The largest shark ever to live, another fish who’s true size is still a matter for debate.
Meaning of name: Big/Mighty Tooth
Pronunciation of name: mega – lo – don
Species: Carcharodon megalodon
Classifications: Lamniformes, Lamnidae or Otodontidae
Size: 15-20m (52-62ft)
Weight: 48-103 metric tonnes (53-114 imperial tons)
Time: Miocene to Pliocene (Cenozoic Era)
Location: fossils have been found in Africa, North and South America, India, Australia and Europe; believed to have thrived in the warmer waters of its time.
Named by: Louis Agassiz, in 1835.
A few odd millennia ago, back when mammoths and saber-toothed cats still roamed, the oceans were dominated by an apex predator: the shark. Funny how they still rank at the top of the oceanic food chain, only now they aren’t as big as they used to be.
Enter Megalodon. The largest species of shark ever to live, the second largest fish ever to live (for the largest, see Leedsichthys) and quite possibly the largest predatory marine animal the world has ever seen.
Interesting that with these accolades comes the same problem that Leedsichthys endlessly goes through; no one actually knows how big this fish really got.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall, so they say; in palaeontology, the bigger they are, the harder it is to find the whole thing. Bones require very special circumstances to fossilise, flesh, even more so (which is why it is so hard to come by mummified remains). So then it should as no surprise that cartilage, that material somewhere between bone and flesh, almost never fossilises. We have a few parts of Megalodon’s spinal chord (because, you know, the entire skeleton is made of cartilage, how inconvenient), but other than that, all we have to go on are the teeth… and boy are they impressive.
Megalodon teeth are usually around 15cm (6 inches), with the largest in the world sitting at just over 17cm (7 inches); to put that in perspective, the largest great white teeth in the world are 7cm (3 inches).
Another problem Megalodon faces is the uncertainty of its genus. Carcharodon or Carcharocles? Now you see why there was an “or” in the Classifications section. Carcharodon implies Lamnidae, Carcharocles falls under Otodontidae. I won’t say much on this debate, as I certainly don’t know enough to get involved in it, but what I will say is that these scientific arguments get too heated for my liking, so I’ll be staying out of that until its resolved.
Then there is the question of how Megalodon hunted. We know for sure that it was a hunter, ancient whale bones have been found with healed wounds that fit the shape and dimensions of Megalodon teeth, but we’re not entirely sure of HOW it hunted (remember what I said, palaeontology is full of a lot of open ends and uncertainties, we’ll never really know for sure).
The common consensus among scientists is that Megalodon ambushed its whale prey from beneath, going for the tail first, disabling the whale; the shark would then retreat to a safe distance and wait for the whale to bleed out some, weakening the animal to the extent it can’t fight back; Megalodon would then go for the pectorals (side-fins) to completely immobilise it’s prey. And after that, dinner is served.
This has been Megalodon, this has been me, and you’ve been reading Palaeontology Made Easy.
Image courtesy of ThoughtCo