty foods and put out an equally large amount of waste. Thus excellent biological, chemical and mechanical filtration is required to provide good water quality.

Protein skimmers are very important for shark aquariums as they remove waste before it has a chance to breakdown. This is critical to shark aquariums as they typically lack the large amounts of live rock and cleaning crew invertebrates that reef aquariums posses to help breakdown or denitrify the aquarium water. The addition of a large external refugium is highly recommended for the shark aquarium, since it provides a place for beneficial denitrifying bacteria, reef cleaning invertebrates and nutrient consuming macro algae and plants to grow and thrive. All of which will help maintain excellent water conditions in the main aquarium housing the sharks.

Epaulette Shark aquariums should generally be at least as deep from front to back as the shark is long, and at least 3 times as long as the shark. Only soft sandy substrates should be used as to not irritate the soft underside of the shark as it crawls about the substrate. Crushed coral and other coarse substrates are not well suited for shark aquariums.

Being a nocturnal species in nature, the Epaulette Shark should be provided with plenty of large rocky caves and crevices in which it can retreat to in order to escape the bright aquarium lighting. Tank mates should also be carefully considered, as small fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. will be seen as prey items, while large aggressive Angelfish, Triggerfish and Groupers can cause damage to the Shark. Lastly, the aquarium should be well covered in order to keep the heavily muscled shark from accidentally finding its way out of the aquarium and onto the floor.

Feeding & Nutrition

How to feed and provide proper nutrition for Epaulette Shark.

In their natural habitat, Epaulette Sharks feed primarily on small crabs, worms, shrimp and small fish that they find living in small rocky crevices, coral crevices and underneath the sand. Their powerful jaws are capable of producing a large amount of suction that they use to extract prey from both tight crevices and from underneath the sand.

Epaulette Sharks have small teeth that are used for holding prey while the swallow it, not to chop or chew foods. Thus they are limited to what size foods that they can consume. Hobbyists should feed their Epaulette Shark an amount of food that the Shark will eagerly consume within a few minutes, 2 to 3 times per week. Recommended food items include: shrimp, mussels, clams, feeder shrimp, frozen feeder fish or other similar marine based meaty items.

Be sure to monitor the overall girth of the Sharks body to be sure that it is receiving adequate nutrition. If the stomach extends out past the overall body or the shark is growing very quickly, cut back a bit on the quantity of food at each feeding. If the shark appears thin either increase the amount of food per feeding or increase feedings to 3 to 4 times per week.

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