American Oceans

Mermaid’s Purse: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

The egg casings of several shark and skate species are referred to as mermaid’s purses.

Mermaid's purse

These leathery pouches, which might be mistaken for seaweed or other trash, are frequently discovered washed ashore on beaches. Mermaid’s handbags, despite its name, have nothing to do with mermaids. Instead, they play a crucial role in these aquatic animals’ reproductive process.

Shark and skate egg casings are distinctive and can differ in size and shape depending on the species.

Some are fashioned like rectangles or ovals, while others are longer and tapered. The growing embryos inside of these cases are shielded from predators and given a secure environment in which to develop.

Scientists frequently utilize mermaid purses to identify and research various shark and skate species since they can reveal important details about their behavior and reproductive patterns.

What is a Mermaid’s Purse?

A mermaid’s purse is a protective casing that surrounds the eggs of oviparous sharks, skates, and chimaeras. These egg cases are often referred to as “mermaid’s purses” due to their leathery texture and unique shape.

 Black egg case or egg capsule of a skate on sand on the beach
Black egg case or egg capsule of a skate on sand on the beach

Definition

Mermaid’s purses are the protective casings that surround the eggs of oviparous sharks, skates, and chimaeras.

These casings are made up of collagen fibers and are often referred to as “egg cases” or “mermaid’s purses.” They vary in size and shape depending on the species of the animal they belong to.

Size and Form

Mermaid’s purses come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The size and shape of the egg case depend on the species of the animal that laid it.

For example, the egg case of a catshark is relatively small, measuring around 4-5 cm in length, while the egg case of a skate can be much larger, measuring up to 25 cm in length.

The shape of the egg case can also vary depending on the species. Some egg cases are long and slender, while others are more rounded.

The egg case of a catshark, for example, is more rounded and has long spindly tendrils, which can often get wrapped around in seaweed or other egg cases.

Types of Skates and Rays

Skates and rays are cartilaginous fish that belong to the same family as sharks.

 Skate ray

There are over 500 species of skates and rays, and they can be found in all types of marine environments, from shallow coral reefs to deep-sea trenches. In this section, we will discuss the different types of skates and rays, including skates, rays, and chimaeras.

Skates

Skates are a type of ray that are distinguished by their flat, diamond-shaped bodies and long, pointed snouts.

They are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs that are enclosed in a protective case called a mermaid’s purse. Skates are found in all oceans of the world, and there are over 200 species of skates. Some common types of skates include the thornback skate, the barndoor skate, and the longnose skate.

Rays

Rays are a type of fish that are distinguished by their flattened bodies and enlarged pectoral fins, which they use to swim through the water.

Like skates, rays are oviparous and lay eggs in a mermaid’s purse. There are over 500 species of rays, and they can be found in all types of marine environments. Some common types of rays include the manta ray, the stingray, and the eagle ray.

Chimaeras

Chimaeras, also known as ghost sharks or ratfish, are a type of cartilaginous fish that are closely related to sharks and rays.

They are found in deep-sea environments and have a unique appearance, with long, whip-like tails and large, spiky fins. Unlike skates and rays, chimaeras are not oviparous and give birth to live young. There are over 50 species of chimaeras, and they are found in all oceans of the world.

Egg-Laying Process

Sharks, skates, and chimaeras are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs.

Dogfish shark eggs close up detail
Dogfish shark eggs close up hanging from red gorgonia underwater

The egg-laying process of these species is fascinating and unique. In this section, we will explore the egg-laying process of these species, including the embryos, nursery areas, and hatching.

Embryos

Egg cases, also known as mermaid’s purses, are the protective casings that surround the eggs of oviparous sharks, skates, and chimaeras.

These egg cases typically contain one embryo, except for big skate and mottled skate egg cases, which contain up to seven embryos. The embryos develop within the egg case for up to 15 months, depending on the species.

Nursery Areas

The egg cases are initially laid by the adult female in a suitable habitat on the seafloor.

The female chooses the nursery area carefully, as it must provide the necessary conditions for the embryo to develop. These nursery areas can range from rocky crevices to sandy areas, depending on the species.

Hatching

After the embryo has developed within the egg case, it hatches out of the purse and swims away, leaving the discarded egg case behind it.

The hatching process can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on the species. Once the embryo has hatched, it is fully formed and ready to begin its life in the wild.

Mermaid’s Purse Identification

If you’re interested in learning how to identify a mermaid’s purse, there are a few key features to look for.

Hand Holding a mermaid purse Egg Case

Mermaid’s purses are the egg cases of skates, rays, and sharks, and they can vary in appearance depending on the species. Here are some characteristics to keep in mind when identifying a mermaid’s purse:

Shape

The general appearance of a mermaid’s purse is a black or brown leathery pouch with either tendrils or horns coming off each or either end.

Spotted rays, on the other hand, have a more rectangular egg case with a pointed end and a keel running down the center.

Spikes

Some species of mermaid’s purse have spikes or ridges running along the length of the egg case.

For example, the egg case of the small-spotted catshark has a series of small spikes or ridges that run along the length of the case. The egg case of the spotted ray, however, is smooth and lacks any spikes or ridges.

Keel

The keel is a ridge that runs down the center of some mermaid’s purses. It can be a useful feature for identifying the species of shark or ray that the egg case belongs to.

For example, the egg case of the spotted ray has a pronounced keel running down the center, while the egg case of the small-spotted catshark has a more subtle keel.

Identifying Small-Spotted Catshark

The small-spotted catshark is a common species found in the waters around the UK. Its egg case is one of the more distinctive, with a rounded shape and long spindly tendrils.

The egg case also has a series of small spikes or ridges running along its length. If you find an egg case that matches this description, it is likely the egg case of a small-spotted catshark.

Identifying Spotted Ray

The spotted ray is another common species found in the waters around the UK. Its egg case is rectangular in shape with a pointed end and a pronounced keel running down the center.

The egg case is smooth and lacks any spikes or ridges. If you find an egg case that matches this description, it is likely the egg case of a spotted ray.

The Shark Trust’s Great Eggcase Hunt is an excellent resource for identifying different species of mermaid’s purse. They provide identification guides and other resources to help you learn more about these fascinating creatures.

Ecology and Conservation

Predators

Mermaid’s purses, or eggcases, are an important part of the marine food chain.

They provide a protective environment for developing shark and skate embryos, but they are also a valuable food source for many predators. Birds, crabs, and fish all prey on mermaid’s purses, and some species, such as the dogfish shark, will even cannibalize their own eggs.

Seaweed and Tendrils

Mermaid’s purses are often found among the strandline, where seaweed and other debris wash up on the beach.

Seaweed and tendrils can become entangled in the eggcases, which may prevent the embryos from developing properly. However, seaweed and tendrils can also provide a protective cover for the eggcases, shielding them from predators and the elements.

Citizen Science

Citizen science projects, such as the Great Eggcase Hunt run by the Shark Trust, encourage members of the public to collect and record data on mermaid’s purses.

This data can be used to track the distribution and abundance of different species, and to monitor changes in their populations over time. Citizen science projects also raise awareness of the importance of mermaid’s purses and the need to protect these animals and their habitats.

Marine Biologists

Marine biologists study mermaid’s purses to learn more about the biology and behavior of the species that lay them.

By examining the size, shape, and features of the eggcases, scientists can identify the species of shark or skate that laid them. This information can be used to better understand the ecology and conservation needs of these animals.

Marine Dimensions

Marine Dimensions is an organization that offers educational programs and research opportunities focused on marine biology and conservation.

Their Mermaid’s Purse Project encourages people to collect and donate mermaid’s purses for scientific research. The project also provides information on how to preserve and display mermaid’s purses.

Florida Museum of Natural History

The Florida Museum of Natural History has a collection of over 100,000 mermaid’s purses, dating back to the 1800s.

The collection includes specimens from all over the world, and is used by scientists to study the diversity and evolution of sharks and skates. The museum also offers educational programs and exhibits on marine biology and conservation.

Mermaid’s Purse in Culture and Commerce

Mermaid’s purses have long been a fascinating subject in both culture and commerce.

In this section, we’ll explore the history of mermaid’s purses, as well as the shopping and delivery options available to those interested in purchasing them. We’ll also take a look at how mermaid’s purses are sold on the popular online marketplace, Etsy.

History

Mermaid’s purses have been a part of human culture for centuries. In many cultures, they were believed to have magical properties and were used in various rituals.

In medieval Europe, mermaid’s purses were thought to be the egg cases of mermaids, hence the name. In reality, they are the egg cases of sharks and skates.

In more recent times, mermaid’s purses have become popular as a decorative item. They are often used in jewelry making, as well as in home decor. Many people are drawn to their unique shape and texture.

Shopping and Delivery

Mermaid’s purses can be purchased from a variety of sources. They are often sold at beachside souvenir shops, as well as at aquariums and marine life centers. They can also be purchased online from a variety of retailers.

When shopping for mermaid’s purses, it’s important to consider the size and quality of the item.

Some purses may be larger or smaller than others, and the quality of the leather can vary as well. It’s also important to consider the shipping options available, as some retailers may offer faster or more secure shipping options than others.

Etsy

Etsy is a popular online marketplace that specializes in handmade and vintage items. It’s also a great place to find unique mermaid’s purses. Many Etsy sellers offer a wide variety of purses in different sizes and colors. Some even offer custom orders, allowing customers to choose the size and color of their purse.

When shopping on Etsy, it’s important to read the seller’s reviews and policies before making a purchase. This can help ensure that you’re getting a quality product and that the seller is reliable. It’s also important to consider the shipping options available, as some sellers may offer faster or more secure shipping options than others.

Add comment