Bamboo sharks are categorized in the family Hemiscylliidae of the order Orectolobiformes. This family contains two genera, both of which are populated with bamboo sharks and carpet sharks, which are relatives. Bamboo sharks in general are basically miniature sharks with tails longer than their bodies. They do not typically grow longer than 4 feet (1.2 m) in length, nor are they very fast swimmers. Sometimes they are kept in captivity, but home aquariums must usually have at least 200 gallons of water for a bamboo shark to thrive.
The grey bamboo shark, scientifically known as Chiloscyllium griseum, grows up to about 2.5 feet (0.76 m) in length and has a somewhat deceiving name. It is frequently described as being more brown than grey. Grey bamboo sharks can be found in oceans surrounding Asian countries, such as the Philippines, Thailand, and China. Their numbers are dwindling, however, and they are classified as near threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Chiloscyllium indicum, also called a slender bamboo shark, grows to about the same length as its grey counterpart. It is considered harmless to humans and is often captured and eaten in some countries. For example, in Australia the meat of this type of shark is known as flake, and it is usually consumed as part of a fish and chips dish. Its skin is sometimes used as leather to utilize more of the catch. Some relatives of this shark often share the same fate.
The brown banded bamboo shark, also known as Chiloscyllium punctatum or the cat shark, is one species of shark that is most commonly kept in aquariums. These sharks are typified by their brown and white banded pattern, of which they typically have about 10 of each, but they retain this pattern only when they are young. When they develop into adults, they abandon their banded patterns for a solid brown appearance.
Another species of bamboo shark, the whitespotted bamboo shark or Chiloscyllium plagiosum, is common to coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. These nocturnal sharks are marked with brown bands on their bodies, as well as dark brown and white spots. Owing to an incidence of a female whitespotted bamboo shark giving birth to babies without having been around a male of the same species for more than five years, scientists are speculating about what may not be known about the reproductive systems of sharks as of 2011.