Scyliorhinus retiferChain cat shark(Also: Chain dogfish)

Geographic Range

Scyliorhinus retifer, the chain catshark, is found in the northwest and western Central Atlantic Ocean, the Carribean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the continental shelfe along the northeastern United States. It is most abundant in the deeper waters off of Virginia and North Carolina. (Bester, 2005; Carpenter, et al., 2006)


Chain catsharks live in subtropical waters, with temperatures between 8.5 and 11.3ºC. They inhabit depths generally between 75 and 550 m, though in the northern part of their range they are found between 36 and 230 m. In southern areas they inhabit waters deeper than 460 m. Scyliorhinus retifer is found from 45ºN to 15ºN and 99ºW to 64ºW. This is essentially the outer continental shelf and upper slope of the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The favored bottom is rough and rocky. (Bester, 2005)

  • Range depth
    460 to 36 m
    1509.19 to 118.11 ft

Physical Description

Scyliorhinus retifer has a slender body that is somewhat wedge-shaped, with a blunt snout narrowing to a slender tail. There is a space between the second dorsal fin and the caudal fins; the first dorsal fin sits slightly behind the level of the base of the pectoral fins. Body length normally reaches about 47 cm in females and 48 cm in males. In one sample catch, most animals measured in the range of 41 to 45 cm, weighing 300 to 380 g. Chain catsharks have smooth skin that is tannish brown, often with a hint of yellow, and with brownish-black chainlike markings on the body and dorsal fins, giving them their common name. The skin is embedded with small denticles. They have yellowish-green eyes. (Bester, 2005; Castro, et al., 1988; Schwartz, 2003)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    300 to 380 g
    10.57 to 13.39 oz
  • Range length
    48 (high) cm
    18.90 (high) in


Scyliorhinus retifer eggs are at the blastodisc stage when laid. In early stages, the embryo lies on its left side - there is no known reason for this. When Scyliorhinus retifer young reach 10 mm in length, they have well-defined gill arches and there is a clear roof over the medula. They continue to grow until they reach 74 mm in length, when they are fully developed in shape (though not in size). The yolk sac is still large at this stage.

In the laboratory, hatching occurred at 100 to 110 mm, with an average incubation time of 256 days (+/- SD 8 d, N = 62) at 11.7 to 12.8ºC. In natural habitats, however, it is thought to take up to a year due to colder ambient temperatures. (Castro, et al., 1988)


A male and female generally swim together, and after some time the male bites the female near the tail. He then gradually moves his grip forward until he can wrap himself around the female. He wraps himself around the female's pectoral fin, body, tail, and gills. Copulation ensues. (Castro, et al., 1988)

Chain catsharks are oviparous breeders, non-guarders, and open water/substrate embryo-scatterers. Females lay two embryos at a time after an unknown gestation period. The embryos are deposited in an egg case (also called a "mermaid's purse") with tendrils at the 4 corners. Mating generally occurs in areas where there are structures such as sponges, gorgonians, or manmade structures, as females use these to deposit embryos. They swim around a structure with tendrils flowing behind until the tendrils wrap around the structure and the embryos are thus attached. The embryos emerge from their egg case about 250 days later. Developing embryos in egg cases have been collected in February in the Chesapeak Bay, suggesting that breeding may occur in late winter or early spring. It is thought that chain catsharks become sexually mature at 8 to 9 years old. (Bester, 2005; Castro, et al., 1988)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding intervals are not known.
  • Breeding season
    Seasonality of breeding is poorly known throughout most of the range of chain catsharks.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 (high)
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    8 to 9 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    8 to 9 years

After gestation of the eggs and deposition of embryos by the female, there is no parental investment by Scyliorhinus retifer. The embryo is left on its own, and it feeds from the yolk sac until it emerges from the egg case. (Castro, et al., 1988)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


There is no data regarding the lifespan of Scyliorhinus retifer, although certain captive Scyliorhinus retifer were at least nine years old at time of writing. (Castro, et al., 1988)


Chain catsharks are not exceptionally active sharks. They usually remains motionless among structures along the sea bottom, including rocks and man-made structures, swimming occasionally when hunting prey. There is little available information on activity patterns, sociality, or movements. (Bester, 2005; Castro, et al., 1988)

Home Range

There is no information on home range available.

Communication and Perception

There is no data available describing the communication and/or perception of Scyliorhinus retifer. However, as with most sharks, these catsharks are likely to have sensitive tactile and chemoreception that they use extensively in foraging.

Food Habits

Scyliorhinus retifer preys mostly on animals such as squid, fish, annelids, and crustaceans. In a gut content analysis of 81 specimens (both juveniles and adults), 96% had food in their stomachs. Furthermore, 64% had squid beaks or remains, 55% had bony fish remains, 32% had polychaetes or other annelids, and 21% had crustacean remains. (Castro, et al., 1988)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • mollusks
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • aquatic crustaceans


There was no available data on the predators of Scyliorhinus retifer. It is assumed that large, piscivorous fish and sharks prey on chain catsharks. (Bester, 2005)

Ecosystem Roles

Scyliorhinus retifer takes part in the food chain by preying on macrofauna such as squid, fish, annelids, and crustaceans. It can be reasonably conjectured that it is in turn preyed on by other species, such as large, piscivorous fish and larger sharks. (Bester, 2005; Castro, et al., 1988)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Scyliorhinus retifer is sometimes taken as "bycatch" in trawling fisheries, but there is no interest in these sharks commercially. They are popular in aquaria because of their small size and patterned bodies. (; )

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There is no known negative economic impact of Scyliorhinus retifer on humans. These are small and docile sharks.

Conservation Status

Chain catsharks are considered "least concern" by the IUCN and are not protected by other regulatory agencies.

Other Comments

Chain catsharks are also known as chain dogfish and alitán mallero. Chain catshark is considered the most appropriate English name, as they belong to a group of sharks called "catsharks."


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Mark Bond (author), University of Notre Dame, Karen Powers (editor, instructor), Radford University.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs develop within the maternal body without additional nourishment from the parent and hatch within the parent or immediately after laying.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


an animal that mainly eats fish


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


Bester, C. 2005. "Chain dogfish" (On-line). Ichthyology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Accessed September 13, 2008 at

Carpenter, K., S. Luna, K. Kesner-Reyes. 2006. "Scyliorhinus retifer" (On-line). Fishbase. Accessed September 13, 2006 at

Castro, J., N. Overstrom, P. Bubucis. 1988. The Reproductive Biology of the Chain Dogfish, Scyliorhinus retifer. Copeia, 3: 740-746.

National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2006. "Scyliorhinus retifer" (On-line). Accessed March 21, 2006 at

Schwartz, F. 2003. Sharks, Skates, and Rays of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.