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Horn shark

Horn shark

On Exhibit: Kelp Forest

Animal Facts

  • Scientific Name

    Heterodontus francisci

  • Animal Type


  • Diet

    crustaceans, sea urchins, small fishes, molluscs

  • Size

    to 4 feet (1.2 m)

  • Relatives

    bullhead sharks

  • Habitat

    Kelp Forest

  • Range

    Central California to Baja California

Natural History

While sleeker sharks rule the open waters, horn sharks hide out in the shadows of the seafloor. They're not graceful swimmers and don't move around like their streamlined kin—in fact, sometimes horn sharks use their strong pectoral fins to crawl along rocks.

These small, elusive sharks prefer shallow waters less than 40 feet deep. They spend their days hiding under ledges, in caves or among kelp and other seaweeds; they hunt at night. Horn sharks feed on seafloor invertebrates, especially sea urchins and crabs, and occasionally on small fishes.

The horn shark's average length is just over three feet, and it's named for its large fin spines.


Caught by divers for sport and for their spines, horn shark populations have declined in southern California in areas with intense diver activity. Their spines are made into jewelry. Although there's no commercial market for horn sharks, they're accidentally caught as bycatch, usually in crab traps, gillnets or trawling nets.

Cool Facts

Females lay spiral egg cases, which they wedge into crevices—this makes the egg cases stay put. Each egg case contains one pup, which takes between six and nine months to hatch. 

Slow and sluggish, horn sharks spend their days hidden in crevices or among rocks—unseen for the most part since their coloration matches the muddy browns and greens of their surroundings. 

The scientific name Heterodontus is the Greek word for "different teeth." The teeth lining the front of the horn shark's jaws are sharp and used for grasping prey; the teeth in the back are flat and molarlike, useful for crushing shellfishes. The common name "horn" refers to the spines in front of each dorsal fin.

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