Facts About Megalodon: The Biggest Shark That Ever Existed
Here are some amazing facts about Megalodon, one of the largest predators to have ever lived.Animals
The biggest shark that ever existed never ceases to capture people's imagination, raising more questions than answers. What killed the megalodon? How big was the megalodon? Is the megalodon still alive? Let's investigate the existing evidence to learn about one of the largest predators to have ever lived.
How Big Was The Megalodon?
10 million years ago, in the Miocene Epoch, there were some nasty aquatic creatures around, so being stranded in the sea would be far from ideal. You can give up on any hope of the local people forming a search and rescue, as our early apelike ancestors didn’t appear for another 4 million years.
Your only company is colossal, aquatic killing machines. Namely, the megalodon. But what made this oceanic menace so deadly? Put simply: it was enormous, but not as large as some pictures online would have you believe.
Since shark cartilage only fossilizes on extremely rare occasions, most of what we know about the megalodon comes from little more than its teeth. By reconstructing the shark’s jaws, as well as finding its teeth embedded in huge, fossilized whale bones from the time, we’ve been able to calculate its size.
Most great white sharks today weigh around a ton and grow to around 15 feet in length. The megalodon, by comparison, grew as long as 70 feet and weighed over 60 tons. That’s seven times the weight of a T-Rex. And in modern terms, it’s almost double the length of a telephone pole and 10 times the weight of an African bush elephant.
Female megalodons were the larger sex, often as much as double the size of males. Like some modern species, female Megs gave birth to live young. But make no mistake: these were not cute little shark pups. Megalodon babies measured over six feet in length at birth.
What Did Megalodon Eat?
It goes without saying that this enormous shark consumed a lot of food. Experts estimate that it ate over a ton of food each day in order to stay alive. To the megalodon, a meager human meat bag like you would be little more than an appetizer; and a measly one at that.
And with an 11-foot-wide mouth, the Meg could put away even the largest of today’s great whites with the ease of complimentary olives. But a regular main course for the megalodon was something most animals today would never dream of trying to tuck into: whales.
The warm climate of the Miocene afforded a boom in aquatic plants, which in turn allowed larger lifeforms to thrive in the oceans. This included whales, which in turn provided an abundant resource for keeping megalodon bellies full.
As a matter of fact, this intricate system of trickle-down abundance was essential to the Meg’s reign, and when the seas cooled millions of years later, the Meg went with it. But more on that later.
While the megalodon could easily take down massive prey, and often did, they generally favored smaller whales. The smaller ancestors of baleen whales, which exist today, were particularly common and provided a tasty snack when the Meg wasn’t hunting bigger prey.
Bite Force of The Megalodon
Eating large sea animals requires an extremely forceful bite which is something the Meg certainly possessed. Experts estimate the jaws of the megalodon could produce a bite force of between 24,000 and 40,000 pounds per square inch. That’s easily enough to crush a car, let alone the flesh, bones and organs of megalodon’s prey.
Its bite was stronger than any other Earthly creature, living or extinct. The strongest bite force of any living animal belongs to the Nile Crocodile, at 5,000 psi, which seems like barely a nibble by comparison.
Considering their whale-based diet, the Megalodon needed some pretty large teeth too. Fossilized Meg teeth are commonly found in the four to five-inch range, but seven-inch specimens have been found on a number of occasions. A tooth that size is larger than the average human hand, from palm to fingertip.
If these predators still roamed the waters, cage diving would be off the cards. Megalodons could tear open steel cages with their huge, serrated gnashers as easily as opening a soda can.
Megalodon VS Mosasaurus
In a time of huge prehistoric creatures, did the Megalodon have any competition? It seems likely. You won’t be seeing any epic Megalodon VS Mosasaurus battles while stranded in the Miocene seas, though. Contrary to popular belief, dinosaurs and Megalodon did not coexist.
The first Megalodons likely appeared some 23 million years ago, while the dinosaurs went extinct 66 million years ago. But there were still other deadly competitors. There were an estimated 10 to 60 other “megatooth” shark species living during the same period.
While some other species’ teeth measured up to 5 inches, their body sizes paled in comparison to the Meg. Another contender was Livyatan melvillei, a sperm whale species synonymous with the leviathans described in the Old Testament Bible and Moby Dick.
Unlike today's sperm whales, this one had 14-inch teeth that were five inches wide, and reached lengths of 60 feet. Livyatan teeth have been found close to Megalodon teeth, suggesting they may have competed for the same prey, and perhaps even fought each other.
One thing’s for sure; it would’ve been a worthy adversary, and another thing to fear while you paddle for your life among those Miocene waves. Perhaps the megalodon’s most cunning adversary were packs of whales with lengthy beaks and serrated teeth called squalodons, who may have battled megalodons in groups.
They hunted in pods and evidence suggests they may have come to the assistance of groupmates being attacked by a megalodon. Scientists have found scarring on megalodon fossils that points directly to squalodons being able, at the very least, to inflict significant damage on the Meg.
There may have been resistance and competition, but as the abundant evidence of their existence shows: the Megalodon was almost certainly the apex predator of the Miocene oceans.
Megalodon And Great White
The megalodon was a chronospecies; a singular species jutting off from the general evolutionary line, which means there are no ancestors around today. However, there are clear similarities to modern Great White sharks.
There’s a huge size difference, but the likelihood is that they were visually similar besides a broader, dome-shaped head, a shorter snout and a flatter jaw. In fact, the Great White remains the closest living relative of the Meg.
The giant shark is thought to have been semi-warm-blooded; a rare trait shared among sharks like the Great White. This likely contributed to its success, and not just because it was able to hunt in cooler waters. The ability to generate body heat would’ve allowed the megalodon to increase the strength of its vision, as well as its intelligence.
However, the megalodon still differed from modern Great Whites in many respects, particularly in their hunting styles. Great Whites prefer to go for the soft underside of their prey, striking fast, with ultimate precision and stealth. Megalodons, on the other hand, liked to incapacitate their prey before eating it, by biting off fins and even heads.
Baleen whale fossils display clear evidence of this gnarly practice, as evidenced by megalodon teeth marks along severed bones. Interestingly enough, this fin-biting behavior is exhibited by killer whales today, and it’s not the only thing they have in common.
Evidence suggests that with swimming speeds upwards of 20mph, the Meg may have rammed its smaller prey to stun it, making it easier to devour. Likewise, today’s killer whales often slam at break-neck speeds into their prey, either stunning it or flipping it onto its back, rendering it immobile.
It’s probably obvious by now, but some of the main factors in the megalodon’s success were its chompers. The Meg’s ginormous teeth are even responsible for its Latin name, Carcharocles Megalodon, which means “big tooth”.
But when megalodon teeth were found in the Middle Ages, they were known as tongue stones. Their discoverers believed they were the petrified tongues of dragons and giant serpents. However, in 1666 Nicholas Steno noticed the similarities between these “tongue stones” and a shark head he was examining.
He identified that they were in fact the teeth of a long-dead shark of incredible size. Steno decided to investigate how teeth like these ended up trapped inside rocks, and through this unexpected twist, the megalodon inadvertently helped pioneer the field of geology. Dragon tongues or not, megalodon teeth, which are often dangerously sharp even after millions of years, are among the most commonly-found fossils on Earth. This is thanks to megalodons’ success as predators and a slightly creepy trait they have in common with most sharks alive today. Sharks regularly shed teeth as they grow, forming deadly conveyor belts that move slowly outwards from inside their mouths, and the Megalodon did the same.
Thanks to this process of constant replacement, the average Meg had five rows of teeth, and around 276 teeth altogether. A damaged tooth could be replaced in as few as 48 hours, leaving the Megalodon constantly equipped to take down unsuspecting prey.
Because megalodons were constantly dropping old teeth, fossilized specimens have been found all over the globe, save for Antarctica. Even semi-warm-blooded sharks need relatively warm water and plenty of prey, so colder climates in the extreme North and South were a no-go.
But aside from the chilly poles, thanks to their abundance, teeth have turned up in some pretty unusual places. The North Carolina coast of today is a hotspot for finding large concentrations of Megalodon teeth, as are the deserts of Chile and Peru. In fact, the Pisco Formation of Peru provided the largest specimen ever recorded at 7.4 inches long.
Even the Sahara Desert has spat out a few teeth. But what are shark teeth doing in some of the driest places on Earth? This involves Earth’s slowly changing landmass and receding seas in the millions of years since the Meg reigned.
As land bridges formed on the surface, oceans began to recede from the continents and inland bodies of water started to evaporate. Locations that were once thriving seas slowly turned into deserts, forcing most survivors out, and killing those who became stuck.
But in our modern coastal regions, on very rare occasions, we find more than just teeth. Fossilized megalodon cartilage is occasionally discovered, allowing us to build a more accurate picture of the great oceanic beast.
The most complete find was in 1860s Belgium, where 150 vertebrae were unearthed, helping us to paint a more accurate picture of the giant shark. But an even rarer fossil find is Megalodon poop. In South Carolina, several coprolites (or petrified poop) have been found among several Meg teeth.
They averaged around 5.5 inches long, which – compared to the Meg’s 70-foot body – must have been like rabbit droppings. At least constipation wouldn’t have been an issue; even though constipation wasn’t even on the cards when the megalodon's reign ended.
Is The Megalodon Still Alive?
When the Pliocene Epoch began 5.3 million years ago, the globe experienced cooling. This led to widespread reduction in the abundance of marine plants and sea life. In turn, Megalodon's food ran into short supply, inevitably spelling disaster for a shark with such an appetite. A recent study suggests that great white ancestors may have helped drive the megalodon into extinction by competing for the same prey.
By around 2.6 million years ago, the Megs were all gone. We still have a great deal to learn about our oceans, but despite what sensationalist “documentaries” would have you believe, there’s absolutely no evidence that the Megalodon still exists. If it did, we would likely have found newer specimens of the teeth it shed so frequently. Unable to sustain itself as a species, it died out, only to re-emerge in movies and Shark Week specials.
In 2022, researchers were stunned to detect a shape that was initially mistaken for a massive 50 foot megalodon shark in the Atlantic Ocean but they were disappointed to find out that it was, in fact, a school of red herring fish. Other so-called megadolon sightings have also been debunked as fake.
If you were amazed at these facts about Megalodon, you might want to read our articles about terrifying sea creatures living in the Mariana Trench and the mysterious sea monster that devoured a giant great white. Thanks for reading!