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What is a Horn Shark?

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  • Written By: S. Ashraf
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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The horn shark is a type of marine fish belonging to the shark family Heterodontidae. These sharks live along the continental shelf in the subtropical and warm temperate seas of the Pacific Ocean stretching from the coast of Baja California as far north as central California. Horn sharks are gray or brown in color and have speckled skin with lots of small black spots all over. In appearance, the horn shark is distinct from other sharks because it has a short, blunt head with bony ridges over its eyes in front of its dorsal fins. It takes its name from these ridges because they look like two horns.

Horn sharks are one of the smaller species of shark. The maximum length of this shark is about 4 feet (122 cm) but the average adult usually is about 3.2 feet (97 cm). Hatchlings range in size from 6-7 inches (15-17 cm).

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Water temperature controls the habitat of the horn shark, because it prefers waters with a temperature of more than 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). When waters are warm, the horn shark will live in shallow areas and is most often found at depths from 7-36 feet (2-11 m). After waters turn colder in wintertime, horn sharks move to depths usually greater than 98 feet (30 m) in order to keep their bodies warm enough. Other than responding to water temperature, horn sharks actually do not cover much open sea. Generally, they stay within a home range that is about as large as an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The horn shark, which is also called a bullhead shark, differs from other types of sharks because it prefers to stay close to the bottom of the ocean. During the day, the horn shark likes to hide in a favorite resting place, which usually is in a crevice, among rocks or in a bed of seaweed or kelp. It comes out at night to hunt for prey such as shrimp, snails, sea urchins and crabs. Horn sharks are not good swimmers and, in fact, they will use their pectoral fins instead to crawl along the ocean floor to search for prey.

Mating season is in mid-winter. Over the next few weeks, the female deposits about 24 eggs on the bottom, which she then places in crevices to protect them from predators. It takes about six to nine months for an egg to hatch.

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