The megalodon shark once ruled the world’s oceans. The apex predators of the sea reached lengths of up to 60-70 feet and an estimated maximum weight of over 60 tons. Their massive size makes the great white look like a shrimp. The megalodon was the largest known predator in Earth’s history and unlike great white sharks, the megalodon devoured everything in its path. Researchers have been studying fossils, and today we know more about these apex predators than ever before.
1. Megalodon’s teeth could reach sizes over 7 Inches.
Shark skeletons are made of cartilage, which does not fossilize easily. This is why humans have been able to find megalodon teeth around the world. Our understanding of the predator mainly comes from it’s teeth. Until today, humans have recovered megalodon teeth from all of the continents except for Antarctica. While most adult megalodon teeth fell into the 4-5” range, scientists managed to recover a few fossil teeth that were bigger than 7”.
The largest one ever discovered was in Peru, which measured 7.48” long. Meanwhile, the great white’s teeth can reach a maximum length of about 3 inches. Analysis of the megalodon’s pearly whites allowed scientists to better understand them. Scientists believe that they roamed the world’s oceans around 2.6 million years ago.
2. They were whale eaters.
Scientists know that the megalodon munched on whales, thanks to fossilized whale bones. Recovered fossils of whale bones were found to have scars that matched the size and serrations of megalodon teeth. Of course, the gigantic beast required a massive amount of food to survive. Some scientists estimate that in order to sustain itself, an adult megalodon had to consume over a ton of food every day. Apart from whale bones covered with large bite marks, other excavations have successfully discovered megalodon teeth lying next to the chewed remains of whales; proving scientists theories.
3. They had about 276 teeth in 5 rows.
Megalodon literally means “Big Tooth” in Greek. Their teeth averaged 5-7 inches and were long, serrated and heart shaped. At any given time, they had about 276 teeth. Since sharks mostly rely on their teeth to catch prey, they discard their teeth frequently as they become worn. The megalodon’s five rows of teeth acted like a conveyer belt and replaced any worn out teeth. Scientists believe that during its entire lifetime, a single megalodon could have dropped as many as 20,000 teeth; either from biting into prey or accidentally hitting their own teeth due to the sheer power of their jaws.
4. They lived in shallow waters.
It’s hard to imagine a giant predator such as the megalodon living shallow water, instead of the deep sea. Researchers studying and collecting fossils of the megalodon discovered an unusually high concentration of small megalodon teeth in Panama. They believe that this was a megalodon “nursery”; where the sharks gave birth. The shallow waters kept other possible predators away and once the sharks were old enough, they would venture out into the open sea. The 10-million-year-old geologic site in Panama is thought to be one of many birthing sites for the species.
5. Even though they were massive, megalodons were fast swimmers.
Megalodons were massive predators who were also really fast. In 1926, researchers managed to make a discovery that changed everything we knew about them. Researcher M. Leriche and his team discovered a vertebral column of a single megalodon containing 150 vertebral centra. Careful examination of the vertebral column allowed them to better understand it’s swimming and hunting patterns. Researchers believe that once the megalodon latched onto it’s prey, it would use its powerful jaws to crush them. Since there was no escape from their jaws, they were extremely dangerous predators.
The shape of the vertebral column also suggests that the megalodon was able to reach speeds of up to 32 kilometers per hour (20 mph). According to Dr. David Jacoby, from the Zoological Society of London, this allowed them to out-swim other species.
6. They helped invent modern geology.
When our ancestors discovered the megalodon fossils, they had no idea what they were dealing with. Fossils were being discovered around the world and people started coming up with explanations to what the weird shaped objects were. In Malta, some called them “tongue stones” as glossopetrae, and Roman commander Pliny the Elder believed that they fell from the sky during eclipses. While people had theories, no one really knew exactly what the fossilised megalodon teeth were.
It wasn’t until 1666, when one man made the connection, that the fossilised teeth were finally understood. Nicholas Steno, a physician at the Florence court, was given the task of dissecting a shark. As Steno was performing the dissection, he discovered many features common with the tongue stones and the shark’s teeth. While Steno made the connection, he was still unsure of how they managed to end up in the rocks. This prompted him to conduct more geological work and eventually came the understanding of how the rock layers were formed. Today, Steno is known as the father of Stratigraphy; the study of rock layers and analysis of archeological remains.
7. Their teeth are relatively common fossils.
Like many other sharks, the megalodon lost it’s teeth as it grew, became worn or broken. While fossils are easily discovered around the world, large or exceptionally well preserved specimens are rare. Fossil hunters keep an eye out for megalodon teeth because of its high price in the market. Rare ones such as 7″ teeth can easily sell for as much as $50,000. In 2017, a boy who was on vacation with his family, playing along the coast, when he stumbled upon a 5″ long completely intact megalodon tooth. So, next time you’re along the coast, keep an eye out for odd shaped rocks. You might just be lucky enough to find one.
8. They had no natural predators so they were non territorial.
For centuries, mankind has been finding fossilized teeth and remains of the megalodon from various parts of the world. These fossils are in various colors, sizes and textures; indicating that they had a cosmopolitan distribution. This is basically a way for scientists to tell us that the megalodon was found in all oceans of the planet. They had no natural predators, which made it easy for them to travel in search of food. Besides, their gigantic diet could have been the reason why they were traveling during their 20 million year reign as the rulers of the sea.
9. They went extinct around 2.6 million years ago but the exact reason for their extinction remains a mystery.
Fossil analysis reveals that the megalodon went extinct around 2.6 million years ago. But, the exact cause for such a giant predator without any natural predators of its own, remains a mystery to science. The end of the megalodon’s reign roughly coincides with the Earth’s significant climate changes, such as global cooling which culminated in the Ice Age. This could have put a significant amount of pressure on the megalodon since the ocean cooling and sea levels dropping caused many large marine mammals, which the megalodon relied on for food, to disappear.
Apart from that, the surviving species could have been more elusive, causing the megalodon to basically starve to death. While this is just a hypothesis, the exact reason for their disappearance remains a mystery. Today, some believe that the megalodon still roams the depths of the oceans, but there is no evidence that suggests this.
10. They had the most powerful bite of any known animal and they disabled their prey by biting off their fins.
Contrary to popular belief, the megalodon is not closely related to the great white shark. It was previously believed that the megalodon was in the same genus as the great white shark, Carcharodon. Recent fossil discoveries however, have given us a better understanding of shark taxonomy and filled the gaps that were once left blank by our ancestors. While many still claim that the great whites and meg’s are closely related, fossil records prove otherwise. The great whites may be the terror of the sea today, but they were no match for the megalodons.
The biggest whales today — blue whales — are much larger than the megalodons would have been. Yet scientists believe that the megalodon could have overpowered potential prey twice their size. Some researchers believe that the megalodon hunted in a rather unique fashion; by biting off the prey’s fins. This made the prey stationary and the megalodon then simply used it’s powerful jaws to bite down to the bone. Others think that their hunting behavior was similar to those of modern great whites; several large sharks circling one prey and taking large bites.