Creature Feature: Megalodon

Megalodon_scale1

MEGALODON! This ancient shark has captivated scientists and shark enthusiasts since the first fossilized tooth was discovered. Some people have even­­ speculated that it still roams the deep and unexplored areas of the ocean, though the scientific evidence is patchy. As an educator of marine science, I have taught about sharks for many years and the Megalodon is always an inevitable topic of discussion for curious students. In recent years (and in light of one particular 2 hour Discovery Channel mockumentary special that shall remain nameless) more students have approached me with questions, believing that this massive shark continues to exist today. In this post, I will highlight some facts and theories about this massive creature.

There is a great deal that researchers can hypothesize about ancient sharks by observing their present day cousins. Many of the theories on prehistoric shark behaviors are based on what we know of sharks we can see today like the Great White, or our own Leopard Shark. Like other sharks that swim in our ocean today, the Megalodon skeleton was made of cartilage. Unlike hard bone, cartilage cannot fossilize over millions of years; therefore much of what scientists have learned about this shark’s physiology is based on evidence left by fossilized teeth. From estimates of the ratio of tooth and jaw size to body length, paleoichthyologists (those are scientists who study ancient and fossilized fish) guess that the Megalodon could have been as large as 60 feet long. To get an idea of how big a Megalodon might look, imagine the length of an average school bus – that’s 45 feet long! The Megalodon was MEGAHUMONGOUS! Fossil records have also helped us to determine the time period during which of this shark ruled the ocean, which was around 16 million to 2 million years ago.

Megalodon tooth Cory DoctorowFossils can only tell us so much, but even though the reason for Megalodon extinction is not known, there are theories. One theory is that of the changing ocean properties. During the era in which we think Megalodons lived, the ocean was warmer than it has been in the last few ages. At a certain point in history, the earth began to change and the water temperature began to cool. Some scientists believed that the Megalodon was not able to evolve the ability to maintain an elevated body temperature, an adaptation known as endothermy.

There are many more theories surrounding the mysterious Megalodon, so dive into some research and take a look for yourself! Read some of the amazing scientific journals, books, and articles to learn even more about this fantastic, prehistoric, and most likely extinct (sorry Discovery Channel) shark.

Edited by KC O’Shea

Photography: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Megalodon_scale1.png and Cory Doctorow

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