Sunday 11 August 2013


Image: Richard Ling
The Wobbegong may have a pretty silly sounding name, but don't say so to its toothy face.

OK, first thing's first - "Wobbegong"? You what?

Image: Richard Ling
Spotted Wobbegong (Orectolobus maculatus)
There are 12 species of Wobbegong, 10 of which are in the genus Orectolobus
Turns out Wobbegong means "shaggy beard" in an Australian Aboriginal language. Suddenly all sorts of strange, Australian slang makes a little more sense. And it comes as no surprise to find that ugg boots were invented in Australia. Or New Zealand. They're having a bit of a dispute over that. Just one of those neighbourly arguments that tend to pop up between people who the rest of the world can't tell apart.

OK, second thing's second - shaggy beard? You what?

Image: jon hanson
Tasseled Wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon)
The biggest Wobbegongs may reach 3 m (9.8 ft), the smallest 50 cm (20 in)
Yes! Pretty much. Wobbegongs don't have great eyesight but they do have lots of sticky-out bits on their chin. This stuff not only serves as sensory barbs like those of a catfish, but they also help break up their outline as they rest on the ocean floor.

The chin flaps are so distinctive that even their scientific name comes from this feature. Wobbegongs are all members of the family Orectolobidae, coming from the Greek orectos, which means "stretched out" and lobos meaning "protuberance". In other words... sticky-out bits!

Video: aquaticpro
Japanese Wobbegong (O. japonicus)
Japan is as far north as Wobbegongs get. The rest are mainly around Australia and Indonesia

The Wobbegong family name also lends itself to the entire order: Orectolobiformes. These are the Carpet Sharks, which include all sorts of sluggish bottom-dwellers like the nurse shark and our very own Zebra Shark. It also includes the Whale Shark, but they broke all the rules by reaching up to the water's surface and becoming ludicrously gigantic.

It's just as Oscar Wilde said, "we're all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

Image: Richard Ling
Looking at the stars
If you stretch out really far - really, really far [really, really (really) far] - maybe you'll become ludicrously gigantic, too! It's really unlikely, though. Really, really...

Image: Saspotato
Oddly enough, the Wobbegong may actually be the original "Carpet Shark" as well as the original Orectolobus. If you look, a lot of them look a bit like carpets! They usually have blotchy, brown colours, perhaps with bluish circles and vague patterns scattered about. I'm sure that was fashionable home decor at some point.

Image: Boris Bialek
For the Wobbegong, carpet colours serve as camouflage since they spend a lot their time spread out on the floor doing absolutely nothing. Until, that is, they leap up and chomp on a passing fish. The continuing popularity of the home aquarium suggests that real carpets don't do this, though they may just be biding their time.

Wobbegongs prefer big game; no tiddlers for them! Some have even been seen allowing little fish or crustaceans crawl all over them, hoping it will attract something big and juicy. The Tasselled Wobbegong also has a tail fin that somewhat resembles a fish, waving it around seductively to attract something worth their while.

Video: ThierryRakotoarivelo
A Wobbegong does what it does best. Nothing much

A 1.3 metre (4.3 ft) long Wobbegong was once seen eating a 1.0 metre (3.3 ft) long bamboo shark! That's like me eating... I don't know... Kylie Minogue or something. Turn her into chocolate and I'll do it, no problem.

But how would the real Kylie Minogue do around an actual Wobbegong? A Wobbegong who doesn't care how "Lucky" she thinks she is, who would rather she "Loco-mote" out of here, and who found her canoodling with Jason Donovan utterly sickening. Would the Wobbegong be all "I saved this Especially For You" and swallow her in a single gulp? Or at least tear an arm off.

Image: Richard Ling
Probably not! Wobbegongs have good enough camouflage to escape the attention of many humans. Sometimes that gives them peace and quiet, other times it means they get stepped on. That's annoying and painful, and biting is one of the best ways of expressing yourself in such situations.

Wobbegongs also have fairly bad eyesight, so nonchalantly waving a stray hand or foot is not a good idea. Wobbegongs have a nasty (and sometimes absurdly long-lasting) bite so no matter how much sand and silt covers their body, don't approach them with a vacuum cleaner.


TexWisGirl said...

they're rather cute with their stubble and beardiness. :)

Syeda Rafiya Shehnaz Urdu High school Daulatabad said...

Every thing in the ocean and on the forests is having camouflage, some animals and insects use camouflage for hiding from their hunters and some use it to hide from the eyes of their pray, so is the man, he is hiding what is in his hearts, it is so natural.

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: Ha! Yes! Lucky for them it doesn't just grow and grow and grow!

@Ishrat: Profound! What you have to wonder is if the guy is hiding his heart because he's predator or because he's prey

Unknown said...

Surprised that they can actually attack animals, would have thought it was just a regular bottom feeder

Joseph JG said...

Ha! Not at all! I'm glad I disabused you of this notion before you come across one!