- Before: Wow, it’s that massive shark! Isn’t there a theory that it’s still around?
- After: Or not. But its killer might be…
Like some sort of Lovecraftian horror, giant prehistoric shark Megalodon left its signs everywhere before mysteriously vanishing.
Thanks to the cartilage skeleton we only have its teeth, but more than enough for Vito Bertucci to spend his life’s work reconstructing its massive maw. So if you fancy a sweet doorway in your house, feel free to open your wallet just as wide! But why are there so many?
Truth in the tooth
Megalodon teeth are scattered worldwide like confetti. Not because ancient oceans had giant fins for waves, but because Megalodon had 276 of them and went through them like water – possibly up to 40,000 in a lifetime!
And, judging by the maw, and ones found wedged in whale fossils, it likely had nature’s strongest bite.
On a steak night we could manage 890 N(ewtons), and the modern-day champion, the saltwater crocodile, an average of 16,460 N. Megalodon sees that, laughs uproariously, and raises us 182,201 N.
That’s not all its teeth can tell us.
Not a cold-blooded killer
Isotopes compared with those of modern sharks give us a clue that Megalodon, like some modern chompers, could thermoregulate. It may have had a body temperature as high as a whale’s – its main prey – so it was probably able to hunt where other sharks couldn’t. You know, beyond places deliberately evacuated when it cruised by.
But I don’t want to talk smack about sharks, because they’re just animals going about their day, and we let statistically way more dangerous ones sleep on our beds. The biggest one that ever lived wasn’t too hard on its kids either.
Yet more deposits of teeth have suggested coastal shark nurseries, away from the hungry bellies of others, and any primitive toothed whales seeking revenge on their parents. Speaking of families, we’re not 100% sure which one Megalodon belongs to.
The obvious choice is the great white (Carcharocles carcinas) since its teeth are similar, but other palaeontologists believe Megalodon is the last in a line of megatooth sharks (Otodontidae) whose origins stretch back 145 million years to the dino-tastic Cretaceous. If so, it would have probably looked more like a modern mako, like the shortfin or “blue pointer”:
The jury’s still out, but the uncertainty deflects a rather awkward family dynamic.
An enormous body equals an enormous appetite, and Megalodon was born to binge. Unfortunately, when ocean temperatures start to drop and your main prey migrates even further north, it can spell trouble. That’s on top of the new blood.
Until recently, we thought climate change was the main reason for the fall (or sink?) of Megalodon, but this didn’t really kick in until about 2.8 million years ago, 1 million years after this great shark was thought to have bowed out. But who to? The modern great white, of course, and probably the killer Orcinus crowd, so Simbakubwa would likely have given Megalodon a sympathetic nod or a sad hi-five. But does this legend of the deep live on?
…or mega conspira-sea?
No. No it doesn’t.
Despite our (somewhat suicidal) hopes to the contrary, theories that it could have survived until today, especially in the trenches, hold zero water given the lack of Megalodon-friendly temperatures and food portions.
Maybe it’s better for a legend to stay as such, rather than suffer an awful revival.
Latin: Otodus, or Carcharocles megalodon (the debate continues).
Meaning: “Giant tooth”.
What? Massive prehistoric shark, and the largest fish ever known.
Where? Coastal and continental shelf regions worldwide, except Antarctica, in the early Miocene to late Pliocene periods, 23 to 3.6 million years ago.
How big? Its bite alone was 3 metres / 9.8 feet wide. In terms of body length, estimates range from 10-18 metres / 33-60 feet long!
Probable motto: Go big, or go home. Annoyingly no one else agreed.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
Boessenecker, Robert J. et al. 2019. “The Early Pliocene extinction of the mega-toothed shark Otodus megalodon: a view from the eastern North Pacific“. PeerJ 7: e6088.
Bradford, Alina. 2018. “Facts about Megalodon: the long-gone shark“. LiveScience.
Cassella, Carly. 2019. “The creature that killed off the giant Megalodon might still live in our oceans today“. ScienceAlert.
Davis, Josh. 2018. “Megalodon: the truth about the largest shark that ever lived“. Natural History Museum.
Ghosh, Pallab. 2015. “‘First human’ discovered in Ethiopia“. BBC News.
Gramling, Carolyn. 2018. “What ‘The Meg’ doesn’t quite get right about Megalodon sharks“. Science News for Students.
Hall, Danielle. No date. “The Megalodon“. Smithsonian Ocean.
Handwerk, Brian. 2012. “Crocodiles have strongest bite ever measured, hands-on tests show“. National Geographic.
Letzter, Rafi. 2019. “Did great white sharks wipe out the giant Megalodon?” LiveScience.
Mustain, Andrea. 2011. “For sale: world’s largest shark jaws“. LiveScience.
Rafferty, John P. No date. “Megalodon“. Britannica.com.
Strauss, Bob. 2019. “11 facts about Megalodon“. ThoughtCo.com.
Weisberger, Mindy. 2018. “Super-steamy Megalodon may have been too hot to avoid extinction“. LiveScience.