Measuring up to 18 metres long, the megalodon is thought to have been one of the most fearsome predators that ever lived. Until now, however, there had never been enough evidence to prove it existed. But thanks to a remarkable discovery off the coast of South Africa, scientists believe they have found proof of the existence of the giant prehistoric shark – and it could mean we’re finally getting close to discovering what happened to the creatures millions of years ago.
In 2010, divers discovered the jawbone of a megalodon while searching for the carcass of a sperm whale near South Africa’s Cape Point Nature Reserve. Experts say it was like finding the fossilised bone of a Tyrannosaurus rex because of how large the tooth was. And since then, experts have been trying to pinpoint exactly where the rest of the creature might be buried. Now, researchers have managed to find another portion of the skull, along with some vertebrae and ribs. They say it gives them a better idea about the exact size of the beast. “We’ve got a pretty good idea of its size,” said Dr David Krause, curator of marine science at the Western Australian Museum. “We think it’s somewhere around 16 metres long.” He added: “If you look at the size of the jaws compared to the size of the head, it looks very similar to modern sharks.”
Although the megalodon disappeared about 3.5 million years ago, the species continued to live on into the early Miocene period, and even survived until the Pliocene era. However, the reason why it died out is still unknown. Some experts believe climate change led to the extinction of the megalodon, while others claim it was killed off by humans.
What did megalodon eat?
Megalodons are thought to have lived up to 20 million years ago, at least until around 2.6 million years ago, when they suddenly disappeared. Scientists think that they went extinct because of climate change, and possibly competition from another shark species called the great white shark. But what exactly did they eat? There are some clues in the fossils of ancient whales.
The largest of these creatures, known as baleen whales, had huge mouths lined with rows of tiny plates. These plates could trap plankton and krill, and the whale could filter out the water it needed while swimming. They fed like modern day seahorses, sucking in water into their mouth and filtering it through their gills.
If you look closely at the fossils of these whales, you’ll notice something strange. In many cases there are bite marks on the bones, where megalodon must have tried to feed on the whale. Some of the fossils even show tooth marks on the inside of the skull.
These types of bites are very rare today, and scientists believe that megalodon would have used its powerful jaws to break open the head of the whale and tear out chunks of flesh.
But why would such a massive creature want to eat a smaller one? Megalodon grew to about 30 feet long and weighed over 10 tonnes. A human being is barely half that size. So how much food could it eat?
Scientists estimate that the average adult male megalodon consumed around 3,500 kilos of food per day, or roughly the same amount as a medium sized elephant. And this doesn’t count the females, young or unborn offspring.
So what sort of diet would that require? Well, we know that megalodon ate whales. But what else might they have eaten? One theory suggests that megalodon hunted seals, eating both adults and pups. Another idea is that it fed exclusively on squid, which would explain the presence of squid bones in the stomachs of some fossils.
What did megalodon look like?
The most famous extinct predator ever to roam the Earth is back in the news again – though this time, it’s not about how big it was. In 2017, scientists unveiled a reconstruction of what megalodon looked like based on fossils found off the coast of South Africa. At 14 meters long, the prehistoric shark was larger than a modern Great White Shark, and it’s been suggested that it could even have reached 18 metres in length. But according to experts, this isn’t true.
‘Megalodon is one of those creatures that we think of as being really scary, but it wasn’t actually that large,’ says Dr Emma Sattler, a marine biologist specialising in sharks. ‘I don’t think anyone really expected it to grow that big. We always imagine things growing into something huge, but I guess that just makes us feel better about our puny existence.’
But despite its small size, there are still some interesting differences between megalodon and the great white. For example, while both species have similar body shapes, megalodon had very short legs and a longer tail, whereas the great white has stubby limbs and a shorter tail. Another difference lies in the shape of the head. While the great white’s skull is relatively flat, megalodon’s is distinctly rounded. And finally, megalodon had a slightly different set of teeth, including a row of tiny sharp fangs along the front edge of its lower jaw.
This image was reconstructed by researchers at the University of California Museum of Paleontology, and published in Nature Communications. It shows the anatomy of a specimen of the ancient shark Otodus obliquis, which lived 55 million years ago.
A cosmopolitan shark
Megalodon was one of the largest sharks ever to roam the oceans. Fossils indicate it grew up to 60 feet long and weighed over 20 tons. Its mouth measured about 10 feet across and had rows of razor sharp teeth. It lived during the late Pleistocene epoch, roughly 2 million years ago.
The species was so widely spread, that megalodon teeth found on every continent except Antartica. They’ve been discovered in Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America. In fact, the most recent fossilized megalodon tooth found in the United States was discovered in 2008 in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola Beach, Fla., according to National Geographic.
‘We can find lots of off the east coast of north America, along the coasts, and at the bottoms of salt water creeks and rivers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida,’ says Emma, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England.
‘They are also quite common along the coast of Morocco and off the coast of Australia.’
Although there are many theories regarding what led to the extinction of the megamouth, scientists agree that climate change played a role. As temperatures rose, ice caps melted and open ocean habitats expanded. Megalodons swam into warmer waters where they could thrive.
What is the reason for the high prevalence of megalodon teeth?
Almost all fossil remains of megasauroidean (megalodon) are teeth. Sharks continually produce teeth throughout life, losing some every week or two. They get through around 40,000 teeth in a lifetime.
Teeth are the hardest part of a sharks’ skeleton.
While our bones are covered in the mineral calcium phosphate while shark skeletons are made entirely out of soft cartilage like our noses and ears.
The reason why we don’t find many fossils of megalodon is because it lived during the Miocene Epoch, about 23 million years ago. At that time, the Earth had been very warm due to the greenhouse effect caused by the presence of large amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As a consequence, there was no ice cover over most parts of the oceans. This meant that water temperatures were much warmer than today. In addition, the sea level was lower than now, meaning that the land area was smaller. These conditions allowed the megalodon to thrive and grow larger than usual.
At present, there are still areas where megalodons live and migrate along the coasts of South America and Africa. There are even reports of megalodons being caught off the coast of Japan. However, these sightings are rare and mostly unconfirmed.
Mega sharks are extinct
Scientists are still debating whether the giant prehistoric shark Megalodon went extinct about 2.6 million years ago during the late Pliocene period. But a study published Wednesday in Scientific Reports provides some clues about when the animal died out.
The research team analyzed fossil teeth and bones found in South Africa and compared them to modern day species. They determined that the megamouth shark — named because of its massive mouth filled with sharp teeth — lived around 3.6 million years old. This is slightly older than previous estimates.
The findings suggest that the megalodon did not go extinct immediately following the Pliocene, but rather over millions of years. “We see a clear signal of population decline starting about three million years ago,” lead author Andrew Kitchener told National Geographic News. “But we don’t actually see a complete extinction event until about 2.6 million ago.”
Kitchener noted that there are several possible explanations for why the shark went extinct. One possibility is that climate change caused the oceans to cool and the megalodon’s habitat to shrink. Another explanation is that competition from other fish species drove the megalodon to extinction. A final theory is that the shark simply moved into warmer water, where it was no longer able to survive.
Is it possible for megalodon to still exist?
Megalodon, one of the largest predators ever known, once ruled the seas. Its massive size and razor sharp teeth helped make it one of the most feared creatures to walk the Earth. But now, scientists say there are no living specimens of the prehistoric shark left in the world.
The giant predator disappeared around 10,000 years ago, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances. Researchers say it died out because of human activity, like hunting and overfishing.
‘We don’t think that megamouths live today anywhere in the world,’ says lead author David Gallo, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. Megalodons grew up to 50 feet long and weighed up to 40 tons. They hunted whales, dolphins and seals.
While some experts believe the great white shark might be the closest thing to a modern day megalodon, others disagree.
‘There’s certainly nothing living in the deep oceans, except things like squid, fish, octopuses, lobsters, crabs,’ says Emma, who adds that he doesn’t see why anyone would want to go looking for a gigantic creature.
‘It’s definitely not alive in deep oceans, despite what has said in the past,’ notes Emma. ‘If an animal as big megalodon still lived, we would know about it.’
He points out that there are plenty of examples of animals that went extinct, but survived in the fossil record.
450 million years of shark evolution
The shark family tree is one of the most complex among vertebrates, with nearly 2,400 species described to date. This diversity spans every ocean on earth and includes some of the largest creatures ever to roam our planet. All sharks evolved from small fish-like ancestors about 450 million years ago. Most modern sharks are descendants of the first large predators to evolve—the placoderms. These ancient marine reptiles dominated the oceans for millions of years, growing up to 40 feet long and weighing over 10 tons. They had sharp teeth and powerful jaws, and many became extinct during the Permian extinction event, 252 million years ago.
But it wasn’t until the end of the Triassic period, 200 million years later, that the first true sharks emerged. By the Jurassic period, 90 million years later, there were over 3,500 different sharks living in the seas. And today, we see hundreds of thousands of different species, ranging in size from less than a foot to almost 50 feet long.
Sea dragon resuscitation
The Smithsonian Institution announced a new virtual reality experience called “Jurassic World Evolution.” The exhibit allows visitors to explore the world of dinosaurs and learn about how scientists reconstruct extinct species. To do so, you’ll use a VR headset to walk around a recreated dinosaur habitat. You’ll see the fossils that researchers used to build the creatures, as well as the tools they used to make them. And you’ll even get to hold some real dinosaur bones yourself.
This isn’t just a museum attraction; it’s a way for people to understand what it takes to bring extinct animals back to life. If you’re interested in learning more about how paleontologists work, this could be a great opportunity for you.
Human teeth could be grown using shark genes
The shark genome project has revealed the key genes responsible for regenerating teeth. Researchers from the University of Adelaide say it has uncovered a genetic blueprint for tooth regeneration in the bony fish species, giving scientists a better understanding of how humans do it. They hope their findings could lead to treatments for people suffering from dental problems such as missing or damaged teeth.
Researchers used DNA sequencing technology to identify the gene sequences associated with tooth regeneration in the spotted eagle ray, one of the most primitive living vertebrates. This allowed researchers to compare the genes involved in tooth development in sharks, rays and mammals.
They discovered that the same genes are involved in both processes, despite the fact that sharks and rays don’t possess teeth like we do. However, the team says there are some differences in the proteins encoded by those genes. These include the presence of additional protein domains that are likely to play a role in regulating the activity of the proteins during tooth growth and maintenance.
The Museum has preserved a rare specimen of a Greenland shark
The first complete Greenland shark specimen ever found washed ashore on a Northumberland Beach in October 2018. A team led by Dr. Chris Lowe, curator of marine science at the Natural History Museum, identified it as a juvenile female measuring approximately 4m long and weighing around 2 tonnes. She had been caught off the coast of Iceland in 2012 and spent several months being kept alive in tanks before her journey to the UK.
Greenland sharks are the largest fish species in the world, growing up to 18 metres long and weighing over 10 tons. They live in cold waters around the Arctic Circle and feed mainly on squid and octopus.