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Megalodon

The Megalodon was the world’s biggest shark and the largest fish to have ever existed. Their evolution is thought to have taken place during the time the baleen and the tooth whales were diversifying. These giant sharks lived approximately 23 to 2.6 mya, which means, they ruled the seas for more than 20 million years. These colossal creatures had to face mass extinction probably being a victim of their own vast size.

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Scientific Classification

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Chondrichthyes
Order Lamniformes
Family †Otodontidae
GenusCarcharocles
SpeciesC. megalodon

Quick Facts

PronunciationMeg-ah-low-don
Geological PeriodMiddle Miocene to Pliocene, 23 to 2.6 million years ago, approx.
Size Adults: Up to 67 feet in length;
Newborns: 6 to 11 feet
Weight Adults: Around 65 tons;
Newborns: Up to 500 pounds
Jaw Width May have been up to 7 feet across
Bite Force 108,514 to 182,201 newtons
Average Lifespan 20 to 40 years (estimated)
Location/Distribution & Habitat Warm, open waters; megalodon teeth have been found on every continent except Antarctica
Climate/Environment Tropical, subtropical and temperate locations around the globe
Diet Carnivorous
Birth Type (Reproduction) Gave birth to live young (instead of laying eggs)

History and Discovery

The megalodon is only known from its teeth and vertebrae. No complete skeleton of the giant creature has yet been recovered. Numerous fossilized teeth of the prehistoric shark have been discovered to date. The diagnostic characters the teeth include large sizes with triangular shapes, robust structures with visible v-shaped necks and fine serrations.

However, fossilized vertebrae of the fish have also been discovered from time to time, with one of the most notable examples being a partially preserved vertebral column excavated in 1926 by a Belgian paleontologist M. Leriche. It comprised of 150 vertebral centra, the largest of which had a diameter of 155 cm.

Interestingly, in 1983, the vertebral column of another specimen was excavated by Bendix-Almgeen from Denmark’s Gram Clay Pit, which is thought to be of a much younger individual. The remains of the creature were partially preserved and comprised of only 20 vertebral centra, with the largest one having a diameter of 230 mm.

Probable Causes of Extinction

There have been several resultant factors for the extinction of these terrible creatures. The foremost of them all is the change in oceanic temperatures around the world.

As the temperature of the world began to fall dramatically, there was a great change in the ocean currents. Such a situation resulted in the loss of its main food source, the whales that gradually migrated into the arctic waters.

Again, these sharks had to face competition with the killer whales of the era. Unlike the latter, megalodons were unable to hunt in the colder water, and there was an eventual scarcity of food.

According to the Discovery Channel, with the beginning of the Ice Age, water got locked up at the poles, while the seas began to dry up. This caused the megalodons to either starve or freeze to death, leading to their complete extinction.

Physical Description & Size: How Big is a Megalodon Shark

Because of the discovery of fragmentary remains, there have been several contradictory size estimates of the creature. They were primarily made of cartilage, a substance that does not fossilize well. Hence, conclusive evidence about the size of the creature has not yet been found, except for relative hypothesis using the excavated teeth and the vertebral fragments.

Scientists have calculated that their size ranged from anything between 50 and 67 feet. The strength of its jaw was 18.2 metric tons, and that, their large fins assisted them in swimming at great speed even with their gigantic body.

Megalodon Tooth

As mentioned, the most common fossils of the megalodons are their teeth. They possessed the largest teeth of any shark. The largest excavated tooth till date is a little over 7 inches, but the commonest tooth size was between 3 and 5 inches.

They had four types of teeth, viz. anterior, intermediate, lateral, and posterior, counting to a total of 276 serrated teeth that were perfectly designed for ripping flesh. Each tooth was thick and durable adapted to grabbing their prey and crushing the bones at ease.

Behavior

The hunting process of the megashark is thought to have been like that of the modern day great white sharks – ambushing the prey from below.

According to BBC, while attacking, the megalodon used to attack the victim first by the flipper or tail (especially its most common prey, the whales and other marine mammals) to resist them from escaping, after which, the shark would go in for the kill.

These fish was the apex predator in its environment and was on the top of the food chain. The shark is thought to have shared its habitat with the livyatan (an extinct genus of giant sperm whales), and competed with them about 12-13 mya.

There is numerous strong fossil evidence which suggests that the baby or young adults usually roamed in the shallow waters between the two Americas during the Miocene period, and hence, had a very high population of the juveniles whereas, the deeper waters of the open ocean had a higher concentration of the larger adults.

Diet

With its large serrated teeth, the megalodons most likely preferred consuming over-sized mammals and reptiles like large whales, seals, sea turtles, dolphins, etc. It might also have preyed upon other large fish, and probably other sharks, according to the Discovery Channel.

Is the Megalodon Still Alive in Real

Despite claims of sightings in the documentaries made by the Discovery Channel, majority of the paleontologists have confirmed that the megalodon does not exist anymore, since it is impossible for these mammoth beings to live in the cold waters at the bottom of the ocean, where there is no food or the natural environment they need to survive.

Interesting Facts

  • The word ‘megalodon’, in Latin, means ‘big tooth’.
  • An average and healthy megalodon would lose a set of teeth every one or two weeks, and get them naturally replaced by a new set, thus getting through up to 40,000 teeth in their entire lifetime.
  • In around 70 AD, ancient Roman author, naturalist, philosopher, and a commander in chief Pliny the Elder believed that the large triangular teeth of the megalodon were objects dropped from the sky during lunar eclipses.
  • During the medieval period, the Europeans believed that these shark teeth were ‘tongue stones’, or tongues of snakes and dragons turned into stone, and were worn as pendants, as well as, used in preparing medicines.
  • Native Americans used megalodon teeth as necklaces, as also, tools such as scrapers.
  • In the 2018 fantasy thriller movie ‘The Meg’, a Megalodon appears as the primary antagonist.
  • In 2002, the third sequel to the South African ‘Shark Attack’ movie series (Shark Attack 3: Megalodon) also featured the creature.

Contrary to old belief, though the great whites are close relatives of the megalodon, the majority of the biologists believe that the former did not evolve from the megashark but rather from the extinct family ‘Otodontidae’ around five mya. Though this theory is still debated.

Published on December 24th 2018 by under Reptiles.
Article was last reviewed on 21st December 2018.

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