What Is A Mermaid’s Purse

Have you ever wondered about the mysterious objects that wash up on the shorelines of beaches? Well, one of these intriguing finds is known as a mermaid’s purse. But what exactly is a mermaid’s purse, you may ask? A mermaid’s purse is not, in fact, an accessory for these mythical creatures but rather the protective casing for the eggs of certain types of sharks and skates. Resembling a leathery pouch with horns or tendrils at each corner, these unique structures can be found scattered across beaches, offering a fascinating glimpse into the secret world of underwater life.

What Is A Mermaid’s Purse

A mermaid’s purse may sound like something out of a fairytale or folklore, but in reality, it is a fascinating and unique structure found in the underwater world. Also referred to as “devil’s purse,” a mermaid’s purse is actually a protective casing for the eggs of various species of sharks, skates, and rays. These leathery pouches, often washed up on shorelines, provide a safe and nurturing environment for the developing embryos until they are ready to hatch. Let’s delve deeper into the definition, characteristics, shape, size, composition, and function of these marvelous oceanic artifacts.


A mermaid’s purse is essentially an egg case produced by certain species of sharks, skates, and rays. These animals are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs outside their bodies. Unlike mammals, where offspring develop internally, these marine creatures deposit their eggs into sturdy casings to protect them from various threats and ensure their survival. The term “mermaid’s purse” may have originated from the pouch’s resemblance to a purse that mermaids, mythical sea-dwelling creatures, might carry.


Mermaid’s purses are characterized by their elongated and tapered shape. They resemble a rectangular pouch that is wider at one end and narrows down to a point at the other. While they primarily serve the purpose of safeguarding the developing embryos, they also exhibit a range of interesting features that contribute to their overall composition and function.

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The shape of a mermaid’s purse can vary depending on the species that produces it. In general, these protective cases have a distinctive flat and elongated shape. At one end, the case is usually wider, providing ample space for the developing embryo. As the case tapers towards the other end, it forms a narrower tail-like structure. This shape helps the pouch anchor itself to the ocean floor or other substrates, preventing it from being dislodged or swept away by currents.


Mermaid’s purses come in a range of sizes, with slight variations depending on the species. On average, these egg cases measure around 4 to 10 centimeters in length. Larger species, such as some of the skates and rays, may produce larger purses, reaching lengths of up to 30 centimeters. Despite these differences, the size of the mermaid’s purse is always tailored to accommodate the specific needs of the species that creates it.


Mermaid’s purses are composed of a robust and flexible material known as keratin. Keratin is a protein that is also found in human hair, nails, and the protective coverings of many other animals. This material gives the mermaid’s purse its leathery texture, offering a durable and resilient environment for the developing embryos. The outer surface of the purse is often textured, providing additional protection against predators and ensuring the case blends in with the surrounding environment.


The primary function of a mermaid’s purse is to provide a safe and protective environment for the developing embryos until they are ready to hatch. Let’s explore the role of these fascinating structures in terms of egg protection and transportation.

Egg Protection

When a female shark, skate, or ray is ready to lay her eggs, she deposits them into the mermaid’s purse. The leathery casing acts as a shield against predators that would otherwise pose a threat to the vulnerable embryos. The sturdy composition of the purse provides a physical barrier, while the textured surface and coloration aid camouflage, further reducing the risk of detection. Additionally, the keratin material offers some insulation, ensuring a stable environment for the eggs despite changes in temperature and water conditions.

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Mermaid’s purses not only protect the eggs but also aid in their transportation and dispersal. Most species that produce these egg cases are bottom-dwelling creatures, meaning they live on or near the ocean floor. The tapered tail end of the mermaid’s purse serves as an attachment point, allowing the case to anchor itself to the substrate. This prevents the purse from being swept away by currents, ensuring that the embryos remain in a suitable location for development.

Species That Produce Mermaid’s Purses

A wide range of shark, skate, and ray species produce mermaid’s purses to protect their developing embryos. Some common examples include:

  • Catsharks (Scyliorhinidae)
  • Dogfish sharks (Squalidae)
  • Skates (Rajidae)
  • Stingrays (Dasyatidae)
  • Eagle rays (Myliobatidae)

Each species has its own unique characteristics and adaptations, resulting in subtle differences in the shape, size, and overall appearance of their mermaid’s purses. By studying these variations, researchers and marine biologists can gain valuable insights into the diverse reproductive strategies employed by these fascinating oceanic creatures.

In conclusion, the mermaid’s purse is a remarkable structure that serves as a protective casing for the eggs of certain species of sharks, skates, and rays. With its distinct shape, resilient composition, and crucial role in ensuring the survival of developing embryos, the mermaid’s purse showcases the wonders and complexities of life beneath the waves. The next time you venture to the beach and stumble upon a mermaid’s purse, take a moment to appreciate the hidden world of oceanic reproduction that it represents.


Mila Brooks

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