The Varied Carpetshark
By Bonnie J. Cardone
If you want to see a Varied Carpetshark, also known as the Necklace Carpetshark, you will have to arrange a diving trip off western or southern Australia. This very uncommonly encountered fish is only found in that area and little is known about it. If you do see Parascyllium variolatum, however, you are unlikely to confuse it with any other shark. Long and slender, its most distinctive feature is its coloring. According to the FAO Species Catalogue: Sharks of the World, 'The bold, beautiful colour pattern...is unmistakable: a unique, broad, dark, white-spotted collar around the gills, striking black marks on all fins, dark [brown] blotches and white spots on body....' The shark's 'collar' is '...densely spotted with white like a necklace of pearls.'
The Varied Carpetshark has a narrow, slightly flattened head with a rounded snout. The fifth gill slit overlaps the fourth. The nostrils have short, pointed barbels. The long tail has a terminal notch on the upper lobe; there is no lower lobe. The two dorsal fins and the pelvic fins are the same size, the anal fin is somewhat smaller. The pectoral fins are 'thick, muscular and rather small.' (FAO Species Catalogue.)
The Varied Carpetshark belongs to the order Orectolobiformes; the Carpetsharks; which counts Whale Sharks, Blind Sharks, Wobbegongs, Bamboo Sharks, Zebra Sharks and Nurse Sharks among its members. Altogether, the order has 7 families, 13 genera and 31 species, most of which are sluggish bottom dwellers; the pelagic Whale Shark is the lone exception. The Varied Carpetshark's family, Parascyllidae, contains two genera: Cirrhoscyllium, which has three species and Parascyllium, which has four. The Varied Carpetshark's closest relatives include P. collare (the Collared Carpetshark), P. ferrugineum (the Rusty Carpetshark) and P. multimaculatum (the Tasmanian Carpetshark). All are found only off Australia.
In some books Carpetsharks are called Catsharks, presumably because their eyes resemble those of cats.
Since other species of its genus eat mollusks and crustaceans, the diet of the Varied Carpetshark most probably consists of shellfish as well. Also, most of these sharks are nocturnal.
The Varied Carpetshark is found to depths of about 500 feet and is believed to be an egglayer. A small shark, it is thought to grow to lengths of about three feet. Because it is small and nonaggressive it is considered harmless.