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What Is a Leopard Shark?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 28 April 2018
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The leopard shark is a species that’s found mostly on the western coast of the North American continent. These sharks have dark markings along their backs, which accounts for their naming, and they grow to be about 7 feet (2.1 meters) long at a maximum, although most are between 4 and 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters). In terms of build, the leopard shark is typically broad with a curved snout, and it has especially wide pectoral fins that are notably wing-like in appearance. Leopard sharks are fairly common within their range, and aren’t generally considered a danger to humans although there have been a few minor incidents.

In general, the leopard shark likes to live in shallow water near the coastline. That’s where most of its prey are located, and that’s where it is generally best adapted to survive. Divers occasionally spot the sharks in deeper water, and some experts think they tend to migrate away from the shore when the weather starts getting cold. This tendency to live close to the shore means that they are often spotted by people in various situations, but there still haven’t been any serious incidents or deaths caused by the animals.

These sharks tend to live in schools, and experts have noted behavior that suggests a social pecking order of some sort, although this isn’t very well-understood. Leopard shark schools often contain members from other shark species as well, such as the spiny dogfish and gray smoothhound. All the sharks in these groups tend to move together as they search for sources of food or migrate because of weather.

The leopard shark hunts many different kinds of small marine animals, including various mollusks, crabs, shrimp, and certain small fish. Most of its prey are found near the ocean bottom, and as a result, this is the area where the shark tends to spend most of its time. This species has the ability to generate a suction vortex around its mouth, dragging prey into the reach of its teeth, which is its primary method of hunting.

Leopard sharks give live birth about once a year, and have a gestation period that lasts around 12 months. Litter sizes can be very wide-ranging and might be as low as five or as high as 30. The newborn sharks are a little less than a foot long (30 cm), and the mothers usually give birth in a shallow area with an easily available food source, giving them the best possible chance of survival.

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