Top 10 Facts about the Megalodon.
Sharks are some of the most feared creatures on earth, with good reason! After all, they have been known to kill humans or chomp off their arms and legs. They also have big, sharp teeth, a sense of smell so keen they can sniff a drop of blood in the ocean from miles away and an appetite for just about anything that moves. But guess what? Even the great white shark, the most feared of all sharks, is nothing compared to the giant shark that used to roam most of the world’s oceans — the megalodon.
Want to learn more about this prehistoric predator? Here are ten cool facts about the bygone behemoth.
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1. The Largest Shark Ever to Have Lived
The megalodon was the largest shark ever to have lived, believed to have reached 50 to 70 feet (15.2 to 21.3 meters) long. That’s as long as three great white sharks! It was estimated to have weighed between 53 to 114 short (US) tons (48 metric tons) — equal to as many as sixteen adult male African elephants! Even the juveniles were huge — estimated to be between 13 to 23 feet (4 to 7 meters) long, still longer than a fully grown great white.
2. Giant Teeth
The word “megalodon” comes from two Greek words — megas, meaning “big”, and odont, meaning “tooth”. The megalodon did indeed have giant teeth — five rows of over 270 sharp teeth that could grow over 7 inches (18 centimeters) long and over 4 inches (10 centimeters) wide at the base. The largest megalodon tooth found to date is 7.6 inches (19 centimeters) long.
Only the famous Tyrannosaurus rex and the saber-toothed cats are known to have had consistently larger teeth — the teeth of the T. rex reached 9 inches (23 centimeters) long and the smilodon’s fangs grew up to 11 inches (28 centimeters).
3. Monster Bite
The movie Jaws should have been about the megalodon. The T. rex might have had bigger individual teeth, but the megalodon had truly gigantic jaws! The largest to date, reconstructed by fossil collector Vito Bertucci, measures 11 feet (3.4 meters) wide and almost 9 feet (2.7 meters) tall. That’s big enough to swallow a whole school bus with room to spare!
Combine a large jaw with giant teeth and what do you get? The most powerful bite in history. In 2008, a group of scientists estimated the bite force of the megalodon to be between 24,000 to 41,000 pounds of force (106,757 to 182,377 Newtons). That’s about ten times stronger than the bite of a great white shark!
4. The Ancestor of the Great White?
Speaking of the great white shark, scientists at one time agreed on its being a descendant of the megalodon, but this has now become a matter of debate. Some believe that megalodons and great white sharks once co-existed, making them something like distant cousins (the megalodon might even have fed on the great white)! Because of this, it has been proposed that the megalodon be moved from Carcharadon (the same genus the great white shark belongs to) to Carcharocles (an extinct genus of giant sharks). The debate regarding the genus classification of the megalodon continues, but those who’d rather stay out of the scientific squabble can easily sidestep the issue, by simply saying C. megalodon, which works for both!
5. Swimming with Giant Sharks
The megalodon was not the only giant shark to have cruised the oceans. There were other prehistoric megatooth sharks, such as C. angustidens, which was around 30 feet (9.1 meters) long, and C. chubutensis, which was about 40 feet (12.2 meters) long. There were also the sharks in the genus Otodus, believed to have been 30 to 40 feet (9.1 to 12.2 meters) long. Obviously, they were not as big as the megalodon was, but they were still bigger than today’s great white.
6. The Ocean’s Top Predator
During its time, the megalodon was at the top of the food chain. It was a whale killer, feeding on sperm whales, humpback whales, bowhead whales, fin whales, minke whales and even blue whales. It also fed on seals, sea lions, giant sea turtles, dugongs, manatees, dolphins, porpoises and smaller sharks (including other megalodons).
Because megalodons had such large teeth and strong jaws, they often went for the tougher body parts like the shoulders, the spine or the rib cage, aiming to crush the vital organs inside. In hunting the large whales, a megalodon went for the fins, biting them off so that the whale could not swim away before the megalodon had a chance to start snacking.
7. Is the Megalodon Still Around?
Every now and then, there are reports of monster sharks suspected to be megalodons. However, scientists are not convinced. Several studies have been published asserting that the megalodon is extinct, and has been for two or three million years now. If it were still alive, the sharks we know today would likely not be so abundant, nor large whales. They would have been eaten!
8. Why the Megalodon Became Extinct
Many other prehistoric giant animals have become extinct, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that the megalodon has vanished, as well. What led to its extinction? Scientists cite several factors. One is the cooling of the world’s oceans. Megalodons could not thrive in cold waters, after all, which is why they avoided the polar seas, and preferred to give birth in warm waters. As the megalodons moved to warmer waters, the whales that they loved to eat moved to cooler waters, which made feeding harder for them. Also, the killer whale made its appearance, and eventually filled in the megalodon’s ecological niche.
Today, the killer whale is indeed one of the ocean’s top predators, able to hold a shark still in its jaws so that it cannot move or breathe.
9. A Heap of Teeth…
Most of what we know of the megalodon today we have learned from their fossilized teeth and, wow, are there thousands of them! They have been found around islands all over the world, as far south as New Zealand, as well as in the deep waters far from land, such as in the Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean. A few spinal columns have also been found, most notably in Belgium in 1926, consisting of 150 bones.
10. …That Were Once Thought to Be Dragon Tongues
For centuries, the teeth of megalodons and other giant sharks were called “tongue stones”, and were believed to be the tips of dragon’s tongues, which turned to stone as soon as they were cut off. They were thought to be a cure for various poisons, and were worn by nobility as good luck charms. It was only in 1667 that Nicolaus Steno, a Danish scientist, studied them closely and found out that they were actually shark teeth.
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Discovery Networks info on the awesome megalodon.
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Prehistoric Predators — Megalodon Facts!