Skip to main content
The Behavioural and Genetic Mating System of the Sand Tiger Shark, Carcharias taurus, an Intrauterine Cannibal
Biology Letters
  • Demian D. Chapman, State University of New York - Stony Brook
  • Sabine Wintner, University of KwaZulu-Natal - Durban, South Africa
  • Debra L. Abercrombie, State University of New York - Stony Brook
  • Jimiane Ashe, State University of New York - Stony Brook
  • Andrea M. Bernard, Nova Southeastern University
  • Mahmood S. Shivji, Nova Southeastern University
  • Kevin A. Feldheim, Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution
Document Type
Publication Date
  • Polyandry,
  • Monogamy,
  • Adelphophagy

Sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) have an unusual mode of reproduction, whereby the first embryos in each of the paired uteri to reach a certain size (‘hatchlings’) consume all of their smaller siblings during gestation (‘embryonic cannibalism’ or EC). If females commonly mate with multiple males (‘behavioural polyandry’) then litters could initially have multiple sires. It is possible, however, that EC could exclude of all but one of these sires from producing offspring thus influencing the species genetic mating system (‘genetic monogamy’). Here, we use microsatellite DNA profiling of mothers and their litters (n = 15, from two to nine embryos per litter) to quantify the frequency of behavioural and genetic polyandry in this system. We conservatively estimate that nine of the females we examined (60%) were behaviourally polyandrous. The genetic mating system was characterized by assessing sibling relationships between hatchlings and revealed only 40 per cent genetic polyandry (i.e. hatchlings were full siblings in 60% of litters). The discrepancy stemmed from three females that were initially fertilized by multiple males but only produced hatchlings with one of them. This reveals that males can be excluded even after fertilizing ova and that some instances of genetic monogamy in this population arise from the reduction in litter size by EC. More research is needed on how cryptic post-copulatory and post-zygotic processes contribute to determining paternity and bridging the behavioural and genetic mating systems of viviparous species.


©2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.

Citation Information
Demian D. Chapman, Sabine Wintner, Debra L. Abercrombie, Jimiane Ashe, et al.. "The Behavioural and Genetic Mating System of the Sand Tiger Shark, Carcharias taurus, an Intrauterine Cannibal" Biology Letters Vol. 9 Iss. 3 (2013) p. 1 - 4 ISSN: 1744-9561
Available at: