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GRAPPLE | WITH ISSUES AND IDEAS

Scorched Earth | Critter: Tassled Wobbegong | It Takes a Village | On the One Hand: Redwoods | Up to Speed

Critter: Tasseled Wobbegong

Tasseled wobbegong
David Fleetham

The tasseled wobbegong belongs, for obvious reasons, to the family commonly known as carpet sharks. Blotchy coloration and a fringed "beard" help these reef dwellers from Northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Indonesia blend in with their surroundings. "They're really tough to spot," photographer David Fleetham says. "But once you do find one, they're very cooperative. Maybe it thinks it's so camouflaged that you can't see it."

The wobbegong is an "ambush predator" whose MO is to lie quietly and lure prey by waving its tail, which resembles a small fish, then inhale them with an enormous gulp.

Ovoviviparous, the tasseled wobbegongs birth their young live from eggs in the uterus—although not in sufficient numbers to prevent the International Union for Conservation of Nature from deeming the species "near threatened." Particular risks include pollution, overfishing (wobbegongs' intricately patterned skins sometimes end up as handbags), and the dynamiting of reefs.

Counter to Fleetham's opinion of them, wobbegongs have sharp teeth and a reputation for aggressiveness. Harassing one can leave a diver woebegone. —Paul Rauber

NEXT: It Takes a Village



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