Still not convinced? Some scientists, however, contend that the largest forms may have measured up to 25 metres (82 feet) long. Over 50 feet long and weighing as much as four elephants, it preyed on whales (who were smaller back then). They were able to eat whales because they had an estimated bite force of about 18.2 tons – that’s enough to crush a whale’s head as easily as breaking a peanut shell. Sharks first appear in the fossil record roughly 420 million years ago, a time when fishes began to evolve. Megalodon is thought to have managed its body temperature in a manner similar to that of modern white sharks, in that it was not exclusively cold-blooded like most fish. Carcharocles megalodon was once the most fearsome predator to reign the seas. As far as paleontologists can tell, the only thing that kept adult megalodons from venturing too close to shore was their enormous size, which would have beached them as helplessly as a Spanish galleon. Since Megalodon is known by thousands of fossilized teeth but only a few scattered bones, its exact size has been a matter of contentious debate. The largest were roughly 60 feet in length and attained perhaps up to 50 tons, the size and weight of a railroad car. Today, the salty water of the Atlantic is a major engine for global ocean circulation. Thanks for signing up for Ocean Conservancy emails. For much of the Cenozoic Era, a seaway existed between the Pacific and Caribbean that allowed for water and species to move between the two ocean basins.

It should come as no surprise that upon discovery in the fossil record, the massive shark was named Carcharocles megalodon or “big toothed glorious shark.”. This is a defining feature of elasmobranchs, as most fish have skeletons made of bone. Paleontologists have produced estimates ranging from 40 to 100 feet, but the consensus now is that adults were 55 to 60 feet long and weighed as much as 50 to 75 tons. This would have allowed megalodon to hunt in colder waters. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. Millions of years ago, the megalodon was doomed by global cooling (which ultimately led to the last Ice Age), and/or by the gradual disappearance of the giant whales that constituted the bulk of its diet. Bob Strauss is a science writer and the author of several books, including "The Big Book of What, How and Why" and "A Field Guide to the Dinosaurs of North America.
Because sharks are constantly shedding their teeth—thousands and thousands over the course of a lifetime—megalodon teeth have been discovered all over the world. The answer, in short, is not a lot. Fossils uncovered by paleontologists give a sense of the shark's massive size and strength. Their tailfin undulated side to side and they breathed through gill slits on either side of their head. Reconstruction by Bashford Dean in 1909, enhanced photo/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain. Please try Megalodon had a diet befitting an apex predator, feasting on the prehistoric whales that swam the earth's oceans during the Pliocene and Miocene epochs, but also chowing down on dolphins, squids, fish, and even giant turtles (whose equally giant shells, as tough as they were, couldn't hold up against 10 tons of biting force; see the next slide). Since Megalodon is known by thousands of fossilized teeth but only a few scattered bones, its exact size has been a matter of contentious debate. The word megalodon, a compound of Greek root words, means “giant tooth.”. Due to the lack of cartilage fossils, megalodon size estimates are based upon known relationships between tooth size and shark body length. The ‘large’ part is no joke either: these teeth grew up to seven inches long! Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. This data suggests that mature adult megalodons had a mean length of 10.2 metres (about 33.5 feet), the largest specimens measuring 17.9 metres (58.7 feet) long. Conversely, they likely rammed smaller prey with their snouts to stun them before biting it. Reviewed by Hans Sues (Smithsonian Institution).

in a whale bone. Sorry, but we failed to add you to the list. The megalodon was a new addition to the West courtyard of the museum in Spring 2019. Megalodon is thought to have produced live young. With a jaw estimated to measure about 9 x 11 feet, scientists have calculated that megalodon’s bite force would be about 40,000 pounds per square inch. ", Humans Never Lived at the Same Time as Megalodon, Megalodon Was Bigger Than the Great White, Megalodon Was Five Times Stronger Than the Great White, Whales and Dolphins Were Food for the Megalodon, Megalodon Was Too Large to Swim Close to Shore, Only Blue Whales Are Bigger Than the Megalodon, Megalodon Died Out Before the Last Ice Age, Facts About Leviathan, the Giant Prehistoric Whale, Who Would Win a Fight Between Megalodon and Leviathan, The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Alabama, The 20 Biggest Mammals, Ranked by Category, The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Georgia. 5.

Which is why it has been hard for paleontologists to estimate the size of this creature.

No, it’s its diet. They are especially large—some reach over 7 inches (18 cm) in vertical height. There are theories that have been spread through the grapevine that, hey, if 80% of our ocean still remains unexplored … how do we know for sure that this creature has actually gone extinct? With the help of donors like you, Ocean Conservancy is developing innovative solutions to save our ocean. Megalodon went extinct 2.6 million years ago, but our fascination with the largest shark that ever lived is timeless. We’ve all heard of this mysterious, enormous shark: Otodus megalodon. Around 2.6 million years ago, around the time when the megalodon disappears from the fossil record, large mammals in the ocean were undergoing significant changes in response to a changing climate. Megalodons were named after their huge teeth, after all. The megalodon is the largest shark to have ever lived in the world’s ocean.

These locations provided the shark pups with plenty of fish and a safe environment to grow, away from the larger predators of the open ocean and offshore zones. Today, it’s believed that megalodon was actually the last species of a separate lineage of shark. 2. One of the most interesting facts about Megalodon, however, is not its size. Given the average overall size of these animals and the size of the prey they consumed (large megafauna like sharks, whales, etc. You have to go back 65 million years--to none other, once again, than Tyrannosaurus Rex—to find a creature that possessed bigger choppers, though the protruding canines of some saber-toothed cats were also in the same ballpark. ), the size of their teeth makes sense. Estimates of body length are calculated using the statistical relationship between the size of megalodon’s fossil teeth and the teeth and body mass of modern white sharks and other living relatives. According to at least one computer simulation, Megalodon's hunting style differed from that of modern Great White Sharks. Robyn Hanson/Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0. Megalodon pictures, on the other hand, often tell a different story. Well, this giant shark may have been doomed by global cooling (which culminated in the last Ice Age), or by the gradual disappearance of the giant whales that constituted the bulk of its diet. Megalodon may even have crossed paths with the giant prehistoric whale Leviathan! Corey Ford/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images. Female megalodons may have been about twice as large as the males. As with most sharks, the fossil remains of Megalodon are poorly preserved. They differ from modern white shark teeth in that they are larger and thicker, the serrations on each tooth occur in regular intervals, and they possess a bourlette (a darker, chevron-shaped region near the tooth’s root).
Pacific waters, filled with nutrients, easily flowed into the Atlantic and helped sustain high levels of diversity.

In order to show the large teeth, the model is displayed with its mouth open. So Megalodon was huge, relentless, and the apex predator of the Pliocene and Miocene epochs. Misslelauncherexpert, Matt Martyniuk/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0. At the beginning of the Miocene, marine mammals were at the height of their diversity and abundance—especially the megalodon’s favorite prey, small whales. A modern great white shark bites with about 1.8 tons of force, while the megalodon chomped down with a force between 10.8 and 18.2 tons—enough to crush the skull of a giant prehistoric whale as easily as a grape.

Ocean Conservancy, International Coastal Cleanup, Ocean Action Network, Trash Free Seas, Trash Free Seas Alliance and Rippl are registered trademarks of Ocean Conservancy. With the help of donors like you, Ocean Conservancy is developing solutions to save our ocean. are constantly lost teeth throughout the course of their life. For the following text, Carcharocles megalodon will be shortened to the megalodon, a reference to the shark and not the clam. Little is known about how individuals dispersed after they matured. RICHARD BIZLEY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images. This is a defining feature of elasmobranchs, as most fish have skeletons made of bone. However, despite the greatly exaggerated claims of its size, most paleontologists have come to a consensus on just how big these sharks really were. It is through these tooth marks that scientists are able to determine a megalodon’s feeding behavior. Roughly up to 3 times the length of a modern-day great white shark, it is the largest shark to have ever lived. These filter feeders typically average in length between 18 and 32.5 feet.

Not only was Megalodon the biggest prehistoric shark that ever lived; it was the largest marine predator in the history of the planet, vastly outweighing both the modern Great White Shark and ancient reptiles like Liopleurodon and Kronosaurus. By the way, some people believe Megalodons still lurk in the ocean's depths, as popularized in the Discovery Channel show Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, but there's absolutely no reputable evidence to support this theory. If these animals were in fact alive, scientists say, there’s no way we wouldn’t have at least some idea of it.

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