The marine life is filled with majestic and wonderful creatures. As one of the top predators in the ocean, sharks have always had a reputation for being large, dangerous, and oftentimes deadly. But did you know that not all of them are those large, toothy beasts?
In fact, even the smallest shark species are just as fascinating as their larger counterparts, with some of them having unique physical features, and others having habits that will surprise you. Keep reading to excite your curiosity and learn about this diverse group of creatures.
What Is the Smallest Shark Species?
With upwards of 500 different species, sharks come in all shapes and sizes. The smaller ones are often overshadowed by the large, popular creatures that we’re so accustomed to seeing in the media. But make no mistake, these small sharks are just as interesting and important to the ecosystem as the great whites. However, the smallest recognized shark is called the dwarf lanternshark. That being said, this is just one of many, so let’s take a look at each of them.
The name is probably a dead giveaway, but the dwarf lanternshark easily sits at the top of the list in the Guinness Book of World Records. Even when fully grown, this diminutive creature only reaches a maximum length of 7.4 inches for females and 6.3 inches for males. The difference in size is due to the fact that females have larger reproductive organs.
Dwarf sharks are found on the continental shelf of the Western Atlantic, specifically off the coast of Venezuela and Colombia. They’re nocturnal hunters, which explains their large eyes that help them see in the dark.
These small shark species have a unique feature in that their bodies actually light up. They achieve this bioluminescence by using photophores, which are special cells that produce and reflect light. This is an incredible adaptation that helps the dwarf lanternshark avoid predators, as well as attract prey.
Spined Pygmy Shark
A close second to the dwarf lanternshark in terms of size is the spined pygmy shark. This little guy only grows to be about 5.9 inches for males and 7.8 inches for females, and is found in the mesopelagic zone of tropical and subtropical waters around the world.
Despite its small size, the spined pygmy shark is a fierce predator. It preys on small fish, squid, and crustaceans, which it detects using special sensors called ampullae of Lorenzini. These sensors can detect the electrical fields produced by other animals, even in complete darkness.
Once the sharks mate, they give birth to live pups, usually up to four at a time. They’re born fully developed and independent and the mother will then abandon them to fend for themselves, as she is unable to provide care or protection.
Pygmy Ribbontail Catshark
The pygmy ribbontail catshark is another small species of shark that only grows to be about 6.3 and 7.4 inches in length for females and males, respectively. These guys are found in the Western Pacific Ocean, mostly in the area around India and Indonesia.
Pygmy sharks normally live at depths of around 230 to 2.500 feet, with the males staying closer to the surface than the females. Not much is known about this species of shark, but they are believed to be relatively harmless to humans.
Smalleye Pygmy Shark
Among the small shark types, the smalleye pygmy shark is one of the most widespread in the Indo-Pacific region. It’s found in waters off the coast of Japan all the way to Australia and New Zealand.
It can be found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, at depths of up to 6.500 feet. These little ones grow to be about 8.7 inches long once they reach adulthood.
As their name suggests, they have very small eyes relative to their body size. This makes sense when you consider their deep-sea habitat, where there is very little light. Bigger eyes would actually be a disadvantage, as they would require more light to function properly.
Instead, they have developed large photophores on their underside, which they use to produce light. By lighting up their bellies, they can confuse predators that are looking for them from below. At the same time, this also attracts prey towards them and gives them that extra edge.
Panama Ghost Catshark
When it comes to sharks that stay small, the Panama ghost catshark is somewhat larger but definitely no less impressive. These guys can grow to be up to 9 inches long and can be found in the tropical waters of Panama and Costa Rica.
They live at depths of around 3.000 to 3.200 feet, allowing them to stay out of the sunlight. Their nocturnal hunting habits and large eyes help them to find food in the dark depths of the ocean.
Their diet consists mostly of small fish, squid, and crustaceans, which they capture using their long barbels. These sensory organs help them to detect movement and vibration in the water, even when there is limited light or visibility.
Atlantic Ghost Catshark
Found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, this deepwater species is one of the most elusive and rarely seen sharks in the world. It only grows to be about 9.25 inches long, making it one of the smallest sharks you can find in this part of the world. It prefers to stay in deep waters, at depths of around 3.500 to 4.900 feet.
This species is believed to be a type of sleeper shark, meaning that it has the ability to enter a state of torpor when food is scarce. This means that their metabolism slows down and they can go for long periods of time without eating. As such, they are able to survive in some of the most hostile environments on Earth.
What Is the Smallest Shark You Can Buy?
Unfortunately, all of the other species listed above may not be available for purchase, as they are either too rare or not suited for life in captivity. As bummed out as that may make you, there’s still a potential solution to your shark-sized problem.
So, you’re looking for the cutest smallest shark in the world for your home aquarium, then you should definitely check out Bala sharks. Known as the tricolor shark due to its distinctive outer coloring, these guys only grow to be about 14 inches long.
Despite their small size, they are actually quite active swimmers and need a lot of space to move around. They also prefer to live in groups, so you’ll need to buy at least two if you want to keep them happy. Bala sharks are relatively easy to care for and make a great addition to any at-home fish tank.
As much as we all think of the Megalodon or the Whale Shark when these creatures are brought up in conversation, those at the opposite end of the scale are just as impressive in their own way. While the former may reach the size of a school bus, the latter can live in environments that would be completely hostile to anything larger.
Each of the smallest shark species mentioned above has adapted to survive in some of the most hostile environments on Earth. Whether it’s because of their tiny size or their ability to enter a state of torpor, they have all found a way to thrive in the deep blue sea.