White-spotted bamboo sharks belong to the family Hemiscyllidae and have an elongated grey/brown body featuring darker stripes. They can grow to about three feet long and inhabit the Indo-West Pacific Ocean regions of Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Japan and the Philippines.

These sharks prefer shallow reefs and have slender bodies to navigate between coral branches and crevices. Similar to other sharks, they have electroreceptors on their snout to locate food buried within sand or mud. Their fins are used to “crawl” along ocean floors/reefs.

In a special 12-part video series that culminates at the start of Shark Week 2019 on July 22, the Phoenix Zoo is giving guests an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the remarkable white-spotted bamboo shark! 

We’ll be the tour guides as we show you how they eat, lay eggs, hatch and grow! 

Part 12: They Grow Up So Fast!

Looking back over the last 14 weeks, we witnessed this baby shark develop right before our eyes!

Watch as the last 109 days are compressed into a one-minute video and observe the complete development and birth of our white-spotted bamboo shark. 

Typical for adult female bamboo sharks, two eggs were laid together on February 14, 2019. To protect them, our female shark hid the eggs behind some rocks in Stingray Bay. The eggs were then relocated to their own tank where we could watch and document their development.  On June 3, 2019, a male pup or baby boy shark was born.

What about the second egg? Just three days later, on June 6, 2019, the second egg hatched. It’s a girl!

Both pups are doing well as they grow bigger and stronger each day. At one-and-a-half-months old, they eat small pieces of fish and shrimp. Bamboo sharks are nocturnal with the majority of their activity taking place at night. These pups, like their parents, give the appearance that they are cuddling as they sleep right next to each other. Many theories exist explaining this “cuddling” behavior, but no one really knows for sure.


Part 11: Welcome, Baby Shark! (doo doo doo doo doo doo)

At week 14, it’s time for our baby boy to enter the world!

With the egg casing open on each end, the now full-grown shark has the ability to push his way out. Approaching the tank, keeper Mark B. noticed the baby shark’s nose slightly sticking out of the egg. Quickly grabbing the camera, she placed it into the water hoping to catch his entrance into the world.  

Thinking that this was going to be a slow and gradual process, Mari was caught off guard at the speed in which the shark shot out of the small opening! With his yolk sack completely gone, our hungry shark was eating small pieces of fish and shrimp within two days.

Watch him hatch and eat while learning why our Camp Zoo kindergartners love sharks. 


Part 10: So. Close!

During the last few weeks of development, the embryo completely fills the egg casing it has been living in for the last 13 weeks. 

As it grows in size, it consumes the remainder of the yolk sac until nothing is left. 

With little room to move and nothing to eat, it is just about time for our embryo to push its way out of his egg as a fully developed bamboo shark.

Stay tuned next week to see the amazing footage of our shark pushing its way into the world!   


Part 9: Gender Reveal!

At week 11, the baby shark appears fully developed while still attached to the yolk sac. 

Nutrients of the yolk are consumed through the yolk stem and visible under the translucent skin of the abdomen. The shark will continue to grow in size and strength within its protective casing until the entire yolk is consumed.

To identify if this shark is male or female, you have to look closely at its ventral side. 

Do you see a pair of appendages just under the abdomen, between the fins? These appendages are known as claspers; males use claspers in reproduction. 

So, if you guessed male, you are right… it’s a boy!  


Part 8: Boy or Girl?

Crisis strikes during week 10 as the patch covering a hole in the shark’s egg casing breaks free. With the embryo growing in size, placing more pressure on the egg casing, a decision was made to create an incubation chamber out of a spice jar.  

The spice jar will be the perfect place for our growing embryo to finish development. It is approximately the same size as the egg case, smooth, and features small holes at the end of the jar allowing water to flow in and out. It also allows us a clear window to watch the final stages of development!

At week 10, the embryo is now 4 inches long with just under a 1-inch yolk sack. The banded pattern is present along with the gill openings and spiracles. 

Look closely when it exposes its belly (ventral side)… boy or girl?     


Part 7: The Struggle is Real!

During weeks 8 & 9, the most noticeable changes are the shrinking of the gill filaments and external yolk sac. 

At over 3 inches in length, the embryo is almost the full length of the egg case!

In week 9, the egg becomes slightly compromised with a small hole in the side of the case.  Although waterflow in and out of the egg at this point is normal, we do not want the embryo to fall out prematurely. Our veterinary staff applied gauge over the hole, adhered with a waterproof ointment in the hopes to keep everything intact.  

The struggle is real! Looking for that perfect position to grow, our embryo seems less-than-thrilled with his limited space.  


Part 6: Behold, a Shark!

At weeks 6 & 7, the shark appears to grow before our eyes.

Measuring approximately 1 ½ inches at week 5, baby shark doubles in size to 3 inches long by week 7.

Its mouth and eyes become easy to identify as its features continue to develop. 

Taking full advantage of the space inside of the egg casing, the baby shark twists, curls and thrashes about, while remaining firmly tethered to the yoke by the yoke stem. 

As it grows,  the shark will be restricted by its tight enclosure with little room for movement. 


Part 5: The Size of a LEGO!

At week 5, we can now see a number of long red-hair-like strands attached to the embryo. These are the shark’s external gill filaments.

The pectoral, dorsal and ventral fins begin to appear as the shark’s mouth and eyes continue to develop.

At weeks 1 & 2, the shark is about 0.31 cm to 0.98 cm in length. At weeks 3 & 4, it is about 0.97 cm to 3.39 cm.

But at week 5, the shark can grow from 3.24 cm to over 8 cm!

To put that in perspective, the shark is now roughly the size of:

  • a pea
  • a small LEGO
  • three-fifths the size of a golf tee
  • twice the size of an aspirin 


Part 4: Growth at Weeks 3 & 4

By holding a light behind the egg case, we can clearly see the beginning development of our shark!

This baby shark embryo will receive all of its nutrients from the large round yolk sac in the bottom of the egg. The embryo will remain connected to the sac by a yolk stalk throughout the duration of its development. As the embryo grows in size, the yolk sac shrinks until nothing is left. 

During weeks 3 & 4, you should be able to recognize the shark’s tail as it moves around. With the development of the yolk stalk, more than 60% of the body is no longer connected to the yolk.


Part 3: Growth at Weeks 1 & 2

White-spotted bamboo sharks are oviparous, meaning they reproduce by laying eggs.

Each egg is about five inches long and will typically hatch after 14 or 15 weeks. Newborns measure just six inches long!

Check out what they look like at weeks 1 & 2 in the video below.

They are barely visible, but if you look closely, you can see the development!


Part 2: Reproduction and Egg Lay

Males have two claspers located next to their pelvic fins. These claspers are tube-shaped organs that deliver sperm into the female’s reproductive tract. Males initiate courtship by securing a firm grip on the female’s pectoral fin with its mouth (biting it). Sometimes the female will break free of the male’s grasp; other times the female will submit to the male. The act itself only lasts for a few minutes.

These sharks are oviparous (egg laying) and they lay elongated flattened egg-cases with a green yoke inside (similar to a chicken egg). The tendrils on the outer edge of the egg are used to secure the egg in place to hide from predators. Sharks in Stingray Bay hide their eggs by wrapping the tendrils around the pole (as shown in the video) or tucked next to a rock – making it difficult for the stingrays to find them.

Part 1: Feeding Time!

Known as “cat sharks” due to their nasal barbels near their mouths that resemble cat whiskers, white-spotted bamboo sharks use these sensory organs to help them locate food hidden in the sand.