Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Clasper and Leech of the Spotted Wobbegong

One of the cool animals I encounted while in PNG a few weeks ago was a Spotted Wobbegong Shark (2 meters). (I was shooting macro and had a very difficult time fitting the entire shark in my viewfinder, so the shot to the left is from the Georgia Aquarium website). The current was a bit strong so I only snapped a few photos, including this shot of the shark's clasper (25cm). A clasper is not really a penis (nor does it "clasp"), it is a cartilaginous extension designed to deliver sperm into the female's vent. This particular clasper had something rather odd (10cm) attached to it.

According to Leslie Harris from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, that odd attachment is actually a marine leech. Leslie says that' "leeches live everywhere. Some are quite specialized in their food habits/behavior, for example, the species only found attached to the anus of green sea turtles. Others are less so and will go after any fish or warm-blooded animal that passes by. These generalists are more likely to just attach, fill up, and drop off. The specialized ones may spend most of their lives attached to suitable hosts."

While I appreciate Leslie's help and learning more about marine leeches, I didn't really need to know that they would go after any "warm-blooded animal that passes by". The last time I checked, we divers fit into that category too! Mind your claspers!

For more information on Spotted Wobbegongs, check out this site: