Mermaid's purse
An egg case or egg capsule, colloquially known as a mermaid's purse or devil's purse, is a casing that surrounds the fertilized egg
Egg (biology)
An egg is an organic vessel in which an embryo first begins to develop. In most birds, reptiles, insects, molluscs, fish, and monotremes, an egg is the zygote, resulting from fertilization of the ovum, which is expelled from the body and permitted to develop outside the body until the developing...

s of some shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

s, skate
Skates are cartilaginous fish belonging to the family Rajidae in the superorder Batoidea of rays. There are more than 200 described species in 27 genera. There are two subfamilies, Rajinae and Arhynchobatinae ....

s, and chimaera
Chimaeras are cartilaginous fish in the order Chimaeriformes, known informally as ghost sharks, ratfish , spookfish , or rabbitfishes...

s. They are among the common objects which are washed up by the sea. They are made of collagen
Collagen is a group of naturally occurring proteins found in animals, especially in the flesh and connective tissues of mammals. It is the main component of connective tissue, and is the most abundant protein in mammals, making up about 25% to 35% of the whole-body protein content...

 protein strands. Because they are lightweight, they are often found at the strandline
The strandline, or high water mark, is the area at the top of a beach where debris is deposited. Where there are tides, this line is formed by the highest position of the tide, and moves up and down the beach on a fortnightly cycle...

, the farthest point of the high tide. The egg cases that wash up on beaches are usually empty, the young fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 having already hatched out. Furthermore, egg cases are often found in commercial fishing gears like nets and pots, and on the sea floor during surveys using an ROV.

The size of egg cases vary; those of the small-spotted catshark
Small-spotted catshark
The small-spotted catshark or lesser spotted dogfish, Scyliorhinus canicula, is a cat shark of the family Scyliorhinidae found on the continental shelves and uppermost slopes off Norway and the British Isles south to Senegal, including the Mediterranean between latitudes 63° N and 12° N. Its...

 or lesser spotted dogfish, Scyliorhinus canicula, are around 5 centimetres (2 in) long, while those of the greater spotted dogfish, S. stellaris, are around 10 centimetres (4 in). That excludes the four long tendril
In botany, a tendril is a specialized stem, leaf or petiole with a threadlike shape that is used by climbing plants for support, attachment and cellular invasion by parasitic plants, generally by twining around suitable hosts. They do not have a lamina or blade, but they can photosynthesize...

s found in each corner, which assist in anchorage. Egg cases from rays vary in that they have points rather than tendrils. The colours and shapes of egg cases also vary greatly from species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 to species.

Egg cases are deposited in pairs on the sea floor, and hatchlings are believed to emerge within 9 months. Gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 can take longer, up to 12 months or more for deep sea catsharks which lay their eggs in very cold water. If an egg case is still moist (not dried out) and has no visible hole, it is probably still occupied.

Skates are oviparous organisms Females lay egg cases onto the sea floor after fertilization occurs in utero. While in utero, a protected case forms around the embryo
An embryo is a multicellular diploid eukaryote in its earliest stage of development, from the time of first cell division until birth, hatching, or germination...

 which is called the egg case. Studies have been done where egg cases were removed from gravid females to ensure proper identification in regard to skate species. Egg cases have distinguishable characteristic traits that are unique to that species, thus making it a great tool for identifying a skate. The two most distinguishable features on the egg case are the keel and the absence or presence of a fibrous covering. A keel runs laterally along both sides of the outer edge of the egg case; it is a flexible structure. Keels will also run the length of the horns on some skate species. Some egg cases have broad keels (greater than 10% of the maximum egg case width) while others have narrow keels (less than 10% of the maximum egg case width). Many egg cases are covered with a layer of fiber; some will have a fine layer while others have a thick layer. Below are pictures of egg cases belonging to the Big skate, Raja binoculata. Another skate egg case belonging to the roughtail skate is shown.

Big skate

Raja binoculata

The big skate
Big skate
The big skate is the largest species of skate, family Rajidae, in the waters off North America. They are found along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja California, typically from the intertidal zone to a depth of , and feed on benthic invertebrates and small fishes. They are unusual among...

 is known to be the largest skate in the eastern North Pacific Ocean.,
Their maximum size has been noted as 244 cm total length (TL), but the largest confirmed size is 203.9 cm TL.
  • The fresh egg cases of the big skate, like the one shown below, were taken from dead gravid females that were caught in commercial groundfish fisheries.
  • Their egg cases are larger than most other skate egg cases; typically ranging from 210 to 280 mm in length and 110 to 180 mm in width.,
  • The egg case is very smooth and lacks external fibrous material. This egg case can be easily identified from all others in that it is the only one to have a steep ridge; giving the case a convex shape.
  • The keel on the egg case is considered very broad; representing 30-33% of the width of the egg case.
  • Egg cases, in utero, are found in pairs.
  • Big skates are one of only two skates known to have multiple embryos inside an egg case; up to 7 embryos have been found inside a single case. But most big skate egg cases contain 3-4 embryos.
  • Big skate have a 70 mm difference between the smallest and largest egg cases; this is uncommon in most skate species. Research is currently being conducted on whether or not a relationship exists between egg case length and the overall size of the female big skate. This may answer questions like "why does a larger disparity exist between the minimum and maximum sizes of egg case length of the big skate versus the other skate species"?
  • Big skates egg cases are approximately 15% of the overall length of the female skate.
  • The color of the egg case is olive green, when fresh, and it turns to a dark brown as it ages. Dried egg cases often turn black and wrinkle up (See image below).

Other skate species

The Longnose skate, Raja rhina, is considered a larger skate species; reaching a maximum size range of 145 cm TL. Although their egg cases are smaller than that of the big skate, their cases are considered large too; ranging 93–102 mm in length.
  • Egg cases contain a single embryo.
  • Longnose skate egg case's smallest to largest size in length varies by only 9 mm; this is common for most skate species which have a 1–16 mm spread in egg case length.
  • Longnose skate egg cases found in the field are brown in color. The external side is covered with a fibrous material, which is thicker on the top side and thinner on the bottom side of the case. The case is smooth underneath the fibrous material.

The Roughtail skate, Bathyraja trachura, is a medium size skate, with a maximum size of 91 cm TL.
  • Egg cases contain a single embryo.
  • Roughtail skate egg cases are of medium size, previously recorded as having a maximum size up to 78 mm in length.
  • This egg case, shown on the measuring strip depicting centimeter measurements, exceeds the maximum recorded size and measures 85 mm in length. This egg case was found in the field; caught in commercial fishing gear.
  • The Roughtail skate egg case's smallest to largest size in length varies by 16 mm in length.
  • The egg cases are smooth and lack external fibrous material. The keels are very wide, and a great characteristic for identifying it to this species.

Relevance of knowing skate egg case identification features and size

  • Knowledge of egg case morphology can be used to identify which skate species it belongs to, as well as aid in finding new skate species.
  • Researchers have been able to identify skate species, not previously known to reside in a geological area, by finding egg cases not belonging to all verified known species living within that region.
  • The presence of egg cases can assist researchers in gaining knowledge about skate distribution, behavior of the species and their preferred habitat, such as nursery areas.
  • These identification features aid in narrowing down the choice of the likely possible species, and in many cases makes it easier to accurately identify a species.

See also

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