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Epaulette sharks have slender bodies that allow them to swim between coral branches and wriggle into narrow reef crevices during their nighttime hunt for prey. The shark’s cream-colored body is covered with many brown dots and, above its pectoral fins, two large black spots (ocelli). Those spots look like ornamental epaulettes on a military uniform—hence the shark's name. Predators hovering above the shark could easily mistake the spots for eyes of a larger, more dangerous fish and dash off to find smaller prey.
Muscular pectoral fins enable this shark to "walk" along the seafloor. When disturbed, instead of swimming out of danger, it sometimes quickly "runs" away.
Wild populations appear healthy, probably because epaulette sharks aren’t of interest to commercial fisheries.
Because plants in tide pools don’t produce oxygen at night, creatures that live there use up all or most of the oxygen during the night. Epaulette sharks caught in tide pools by the receding tide can turn off enough body functions to survive several hours with little or no oxygen. Researchers are working to discover how the shark manages with so little oxygen—the answer might help in the treatment of stroke patients or during heart surgeries.
This shark hunts at night, often in tide pools, where it feeds on bottom dwellers. When eating animals with hard shells, the shark’s spiky, sharp teeth flatten to form crushing plates.