Fish come in a diverse range of shapes, colors and sizes. However all fish can be split up into two groups: bony fish or cartilaginous fish. These two groups of fish have different skeletal structures. Bony fish, formally known as osteichthyes have skeletons that are made up primarily of bones. In this article we’re going to look at some examples of cartilaginous fish.
Cartilaginous fish, formally known as chondrichthyes are structurally different as their skeletons are made up mostly of cartilage. Cartilage is a firm but flexible tissue in some fish that makes up the skeletal structure. In our own bodies, cartilage is found in several places throughout the body such as our ears, nose, and parts of our ribcage.
15 examples of cartilaginous fish
Generally speaking, fish like sharks and stingrays make up the class of cartilaginous fish. Having a skeletal system made out of cartilage is advantageous because cartilage is typically very lightweight and flexible, while also incredibly strong. This allows for sharks and rays to swim quickly and for long distances while requiring less energy due to their lighter body plan.
With that being said, let’s have a look at some examples!
1. Great White Shark
Latin name: Carcharodon carcharhias
Everybody is familiar with the Great White. They are the star of the movie, Jaws afterall and have a ferocious reputation. However despite their deadly reputation, attacks on humans are few and far between. These giant fish grow up to an average of 11-16 feet long and up to 1,150-1,700 pounds with females getting larger than males. Great Whites tend to feed on marine mammals like seals and whales and even other sharks.
2. Tiger Shark
Latin name: Galeocerdo cuvier
The Tiger Shark, named for its striped, tiger-like pattern is another large shark growing up to nearly 17 feet long in some cases. Tiger Sharks are absolutely not known for being picky eaters and items like license plates, garbage and even parts of a suit of armor have been found in the belly of these fish. They can be found in subtropical and tropical waters around the world.
3. Giant Manta Ray
Latin name: Mobula birostris
The Giant Manta Ray is the largest species of ray in the world and can have a wingspan as long as 23 feet across. Not only do they grow to be very large, they can be extremely heavy and can weigh as much as 6,600 pounds! Despite their large size, these gentle giants are harmless and eat microorganisms via filter feeding. Giant Mantas can be found in tropical and temperate waters nearly throughout the whole world.
4. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Latin name: Sphyrna lewini
Hammerhead sharks are best known for their broad, hammer shaped head. Scalloped Hammerheads are smaller than other Hammerhead species, reaching lengths of about 5-8 feet. These sharks stick exclusively to more shallow, coastal waters on the east coast of North and South America, along the coast of Africa and throughout Asia and Australia.
5. Giant Freshwater Stingray
Latin name: Urogymnus polylepis
While most stingrays can be found in the ocean, the Giant Freshwater Stingray is found exclusively in rivers and estuaries in Thailand, Cambodia and Borneo. These giant, flat fish can be as large as over 6 feet across and over 16 feet long. They eat molluscs, worms, and crustaceans.
6. Whale Shark
Latin name: Rhincodon typus
Whale Sharks are not whales at all but are sharks that happen to be whale-size. In fact, they are the largest species of fish in the world and on average are anywhere between 26 and 50 feet long, with females being larger than males. As intimidating as their large size can be, Whale sharks are completely harmless and only feed on small organisms called plankton.
7. Lemon Shark
Latin name: Negaprion brevirostris
The Lemon Shark gets its name from its yellow hue, however they are not the striking yellow color typically associated with lemons. They are fairly social sharks and live, travel and hunt in groups. They can be found in shallow, sandy, coastal waters off the coast of North and South America and the northwestern coast of Africa.
8. Cownose Ray
Latin name: Rhinoptera bonasus
Cownose Rays are popular in aquariums and even touch tanks and tend to have a calm disposition. In the wild however, Cownose Rays can sometimes be seen travelling in large migrations where hundreds at a time will swim together. They are distributed throughout shallow waters in the Eastern and Western portions of the Atlantic ocean.
9. Blue Shark
Latin name: Prionace glauca
The Blue Shark is appropriately named for the deep blue color along the dorsal portion of its body. These sharks are deep water sharks and are found in oceans virtually all throughout the world excluding arctic regions. Blue Sharks have a specialized diet of mainly squid but they will also eat anything from lobster to other small sharks.
10. Common Stingray
Latin name: Dasyatis pastinaca
Common Stingrays are somewhat plain stingrays that blend in well to muddy waters along the coast. They do not grow to be very big, only about 1.5 feet across and feed on crustaceans and molluscs. Common Stingrays are found in the Mediterranean and Black Sea as well as parts of the northeastern Atlantic Ocean.
11. Bull Shark
Latin name: Carcharhinus leucas
Bull Sharks are dynamic sharks and are able to survive in both marine and fresh or brackish water. These sharks have a somewhat more aggressive demeanor than their relatives and have been involved in a number of run ins between sharks and humans. Bull Sharks are found in several coastal regions throughout the world in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. In America, Bull sharks have been known to swim up the Mississippi River as far north as Illinois.
12. Bigeye Thresher Shark
Latin name: Alopias superciliosus
Thresher Sharks are easily identified by the extremely large upper half of their tailfin. Thresher Sharks use their tail fin to whip and stun unsuspecting fish before gobbling them up. As suggested by the name, these sharks also have relatively large eyes, sometimes growing up to nearly 4 inches in diameter. Bigeye Threshers live in scattered distributions in tropical and subtropical waters throughout the world.
13. Shortfin Mako Shark
Latin name: Isurus oxyrinchus
The Shortfin Mako Shark is a fast moving shark, capable of swimming and jumping at great speeds. They have even been known to jump into boats on occasion. Shortfin Makos have a very large distribution and are found in mainly pelagic waters, far offshore throughout much of the world. The Shortfin Mako is a relatively large shark and is typically around 10 feet long.
14. Spotted Eagle Ray
Latin name: Aeobatus narinari
Aptly named, the Spotted Eagle Ray is covered in gorgeous white spots that make it stick out amongst the backdrop of a coral reef. These rays are known for taking the occasional leap out of the water while on the move. Spotted Eagle Rays feed primarily on crustaceans and molluscs and grow to be up to 16 feet long. They are found in warm, tropical and subtropical coastal waters throughout the world.
15. Shovelnose Guitarfish
Latin name: Rhinobatus productus
Guitarfish are strange looking creatures and look somewhere in between a shark, stingray and guitar but they are actually a species of ray. They grow to be roughly 4-4.5 feet long and lack any venomous barb making them completely harmless. Shovelnose Guitarfish have a very restricted distribution and are only found off the coast of California.