Skip to comments.Shark Dads Lose Babies to Unborn Cannibal Siblings
Posted on 05/01/2013 12:11:38 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Inside its mothers womb, an unborn sand tiger shark is busy devouring its brothers and sisters. Its just 10 centimetres long but it already has well-developed eyes and a set of sharp teeth, which it turns against its smaller siblings. By the time the pregnant female gives birth, it only has two babies leftone from each of its two wombs. These survivors have already eaten all the others. Theyre the bloody victors of a pre-birth battle.
The arched back, upturned snout and protruding teeth of a sand tiger shark give it a particularly brutish look. Its reproductive habits dont help. After sex, any fertilised eggs settle in one of the females two uteri. Like a quarter of shark species, the sand tiger never lays these eggs. Instead, they hatch inside her once they reach a certain size.
Timing matters. The first embryo to emerge in each uterusthe hatchlingalways cannibalises its younger siblings. Its so voracious that at least one scientist has been bitten by a sand tiger pup while unwisely sticking a finger in a pregnant females uterus.
The cannibal not only nourishes itself on its siblings bodies, but also gains sole access to the nutritious supply of unfertilised eggs that its mother provides. On this rich diet of yolk and flesh, the hatchling grows at a tremendous pace. When it is eventually born, its already a metre in lengththats big enough to protect it from many predators. Only really big sharks eat baby sand tigers, says Demian Chapman from Stony Brook University in New York.
Chapman studies the mating behaviour of sharks, and was fascinated by what the sand tigers bizarre practices mean for males. If a female mates with many males, her litter could initially include pups from many fathers. But its entirely possible that the pups of some males are cannibalised by the pups of others, before theyre even born! So if you gave sand tiger pups a paternity test, what would you find?
Chapman studied the bodies of 15 pregnant sand tiger sharks that died near South Africas beaches after getting caught in protective nets. (The nets were put up after a series of shark attacks in the 1960s.) He took tissue samples from mothers and embryos, and analysed microsatellitesshort, repetitive pieces of DNA that are used in family testsat 10 places in their genomes.
A sand tiger shark hatchling next to an embryo (the smaller one on the top left). Credit: D.ABERCROMBIE. The results showed that females regularly mate with at least two partners. In cases where the hatchlings hadnt finished devouring their siblings, the embryos were fathered by two or more different males. And when only the hatchlings remained, they were often half-siblings rather than full ones.
Chapmans results showed that, yes, some males manage to mate with females but never actually contribute to the next generation of sharks. Their young are devoured in the womb.
This is yet another reminder that sex is just one step towards actual reproduction. In many animals, females exert a surprising amount of choice over who fathers their young. Even after sex, females can store the sperm of different partners in separate compartments and determine which ones get to fertilise her eggs.
For males, this means that sexual competition continues after sex. Its not just about finding mates, but about ensuring that your sperm fertilises her eggs. This leads to fierce sperm competitions and bizarre adaptations, where males scrape away the sperm of past mates, guard or plug females so they can no longer accept partners, traumatically inseminate her through her back, or even poison partners with toxic sperm to limit future sexual encounters.
The sand tiger sharks embryonic cannibalism takes these competitions to a whole new level. Even if a male successfully fertilises a females eggs, theres still no guarantee that his offspring will actually be born. This may explain why, in captivity at least, male sand tigers often guard the females they mate with. Youd also expect natural selection to also favour males whose offspring grow particularly quickly, so they become the cannibal hatchlings rather than the devoured runts. This may explain why sand tiger embryos have evolved to have such unusually well-developed eyes and teeth.
Females, meanwhile, may not need to bother with carefully choosing their mates. By having sex with several males, and just letting their offspring duke it out inside her, she ensures that the she gives birth to the offspring of the fittest partners.
Reference: Chapman, Wintner, Abercrombie, Ashe, Bernard, Shivji & Feldheim. 2013 The behavioural and genetic mating system of the sand tiger shark, Carcharias taurus, an intrauterine cannibal. Biol Lett http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2013.0003
Don’t give the Liberals any more ideas.
My God. What nasty little creatures.
When you mix a male Lion with a female Tiger you get a huge Liger.
When you mix a male Tiger with a female Lion you get a small Tigon.
The headline read like the poster for a band lineup at an urban punk/metal club.
If they can bite a man’s finger, what about the privates of one of the mother’s many sexual partners?
“Its so voracious that at least one scientist has been bitten by a sand tiger pup while unwisely sticking a finger in a pregnant females uterus.
My God. What nasty little creatures. “
I know. Scientists can be that way.
“Dont give the Liberals any more ideas.”
D*mn, beat me to it.
In a state of nature life is simple, brutish and short ... oh wait a minute
If Planned Parenthood hears about this, they will make the sand tiger shark their mascot.
I think the liberals are already killing the unborn....
I sure am glad this important research wasn’t affected by the “sequester.”
In bio lab in College we had to dissect a sand shark. In my class my partner and I opened up our shark and their were 3 babies in there. They were about 5 inches long. I guess the 3rd was not eaten yet!
Of course our shark was a celebrity in that class due to the babies but sadly it was so long ago my memory has faded as to the two wombs!
[Who knew that’s where abortionists got their start...in the womb of mom-sharks?]
At least shark babies only have to fight someone their own age and size to be born.
Not ALL scientists are that bad. I've met a few nice ones too.
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