Shovelnose Guitarfish Facts

Shovelnose Guitarfish Profile

The amusingly named shovelnose guitarfish is a type of ray that resembles both rays and sharks. The head and front end of this guitarfish are reminiscent of rays, while the tail and movement are more reminiscent of sharks.

The head is shaped like a shovel, hence the name “shovelnose,” and the wide head and narrow tail give this species a guitar-like body shape.

The shovelnose guitarfish is an ancient species that has changed little in appearance and behaviour over millions of years. These fascinating creatures can be found on sandy seafloors from the California coast down to Mexico.

Shovelnose Guitarfish Facts

Shovelnose Guitarfish Facts Overview

Habitat: Sandy and shallow coastal waters
Location: South Western coast of North America
Lifespan: 13 years in the wild
Size: Up to 1.6m in length
Weight: Up to 18kg
Color: Sandy to olive coloured ray with pointed snout, flat body and small pectoral fins
Diet: Invertebrates such as crabs, worms and clams. Also eats fish
Predators: Sea lions, large sharks and ospreys
Top Speed: 15 kph (9 mph)
No. of Species:
Conservation Status:
Near Threatened

Shovelnose guitarfish inhabit shallow, warmer waters, where they move slowly through the sandy and muddy sea floor in search of their prey. Rather than using their pectoral fins to move through the water, they move their shark-like tail side-to-side to propel themselves across the seabed. They are active both during the day and at night, dependent on the prey available.

They are excellent masters of disguise as their slightly patterned backs blend in perfectly with the sand or mud in which they bury themselves. Often during the day, they will find a suitable spot to lie in wait for a fish or crustacean to pass close by before grabbing them with a surprising burst of speed. At night they prefer to scour the sea floor, swimming slowly and intently in search of crabs and molluscs or sleeping fish to diet on. 1

Despite sometimes being found in large numbers across the coastline, shovelnose guitarfish are solitary animals, only coming together to mate. They tend to be monogamous, mating with only one partner in the breeding season, usually when the waters are warmer. Shovelnose guitarfish usually reproduce once a year, giving birth to up to 30 live young. The parents do not care for their offspring but birthing grounds are usually well concealed and in calmer waters.

Sadly the shovelnose guitarfish has recently been assessed for The IUCN Red List as near threatened, with a decline in population numbers.

The primary threat is thought to be artisanal fisheries in Mexico, as well as being taken as bycatch by other trawlers. The second largest threat is thought to be changes in their habitat, which are being modified for shrimp farming, which could have a detrimental impact.

Interesting Shovelnose Guitarfish Facts

1. Shovelnose guitarfish are relatively harmless

Although they are related to and somewhat resemble sharks, very rarely attack and if they do, their blunt teeth do little to no damage. While they have over 100 teeth in their mouth, these teeth are designed for crunching hard shells and are therefore short and rather blunt.

They are perfect for cracking through shells to expose the tender meat of their prey. Whole, small fish are sometimes caught by ambush as the shovelnose lies camouflaged in the sand. Usually when catching these, the entire fish is swallowed whole.

2. They look like a cross between a shark and a ray

With a shark-like tail and ray-like head, it is easy to see why shovelnose guitarfish are related to both.

They are considered to be a primitively developed ray, containing many features of a shark like they way they swim, moving their tail side-to-side. 

3. Guitarfish are very ancient creatures

The shovelnose guitarfish belongs to very ancient group of fish which have changed little over millions of years. Its genus contains around 15 species of guitarfish found across the world. They all have similar habitat preferences and appearances, with large, flat heads, small ‘wings’ and long tails.

Some guitarfish can reach 3m in length while some are less than one metre long. In some countries, this particular group of guitarfish are also known as shovelnose sharks or shovelnose rays. 2

4. Rhinobatos means both shark and ray in English

The Greek word for shark is “Rhine” while the Latin word for ray is “batis”.

5. Rhinobatos productus describes the shovelnose perfectly

The scientific name for the shovelnose guitarfish loosely translates as “shark ray with a long extension” (referring to the snout).

Their hilarious common name has made our funniest animal names in the world list.

6. Female shovelnose guitarfish are ovoviviparous

Like all rays and sharks, females reproduce by retaining fertilised eggs inside their bodies until the offspring are ready to hatch and are released from the mother’s body.

They give live birth and their nursery and spwaning grounds are in the bays of southern California and Baja. 3

7. They are experts in disguise

Shovelnose guitarfish have what is termed as counter-shading, making their backs dark and their undersides lighter in colour. This makes them difficult to see from above or below.

shovelnose guitarfish hiding in sand
Photo credit: © Alexis (

8. Shovelnose guitarfish meat is considered a delicacy

Once considered a by-catch species and not worth catching or selling, shovelnose guitarfish are now actively fished as their meat has become much more marketable and valuable. Along the California coast they are often cooked and sold with chips, providing a valuable source of income for fisherman.

Their tail meat is considered to be mild-flavoured, clean and tasty and as these animals are found in shallow waters, catching them is deemed to be not too difficult.

9. They do not need to rely on eyesight to find prey

In order to detect potential prey, shovelnose guitarfish have special sensors in their body that can identify changes in water pressure around them.

They also have electroreceptors on the underside of their long snouts which help the shovelnose guitarfish discover prey that is buried underneath the sand or mud.

Their flat body shape allows the shovelnose guitarfish to quickly and effortlessly cruise just above the sea floor without disturbing potential targets. Their mouth is only found on the underside of their snout; perfect for plucking unsuspecting crustaceans and molluscs from the sand.

10. Shovelnose guitarfish swim more like sharks than rays

Whereas rays use their large fins or ‘wings’ to glide through the water, shovelnose guitarfish move their tail side to side, much like sharks.

11. They do not need to keep swimming in order to breath

Unlike species of other fish, shovelnose guitarfish can pump water through their gills in order to obtain the oxygen that they need.

Shovelnose Guitarfish
Photo credit: © Alexis (

12. Shovelnose guitarfish populations are being monitored more closely

The shovelnose is considered ‘near-threatened’ as they are often caught both on purpose as a delicacy, but also inadvertently in large and small scale fishing nets.

Shovelnose Guitarfish Fact-File Summary

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichthyes
Order: Rhinopristiformes
Family: Rhinobatidae
Genus: Rhinobatos
Species Name:
Rhinobatos Productus

Fact Sources & References

  1. Fausto Valenzuela-Quiñonez et al (2017), “Feeding habits and trophic level of the shovelnose guitarfish (Pseudobatos productus) in the upper Gulf of California“, ResearchGate.
  2. Channing Sargent (2022), “Shovelnose guitarfish: surviving in the sea for 100 million years“, One Earth.
  3. D. Juaristi-Videgaray (2020), “Reproductive parameters of the shovelnose guitarfish Pseudobatos productus (Ayres, 1856) in Northwest Mexico“, The European Zoological Journal.