These First-Known Omnivore Sharks Eat Seagrass

The bonnethead was long thought to be a strict carnivore that would occasionally ingest greens like seagrass purely by accident

The finding solves something that has been puzzling scientists for the past year after they made the surprise discovery that the bonnethead consumes huge quantities of seagrass - when sharks had always been known as strict carnivores.

Scientists at the University of California in Irvine, and Florida International University in Miami, chose to investigate the sharks' dietary habits after reading reports of the fish chomping on seagrass, the flowering marine plant that forms subsea meadows in some coastal waters.

"It has been assumed by most that this consumption was incidental and that it provided no nutritional value", Samantha Leigh, a researcher on the team, told the Guardian on Wednesday. "We have never seen a shark consume this seagrass, let alone that's able to digest it".

The bonnethead shark, a small member of the hammerhead family, was long thought to be a strict carnivore that would occasionally ingest greens purely by accident.

The researchers next caught five bonnethead sharks and brought them back to the lab. These showed that the fish successfully digested the seagrass with enzymes that broke down components of the plants, such as starch and cellulose. The "ecological implications" of 4.9 million bonnethead sharks munching on seagrass are not yet fully understood.

"If other species are taking omnivorous digestive strategies as well, then we'd need to reevaluate their role as top predators", she said.

They have a fearsome reputation as bloodthirsty monsters of the deep, but some sharks are actually quite happy to munch on greens, USA scientists have discovered.

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For one shark subspecies, this fictional scenario isn't actually too far from the truth, according to a new study published inProceedings of the Royal Society B.

The bonnethead shark, a diminutive species that reaches up to 3 feet in length, lives in the shallow sea grass meadows off both coasts of the Americas.

The downside for humans is that bonnethead sharks look a little bit like hammerheads, so if you're splashing around there may not be time to distinguish one from the other. At the end of the three-week testing period, the team analyzed the sharks' fecal matter and digestive systems, ultimately concluding that the bonnetheads did, in fact, digest and absorb nutrients offered by the seagrass.

They found, however, that seagrass can form up to 62 per cent of the bonnethead diet, alongside their preferred meal of crustaceans and molluscs.

It was uncertain whether the sharks were actually feeding on the seagrass or just accidentally eating the vegetation while hunting for other prey.

Jaws would've been a heck of a lot less terrifying had it stared the bonnethead shark. The bonnethead sharks, however, had copious levels of these types of enzymes. The meadows help control erosion and act as carbon dioxide sinks, but they also support the world's fisheries by providing habitat and serving as protected nurseries for thousands of fish and marine invertebrates.

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