Pyjama Shark: Anatomy, Diet, Habitat and Facts

Did you ever hear about pyjama sharks? It may sound funny and unrealistic, but there is a sharks specie called “Pyjama Shark.” It is a South African Coastal Shark species and belongs to the family Scyliorhinidae.

In this piece, I will explore the anatomy, diet, habitat, and reproduction of pyjama sharks while uncovering a few fascinating facts about them.

Pyjama Sharks at a Glance

Common NamePyjama shark
Scientific NamePoroderma africanum
Other NamesStriped catshark, Zebra catshark, or Baloon shark
DietSmall bony fishes, cephalopods, and crustaceans
DistributionSouth African Coastline
HabitatContinental shelves and slopes, usually found near the bottom
Size3.1 feet
WeightUp to 7.9 kg (17 lb)
Gestation Period5-6 months
Litter Size1-2 eggs per oviduct
Conservation StatusNear Threatened


10 Fun Facts About Pyjama Sharks

  1. Pyjama sharks are also known as striped catsharks, zebra catsharks, and balloon sharks due to their unique appearance.
  2. Their distinctive coloration and markings resemble the stripes on traditional sleepwear, hence the name “pyjama shark.”
  3. These sharks are relatively small, with adults typically growing up to 3.1 feet in length.
  4. Pyjama sharks have rough skin with specialized scales called dermal denticles that protect them from injury and deter parasites.
  5. They have noticeably large, rounded dorsal and pectoral fins that allow them to maneuver with ease through their surroundings.
  6. Pyjama sharks are oviparous, with females laying up to 2 eggs at a time.
  7. These sharks exhibit a nocturnal lifestyle, hiding in crevices and caves during the day and hunting for prey at night.
  8. Their diet mainly consists of marine invertebrates and small fish, which they ambush and swallow whole with their powerful jaws.
  9. Pyjama sharks can be found in various habitats, ranging from shallow coastal waters to deeper offshore areas with rocky or sandy substrates.
  10. Due to their relatively slow reproductive rate and the increasing pressures of human activities, pyjama shark populations face potential threats, including habitat loss, climate change, and targeted or incidental capture in commercial and recreational fishing.

Detail Discussion About Pyjama Sharks

Pyjama sharks, scientifically known as Poroderma africanum, are catshark species belonging to the Scyliorhinidae family. These fascinating creatures, mostly found along the coastlines of Southern Africa, possess unique physical traits and fascinating characteristics that set them apart from other shark species.

Pyjama Shark
Pyjama Shark

Pyjama sharks are relatively small in size, with adults typically growing up to 3.1 feet in length. These sharks are characterized by their distinctive coloration and markings, resembling traditional sleepwear stripes, inspiring their common name.

Though they are small in size, pyjama sharks exhibit interesting features that make them efficient predators in their habitat. Their elongated, cylindrical bodies are covered in rough skin with dermal denticles, a type of specialized scale that protects them from injury and deter parasites.

Pyjama sharks have noticeably large, rounded dorsal and pectoral fins that allow them to maneuver with ease through their surroundings. Additionally, they have a pair of prominent spiracles situated behind each eye, which aid in water intake and subsequent respiration.

Pyjama sharks occupy a variety of habitats, ranging from shallow coastal waters to deeper offshore areas with rocky or sandy substrates. Interestingly, they tend to exhibit a nocturnal lifestyle, hiding in crevices and caves during the day and hunting for prey at night.

Their diet mainly consists of marine invertebrates and small fish. Using a combination of electroreception and their keen sense of smell, these predators ambush their prey from sheltered spots, often swallowing it whole with their powerful jaws.

Pyjama sharks are oviparous. Females can lay up to 2 eggs at a time. Over five to six months, the embryos grow and consume the yolk sac for nourishment until they fully emerge as miniature versions of the adult shark.

Due to their relatively slow reproductive rate and the increasing pressures of human activities, pyjama shark populations face potential threats, including habitat loss, climate change, and targeted or incidental capture in commercial and recreational fishing.

Why Is It Called a Pyjama Shark?

The pyjama shark got its name due to its distinctive and striking appearance, which resembles that of striped pyjamas. They are also known by their other name – striped catshark, zebra catshark, or balloon shark – all related to their unique appearance.

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The pyjama shark boasts an overall black-brown coloration with seven to eight white or yellowish vertical stripes running down its sides. These broad, continuous stripes are reminiscent of the pattern found on traditional striped pyjama sets.

The stripes are less apparent in smaller sharks, around 40-50 cm, and become more prominent as they grow. Apart from giving the shark its charming name, these stripes serve an essential purpose—camouflage. The pattern helps the pyjama shark blend in with its surroundings, particularly when resting on the seafloor amidst kelp forests and rocky reefs.

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The “pyjama” pattern is also suggested to help the shark perform effective counter-shading. The term refers to the unique coloration some organisms possess, allowing them to be effectively camouflaged when viewed at different angles.

The lighter, striped side facilitates blending into the brighter water above, while the darker side enables it to merge into the seafloor when seen from below. This adaptation is particularly important for the pyjama shark as it is both a predator and prey to larger marine animals, such as seals.

Anatomy of Pyjama Sharks

Integumentary System

The pyjama shark’s skin is covered in small, tooth-like structures called dermal denticles or placoid scales, which protect the shark from damage and parasites. These denticles are arranged in a striped pattern, with dark blue and light gray bands unique to the species.

This skin pattern serves as camouflage, allowing the shark to blend in with the surrounding environment and avoid detection from potential prey.

Skeletal System

Like all sharks, pyjama sharks have a cartilaginous skeleton, meaning their bones are made from cartilage rather than bone. This makes them lighter and more flexible than bony fish, allowing them to maneuver easily through the water.

Pyjama sharks have an elongated, cylindrical body and a long, tapered tail that supports their distinctively slow swimming movement.

Muscular System

Pyjama sharks have powerful muscles that help them to swim with smooth, undulating movements. Their muscles are segmented into a series of W-shaped structures called myomeres, which generate their unique swimming motion.

Pyjama sharks primarily rely on their well-developed caudal fin (tail fin) for propulsion, while their pectoral fins stabilize them during swimming.

Respiratory System

Like other bottom-dwelling sharks, Pyjama sharks have spiracles, which are openings behind the eyes. These structures assist in the passage of water over their gills while the shark is stationary or feeding on the ocean floor.

They have 5-7 gill slits on each side of their head, which are used for extracting oxygen from the water.

Circulatory System

The circulatory system of pyjama sharks is comprised of a single-loop system, which directs blood from the heart to the gills, where oxygen is absorbed, and then to the rest of the body.

The heart is a simple, two-chambered structure, which includes a sinus venosus, atrium, ventricle, and conus arteriosus. After passing through the shark’s body, the deoxygenated blood returns to the heart to be pumped through the gills again.

Digestive System

Pyjama Shark
Pyjama Shark

Pyjama sharks are carnivorous, feeding on a variety of bony fish, squid, and crustaceans. Their mouth is located ventrally (on the underside of the body), and they have sharp, pointed teeth arranged in rows for grasping and tearing prey.

Once captured, the food is transported through the shark’s short esophagus to the J-shaped stomach, where digestion begins. Subsequently, the partially digested food moves through the spiral valve intestine, where nutrients are absorbed, and the remaining waste is excreted through the cloaca and anus.

Nervous System

Like other sharks, the pyjama shark’s brain is relatively small compared to its body size. However, they possess an acute sense of smell, which is useful for locating prey in dark and murky waters.

They also have specialized sensory cells called ampullae of Lorenzini, which detect electrical signals given off by other animals. These cells are concentrated around the head and snout, providing sharks with an exceptional ability to sense prey items hidden in the sand or at a distance.

What Do Pyjama Sharks Eat?

Pyjama sharks have a diet that consists of a wide range of marine organisms. They primarily feed on benthic invertebrates – animals that dwell on or within the ocean floor. Their favorite prey items include crustaceans, such as crabs, lobsters, and shrimps.

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The specialized teeth of pyjama sharks are designed to crack through the hard exoskeletons of these crustaceans, enabling them to access the soft inner flesh. These carnivorous creatures also feed on mollusks, such as squids, octopuses, and various species of smaller sea snails.

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Interestingly, pyjama sharks also consume bony fish and can even prey on other smaller species of sharks and their eggs. During a research study, their stomach contents were analyzed, and various fish species like hake, horse mackerel, and sole were discovered, indicating their preference for small, bottom-dwelling fish.

These dietary habits make pyjama sharks key players in maintaining a balance within their ecosystem by regulating the population of many species they prey upon.

Another noteworthy aspect of the pyjama shark’s diet is its opportunistic feeding behavior. While actively hunting at night within the confines of their rocky habitats or among kelp forests, they may come across the carcasses of larger marine animals, including seals and whales. These sharks will scavenge to acquire an easy and energy-rich meal in such instances.

Despite their relatively small size, pyjama sharks exhibit a diverse and adaptable diet that helps maintain ecosystem health and provides an interesting window into the complex predatory dynamics of marine life.

Where Do Pyjama Sharks Live?

Pyjama Shark
Pyjama Shark

Pyjama sharks are nocturnal predators that can be primarily found in the temperate waters surrounding South Africa. Their habitat ranges from shallow inshore areas to deeper offshore environments, with distribution extending along the southern coastline of Mozambique to the Atlantic Ocean near Namibia.

The pyjama shark inhabits diverse environments, allowing for various hunting and sheltering possibilities. The distinct habitats include rugged rocky reefs, kelp forests, estuaries, and open sandy spaces. This adaptability and distribution help the pyjama shark thrive in challenging and resource-rich ecosystems.

One specific area of concentration for the pyjama shark is the kelp forests found within the southwestern Cape region. These densely populated underwater forests provide ample food and hiding spots for the stealthy nocturnal predator. The kelp serves as a nurturing ground for various marine species that form part of the pyjama shark’s diet, consisting primarily of bony fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods.

Furthermore, the pyjama shark displays a depth preference in its habitats, occupying depths ranging from inshore shallows ranging from 100 to 350 meters below the ocean surface.

Juvenile pyjama sharks prefer shallower waters near the coastline, which protects them from larger predators. As they age, pyjama sharks develop a tendency to venture deeper into the ocean to avoid competition and seek new hunting grounds.

In addition to their natural habitats, pyjama sharks have also been known to occupy artificial environments such as shipwrecks and other underwater structures. These structures offer ample hiding and ambush opportunities for the species. Various conservation efforts, including marine protected areas, have been implemented to preserve the habitat of these small yet remarkable sharks.

What Is the Lifespan of Pyjama Sharks?

The lifespan of pyjama sharks is not well understood, but they are known to live for up to 21 years. Little is known about this species’ reproductive behavior and life history, making it difficult to accurately assess its age.

However, research suggests that these small sharks reach sexual maturity approximately between 8 to 12 years of age. Males gain maturity when they reach lengths of 1.9 to 2.5 ft, while females typically get mature at sizes of around 2.1 to 2.4 ft.

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Despite their small size, pyjama sharks display remarkable resilience and adaptability within their environment, which allows them to survive for prolonged periods in the wild.

Conservational efforts are currently underway to ensure that the species is not threatened by overfishing or human activities.

How Do Pyjama Sharks Reproduce? (Oviparous)

As oviparous creatures, pyjama sharks give birth by fertilizing eggs in protective cases.

The reproduction mechanism starts with pyjama shark mating, which is a complex and intriguing process. The male shark will hold onto the female shark with its teeth and bite onto its pectoral fin so that it can copulate.

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During this act, one of the male’s claspers is inserted into the female’s cloaca to deliver sperm and fertilize her eggs.

Following fertilization, the female pyjama shark produces a unique, purse-like egg case called a “mermaid’s purse.” This structure is typically constructed of collagen proteins and functions to protect the developing embryo.

The blackish or dark brown cases possess tendrils or curly threads on each of the four corners, which assist in anchoring the egg case to structures on the ocean floor, such as rocks, seaweed, or seafloor-dwelling organisms. They do this to avoid predation risk and maintain a relatively stable environment throughout the development stage.

Within each mermaid’s purse are one or two embryos, depending on the specific reproductive cycle of the female shark. These embryos are surrounded by a yolk sac, which provides nourishment and sustenance during the growing process.

The yolk sac serves as a source of lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, and other essential nutrients needed for the healthy development of the fetus.

The gestation period for pyjama sharks ranges from five to six months, a comparatively long development time as compared to other oviparous species. During this period, the embryos remain within the safety of the egg case while they grow and mature.

Towards the end of gestation, juvenile sharks known as “pups” emerge from the mermaid’s purses as fully-formed miniature versions of adult pyjama sharks. The pups can swim and hunt for food as soon as they enter the world.

Are Pyjama Sharks Dangerous to Humans?

Pyjama sharks (Poroderma africanum) are typically not considered dangerous to humans. As shy and nocturnal creatures, they generally avoid contact with humans and prefer to stay concealed during the day.

Due to their small size, pyjama sharks are usually not aggressive toward humans. Instead, they often display timid, elusive behavior when faced with potential threats. Their natural inclination to avoid confrontation and maintain a safe distance from humans and divers further decreases the chance of any danger.

While pyjama sharks may be caught as bycatch during fishing activities, they are mostly unharmed and released back into the wild. Some ecotourism programs promote snorkeling or diving trips to observe these visually appealing animals in their natural habitat.

However, such encounters often prove challenging due to the shark’s skittish nature and preference for staying hidden within kelp beds or rocky crevices.

What Is the Conservation Status Of Pyjama Sharks?

The conservation status of pyjama sharks (Poroderma africanum) is currently classified as “Near Threatened,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

This categorization indicates that while pyjama sharks are not presently endangered or facing an immediate threat of extinction, their population has been experiencing a decline, and they could potentially become at risk if mitigating measures are not taken to conserve the species.

These sharks have a significant ecological role as both predators and prey in their marine ecosystems. They have a diverse diet consisting of mollusks, crustaceans, and fish, contributing to the balance and health of their habitats. However, they also serve as a food source for larger marine predators, including seals, other sharks, and even humans.

Several factors contribute to the decreasing population of pyjama sharks, with human activities being the most significant. They are often caught as bycatch in commercial fishing nets and trawls meant for other species of marine life.

Moreover, their slow reproductive rate makes them vulnerable to overfishing. With a gestation period of approximately 5 to 6 months, a female pyjama shark produces only 2 pups per litter.

Habitat degradation due to pollution, coastal development, and climate change also play a role in their dwindling population. Changes in water temperature and ocean acidification can directly affect their distribution, reproduction, and availability of prey, further contributing to their decline.

In order to improve the conservation status of pyjama sharks and prevent them from becoming endangered, there is a pressing need for more comprehensive regulations to protect them. This includes better management of commercial fishing practices, such as implementing sustainable quotas, size limits, and seasonal restrictions to minimize bycatch.

Additionally, further research on pyjama sharks’ population dynamics, reproductive biology, and habitat preferences is essential to inform effective conservation strategies.

Public awareness and education about the importance of pyjama sharks within their ecosystems and the threats they face are also critical components of any conservation effort.


Now, you know everything about the pyjama sharks. I have their habitat, diet, anatomy, reproduction, lifespan, and conservation status. If you have further queries about them, let me know.

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