Squatina squatina, the angelshark or monkfish, is a species of shark in the family Squatinidae (known generally also as angel sharks), that were once widespread in the coastal waters of the northeastern Atlantic Ocean. Well-adapted for camouflaging itself on the sea floor, the angelshark has a flattened form with enlarged pectoral and pelvic fins, giving it a superficial resemblance to a ray.
Description & appearanceOne of the largest members of its family, female angelsharks can attain a length of 2.4 m (7.9 ft) and males 1.8 m (5.9 ft); the maximum reported weight is 80 kg (180 lb). This species shares in common with other angelsharks a flattened body and large, wing-like pectoral fins whose anterior lobes are not fused to the head. The head and body are very broad and stocky, with small eyes positioned dorsally and followed by a pair of larger spiracles.
A pair of unadorned barbels occurs in front of the nares, as well as a smooth or weakly fringed flap. Folds of skin with a single triangular lobe are present on the sides of the head. The teeth are small, sharp, and of similar shape in both jaws.
The pectoral and pelvic fins are wide with rounded tips; the two dorsal fins are positioned on the muscular tail behind the pelvic fins. The anal fin is absent, and the caudal fin has a larger lower lobe than upper. The dermal denticles are small, narrow, and pointed, and cover the entire upper and most of the lower body surface. There are patches of small spines on the snout and over the eyes.
Small individuals have a row of thorns down the middle of the back.The coloration is gray to reddish or greenish brown above, with many small black and white spots, and white below. Juveniles are more ornately patterned than adults, with pale lines and darker blotches. The dorsal fins have a darker leading margin and lighter trailing margin. Some individuals have a white spot on the back of the "neck".
HabitatThe angelshark occurs in the temperate waters of the northeastern Atlantic, from southern Norway and Sweden to the Western Sahara and the Canary Islands, including around the British Isles and in the Mediterranean. According to the IUCN, it is possible that it has been extirpated from the North Sea. It remains extant around the Canary Islands, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Israel, Turkey, northern Cyprus, eastern Greece (the Aegean Sea), the Adriatic Sea of eastern Italy, Sicily, Malta, Corsica, Ireland and western Britain. Its modern presence in parts of the Mediterranean is unknown, such as around Madeira, the Azores, Morocco, Egypt, continental Spain and France, Crete, Syria, Sardinia, western Greece and western Italy. This benthic shark inhabits the continental shelf, preferring soft substrates such as mud or sand, and can be found from near the coast to a depth of 150 m (490 ft). It sometimes enters brackish environments. Northern angelshark subpopulations migrate northward in summer and southward in winter.
Diet & huntThe angelshark is an ambush predator that feeds mainly on bottom-dwelling bony fishes, especially flatfishes, though it also preys on skates and invertebrates. Prey reported taken include the hake Merluccius merluccius, the bream Pagellus erythrinus, grunts in the genus Pomadasys, the flatfishes Bothus spp., Citharus linguatula, and Solea solea, the squid Loligo vulgaris, the cuttlefishes Sepia officinalis and Sepiola spp., and the crabs Medorippe lanata, Geryon trispinosus, Dromia personata, Goneplax rhomboides, Liocarcinus corrugatus, and Atelecyclus rotundatus. The stomachs of some examined specimens have also contained seagrass or birds (in one case an entire cormorant). Individual sharks select sites that offer the best ambush opportunities, and if successful, may remain there for several days.
ReproductionAngelsharks are aplacental viviparous, meaning the young hatch inside the mother's uterus and are nourished by a yolk sac until birth. Females have two functional ovaries, with the right ovary containing more oocytes and the right uterus correspondingly containing more embryos; this functional asymmetry is not present in other angel shark species. Unlike most sharks, in which vitellogenesis (yolk formation) occurs concurrently with pregnancy, in the angelshark, the onset of vitellogenesis is delayed until halfway through the gestation period. The mature ova measure 8 cm (3.1 in) across and are not enclosed in a capsule. The reproductive cycle has been estimated at 2 years with ovulation taking place in spring, though this periodicity is ill-defined. The litter size ranges from seven to 25 and is correlated with the size of the mother; the young are gestated for 8–10 months. Parturition occurs from December to February in the Mediterranean and in July off England, with the newborns measuring 24–30 cm (9.4–11.8 in) long. Males and females mature at lengths of 0.8–1.3 m (2.6–4.3 ft) and 1.3–1.7 m (4.3–5.6 ft), respectively.