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Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)

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Lemon shark with remoras Lemon shark
James R.D. Scott/Moment Open/Getty Images

Lemon sharks Negaprion brevirostris get their name from their light brown to yellowish skin, which helps them blend in with the sandy ocean bottoms on which they often live.

Description:

Lemon sharks have a blunt snout, flattened head and stocky body. Their two dorsal fins are about the same size. They have a yellowish-brown back and a lighter underside. These sharks grow to a maximum length of about 11 feet and weight of over 400 pounds.

Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Superclass: Gnathostomata
  • Superclass: Pisces
  • Class: Elasmobranchii
  • Subclass:Neoselachii
  • Infraclass:Selachii
  • Superorder:Galeomorphi
  • Order: Carcharhiniformes
  • Family: Carcharhinidae
  • Genus: Negaprion
  • Species: brevirostris

Habitat and Distribution:

Lemon sharks are found in the Atlantic Ocean from New Jersey to Brazil, and the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas and Caribbean. They are found in the Pacific Ocean from southern Baja California, Mexico and the Gulf of California to Ecuador.

Lemon sharks live in shallow waters, and may be found near corals, mangroves, docks, sandy bottoms, and even up into bays, river mouths and fresh water.

Young sharks stay within shallow waters, while adults may migrate offshore.

Feeding:

Prey for lemon sharks most often includes bony fish, crustaceans and rays. Feeding occurs most often at dawn and dusk.

Lemon sharks are thought to have excellent eyesight, due to a horizontal band (termed a "visual streak") in their retina that has cones that can allow the shark to see details and color, which is an advantage in spotting prey, potential mates and potential competitors. You can read more about the eyesight of lemon sharks, and other sharks, here.

Reproduction:

Lemon sharks become sexually mature at 6-7 years of age. Lemon sharks reproduce sexually, with the male inserting his claspers into the female to transfer sperm. The gestation period is about 10-12 months during which the young are nourished inside the mother via a yolk sac placenta (therefore, lemon sharks are viviparous). Females give birth at nursery grounds from April through September. There are 4-17 pups in each litter, and the pups are 24-26 inches long at birth. The young remain in protected nursery grounds, such as mangroves, for several years. The lifespan of lemon sharks is estimated at about 25 years.

Shark Attacks:

Lemon sharks are not considered a threat to humans, although one should be cautious around them due to their relatively large size. According to the International Shark Attack File, in the years from 1580-2011, lemon sharks were responsible for 10 non-fatal, unprovoked attacks, and 16 provoked attacks.

Conservation:

The lemon shark is listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List. These sharks may be caught commercially for their meat, skin (which is turned into leather), liver (for the oil) and fins. They are also fished recreationally, used as research subjects (read more about lemon shark research bu Samuel "Doc" Gruber here). They also may be caught for display in aquariums.

Another threat to these sharks is coastal development, which may decrease the availability and suitability of nursery grounds for young.

References and Further Information:

  • Bailly, N. 2011. Negaprion brevirostris (Poey, 1868). In: Nicolas Bailly (2011). FishBase. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species at http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=105800 on July 31, 2012.
  • FishBase. Negaprion brevirostris. Accessed July 31, 2012.
  • Florida Museum of Natural History. 2011. International Shark Attack File. Accessed July 31, 2012.
  • Morgan, A. Lemon Shark Florida Museum of Natural History Icthyology Department. Accessed July 31, 2012.
  • Sundström, L.F. 2009. Negaprion brevirostris. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. , Accessed July 31, 2012.

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