Explore by Animal
You won’t have any trouble spotting the zebra sharks in Wild Reef, no pun intended. They’re the only ones with spots. “Huh?” you might ask. “Why is a spotted shark named after a striped mammal?” That’s because zebra sharks are born with dark brown stripes that morph into dark spots against their creamy background color. Each shark has a unique peppered pattern on its head—a useful tip in helping us identify who’s who at Shedd.
Beyond the spots, a zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) is truly atypical in the looks department. Its flexible, wiggling tail is nearly as long as its body. (Adults average 7 to 8 feet in length.) Unlike denser species, a zebra can squirm in and out of tight, narrow spaces in search of snails, small fishes and other prey. Its barbels, or fleshy feelers beside each nostril, help it find food, especially at night when it prefers to hunt.
Like many other fishes, zebra sharks have their own private housekeepers. A bluestreak cleaner wrasse is often found sucking unwanted leftovers, dead skin and parasites off the shark’s body. In this equal partnership, the wrasse gets a free meal, and the shark gets a good cleaning.
While many sharks swim at missile speeds, docile zebras move slowly and often rest quietly on the sandy floor near coral reefs. Sometimes they are found propped up on their pectoral fins with their mouths facing the current. Scientists think this takes some pressure off of pumping water to breathe. Look for zebras along the bottom of the central habitat when you visit Wild Reef.