Tawny Shark, Nebrius ferrugineus (Lesson 1830)

Other Names: Madame X, Rusty Catshark, Rusty Shark, Sleepy Shark, Spitting Shark, Tawney Nurse Shark, Tawney Shark, Tawny Nurse Shark

A Tawny Shark, Nebrius ferrugineus, at Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Sulu Sea, Philippines, June 2016. Source: Dave Harasti / http://www.daveharasti.com/. License: All rights reserved

A large bulky tan to dark greyish-brown nurse shark, becoming paler below, with a broad flattened head, distinctive pointed-tipped dorsal fins, and narrow, sickle-shaped pectoral fins. Juveniles have white lower eyelids.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2019, Nebrius ferrugineus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 19 May 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/1974

Tawny Shark, Nebrius ferrugineus (Lesson 1830)

More Info


Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, around the tropical north to Rockhampton, Queensland. Elsewhere the species occurs in the tropical, Indo-west-central Pacific: Red Sea and East Africa east to the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, north to Taiwan, south to northern Australia. 
Inhabits coral reefs, sand-rubble flats and seagrass beds in depths to 70 m.

Tawny Sharks are nocturnal and may aggregate in small groups during the day, often in caves and large crevices.


Body robust, cylindrical, head broadly rounded, flattened; eyes small, laterally positioned, with prominent ridges above, small spiracles behind; a pair of long, slender barbels before nostrils; mouth small, lower lip divided into three lobes. Jaw teeth imbricate (overlapping) with outermost 2–4 functional rows separated from rest by narrow space; teeth fan-shaped, broad-based, with small, sharp central point and 3 or more smaller cusps on either side; 29–33 tooth rows in upper jaw, 26–28 tooth rows in lower jaw; teeth become relatively taller and thicker with growth; fourth and fifth gill slits close together. 
Dorsal and pelvic fins angular, first larger than second; pectoral fins narrow, pointed, falcate (sickle-shaped); origin of first dorsal above origin of pelvic fins; origin of anal fin below or slightly behind origin of second dorsal fin; caudal fin with a shallow upper lobe, very small lower lobe, about 25% TL in adults. 
Dermal denticles diamond-shaped, with 4–5 faint ridges radiating from blunt point.


Feeds on a range of benthic invertebrates (including cephalopods, crustaceans and sea urchins), and small fishes.


The species is ovoviviparous (aplacental viviparity) with embryos hatching from eggs inside the uterus. Embryos then feed on eggs produced by the mother (uterine cannibalism in the form of oophagy). It is not known if the foetuses consume each other (adelphophagy) as with the Grey Nurse Shark, Carcharias taurus. Ultrasound data of captive female Tawny Sharks revealed that the embryos frequently migrate between the right and left uteri during gestation (Tomita et al. 2018).

Litter size unknown, but possibly only one pup born at 40-80 cm TL. Males mature at 250 cm TL; females at 230-290 cm TL.


The species is fished throughout most of its range - except for Australia where it is taken in very small numbers in gillnets and beach meshing.


Although considered docile, non-fatal attacks on humans have been recorded.

Species Citation

Scyllium ferrugineum Lesson 1830, Voyage autour du Monde 2(1): 95. Type locality: Port Praslin, New Ireland and Baie d'Offack, Waigeo.


Bray, D.J. 2019


Atlas of Living Australia

Tawny Shark, Nebrius ferrugineus (Lesson 1830)


Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls. 

Allen, G.R. & Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Perth : Tropical Reef Research 3 vols, 1260 pp.

Compagno, L.J.V. 1984. FAO Species Catalogue. Sharks of the World. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Hexanchiformes to Lamniformes. FAO Fisheries Synopsis No. 125. Rome : FAO Vol. 4(1) pp. 1-249. 

Compagno, L.J.V. 1998. Families Ginglymostomatidae, Stegostomatidae, Rhincodontidae. pp. 1260-1263 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 2 687-1396 pp. 

Compagno, L.J.V. 2001. Sharks of the World. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Bullhead, mackerel and carpet sharks (Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes and Orectolobiformes). Rome : FAO, FAO Species Catalogue for Fisheries Purposes No. 1 Vol. 2 269 pp. 

Compagno, L.J.V., Dando, M. & Fowler, S. 2005. A Field Guide to the Sharks of the World. London : Collins 368 pp.

Grant, E.M. 2002. Guide to Fishes. Redcliffe : EM Grant Pty Ltd 880 pp.

Larson, H.K., Williams, R.S. & Hammer, M.P. 2013. An annotated checklist of the fishes of the Northern Territory, Australia. Zootaxa 3696(1): 1-293

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 1994. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Canberra : CSIRO Australia 513 pp. 84 pls. 

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 2009. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Collingwood : CSIRO Publishing Australia 2, 550 pp.

Lesson, R.P. 1830. Poissons. 66-238 pls 1-38 in Duperrey, L.I. (ed.) Voyage autour du Monde, exécuté sur la corvette de la Majesté la Coquille, pendant les années 1822, 1823, 1824 et 1825. Atlas. Paris : Bertrand Vol. 2, Part 1 471 pp. See ref at BHL

Pillans, R. (SSG Australia & Oceania Regional Workshop, March 2003) 2003. Nebrius ferrugineus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2003: e.T41835A10576661. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2003.RLTS.T41835A10576661.en. Downloaded on 22 January 2019.

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 507 pp. figs. 

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs. 

Regan, C.T. 1908. A revision of the sharks of the family Orectolobidae. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1908: 347-364 figs 11-13 (as Ginglymostoma ferrugineum)

Rüppell, W.P.E. 1837. Neue Wirbelthiere zu der Fauna von Abyssinien gehörig. Fische des Rothen Meeres. Frankfurt Vol. 3, pp. 53–80, pls 15–21. (described as Nebrius concolor)
Teshima, K., Kamei, Y., Toda, M. & Uchida, S. 1995. Reproductive mode of the tawny nurse shark taken from the Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa, Japan with comments on individuals lacking the second dorsal fin. Bull. Seikai Natl. Fish. Res. Inst. 73: 1-12.
Tomita, T., Murakumo, K., Ueda, K., Ashida, H. & Furuyama, R. 2019. Locomotion is not a privilege after birth: Ultrasound images of viviparous shark embryos swimming from one uterus to the other. Ethology 125: 122–126. https://doi.org/10.1111/eth.12828

Whitley, G.P. 1934. Notes on some Australian sharks. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 10(4): 180-200 figs 1-4 pls 27-29 (as Nebrodes concolor ogilbyiSee ref at BHL

Whitley, G.P. 1940. The Fishes of Australia. Part 1. The sharks, rays, devil-fish, and other primitive fishes of Australia and New Zealand. Sydney : Roy. Zool. Soc. N.S.W. 280 pp. 303 figs. (as Nebrodes concolor ogilbyi)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37013010

Danger:IUCN Vulnerable

Depth:1-70m (usually 5-30 m)

Habitat:Reef associated, sandy & seagrass areas

Max Size:320 cm TL

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CAAB distribution map