The nurse shark Ginglymostoma cirratum is a shark in the nurse sharks family and may reach a length of 4.3 m.
The name nurse shark is thought to be a corruption of nusse, a name which once referred to the catsharks of the family Scyliorhinidae. The nurse shark family name, Ginglymostomatidae, derives from the Greek: from gynglimos meaning "hinge" and stoma meaning "mouth".
Nurse sharks are nocturnal animals, spending the day in large inactive groups of up to 40 individuals. Hidden under submerged ledges or in crevices within the reef, the nurse sharks seem to prefer specific haunts and will return to them every day. By night, the sharks are largely solitary; they spend most of their time rifling through the bottom sediments in search of food. Their diet consists primarily of crustaceans, molluscs, tunicates, and other fish, particularly stingrays.
Nurse sharks are thought to take advantage of dormant fish which would otherwise be too fast for the sharks to catch; although their small mouths limit the size of prey items, the sharks have large throat cavities which are used as a sort of bellows valve. In this way nurse sharks are able to suck in their prey. Nurse sharks are also known to graze algae and coral.
The mating season runs from late June to the end of July. Nurse sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs develop and hatch within the body of the female, where the hatchlings develop further until live birth occurs. The gestation period is six months, with a typical litter of 30-40 pups. The mating cycle is biennial, as it takes 18 months for the female's ovaries to produce another batch of eggs. The young nurse sharks are born fully developed at about 30 centimetres long in Ginglymostoma cirratum. They possess a spotted coloration which fades with age.
Conservation status: Data deficient
Müller and Henle, 1837
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