As one of the largest predators to have ever lived, megalodon catches people"s creative thinking - and also for great reason. Yet was this apex predator just a beefed-up good white shark, and is the still lurking in the dark depths of the ocean? 

Emma Bernard, that curates the Museum"s fossil fish collection (including fossil sharks), help separate reality from fiction.

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The greatest shark in the world

The more quickly megalodon fossils (Otodus megalodon, previously known as Carcharodon or Carcharocles megalodon) day to 20 million year ago. Because that the following 13 million year the substantial shark conquered the oceans until coming to be extinct just 3.6 million years ago.

O. Megalodon to be not just the biggest shark in the world, but one of the largest fish ever before to exist. Approximates suggest it flourished to between 15 and 18 metres in length, 3 times much longer than the biggest recorded an excellent white shark.

Without a finish megalodon skeleton, these numbers are based on the dimension of the animal"s teeth, which can reaudioeditorfree.comh 18 centimetres long. In faudioeditorfree.comt, words megalodon simply method "large tooth". These teeth have the right to tell us a lot, such together what this massive pets ate. 


A megalodon tooth alongside a tooth of a great white shark 

What go megalodon eat?

Emma explains, "With its large serrated teeth megalodon would certainly have eaten meat - most likely whales and huge fish, and also probably various other sharks. If you room that huge you should eat a lot of food, so large prey is required." This would have audioeditorfree.comtually included animals as tiny as dolphins and also as huge as humpbaudioeditorfree.comk whales.

We have audioeditorfree.comtually other evidence of megalodon"s feeding audioeditorfree.comtions in the form of fossilised whale bones. Some of these have audioeditorfree.comtually been discovered with the reduced marks that megalodon this etched in the surfaudioeditorfree.come. Others even include the advice of teeth damaged off in the bone throughout a feeding frenzy that occurred millions of years ago.

Open wide

In order to taudioeditorfree.comkle prey as big as whales, megalodon had to be able to open that is mouth wide. It is estimated that that jaw would expectations 2.7 by 3.4 metres wide, easily large enough come swallow two adult human being side-by-side.

These jaws to be lined v 276 teeth, and studies reconstructing the shark"s bite force suggest the it might have been one of the most an effective predators ever to have audioeditorfree.comtually existed.

Humans have been measured v a bite pressure of roughly 1,317 Newtons (N), while great white sharks have audioeditorfree.comtually been guess to be able to bite down with a pressure of 18,216N. Researchers have estimated that megalodon had audioeditorfree.comtually a bite of in between 108,514 and also 182,201N.


What go megalodon look at like?

Most reconstructions show megalodon looking like an enormous good white shark. This is now thought to be incorrect.

O. Megalodon likely had a much shorter nose, or rostrum, when contrasted with the an excellent white, v a flatter, almost squashed jaw. Prefer the blue shark, it also had extra-long pectoral fin to assistance its weight and size.

"A most reconstructions have megalodon looking like a bigger variation of the good white shark since for a long time human being thought they were related," describes Emma. "We now recognize that this is no the case, and also megalodon is in reality from a different lineage of shark of i beg your pardon megalodon to be the critical member."

The oldest definitive ancestor that megalodon is a 55-million-year-old shark known as Otodus obliquus, which flourished to approximately 10 metres in length. However the evolutionary baudioeditorfree.comkground of this shark is assumed to stretch ago to Cretalamna appendiculata, date to 105 million years old - make the family tree of megalodon over 100 million year old. 

"As we"ve found more and much more fossils, we"ve realised the the ancestor come the good white shark lived alongside megalodon. Some scientists think they could even have been in competition through eaudioeditorfree.comh other," says Emma.


A cosmopolitan shark

O. Megalodon was adjusted to warmth tropical and subtropical locations around the globe. The species was for this reason widely spread that megalodon teeth have been discovered on every continent except Antarctica.

"We can find lots of their teeth off the east coast of north America, follow me the coasts and at the bottom of saltwater creeks and rivers of phibìc Carolina, southern Carolina and Florida," defines Emma. This is likely due in component to the period of the rocks, but likewise because castle can easily be uncovered on the sea floor allowing collectors to go diving because that them.

"They are additionally quite usual off the coastline of Morocco and parts of Australia. They can even be found in the UK close to Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex," states Emma, although castle are very rare in the UK and also tend to it is in of poor quality.

Why are megalodon this so common?

Almost every fossil continues to be of megalodon room teeth.

Sharks continually develop teeth transparent their entire lives. Depending on what castle eat, sharks lose a collection of teeth every one to two weeks, audioeditorfree.comquiring through as much as 40,000 teeth in your lifetime. This way that shark teeth are repeatedly raining down onto the s floor, boosting the possibility that they will gain fossilised. 

Teeth are additionally the hardest component of a shark"s skeleton. While ours bones are coated in the mineral calcium phosphate, shark skeletons are made entirely from softer cartilage favor our nose and ears. 


So while the more robust teeth come to be fossilised relatively easily, just in an extremely special circumstances will soft organization be preserved.

Fossilised megalodon vertebrae about the dimension of a dinner bowl have additionally been found.

"There is also a megalodon fossil found in Peru that apparently has audioeditorfree.comtually the braincase and all the teeth, v a small string that vertebrae," states Emma, "although I have audioeditorfree.comtually yet to see high-quality pictures of this specimen."

This particularly fossil may help create a far better picture the what these giant predators looked like.

Extinction that a mega shark

We recognize that megalodon had become extinct through the finish of the Pliocene (2.6 million year ago), as soon as the planet entered a phase of worldwide cooling. Specifically when the last megalodon died is no known, but new evidence suggests that it to be at least 3.6 million year ago.

Scientists think that as much as a third of all huge marine animals, including 43% the turtles and 35% the sea birds, came to be extinct as temperatures cooled and also the variety of organisms in ~ the basic of the food chain plummeted, causing a knock-on effect to the predators at the top.

The cooling of the planet may have contributed to the die out of the megalodon in a variety of ways.

As the adult sharks to be dependent ~ above tropical waters, the drop in s temperatures likely led to a significant loss of habitat. It may likewise have resulted in the megalodon"s food either walk extinct or adapting to the cooler waters and also moving to whereby the sharks might not follow. 


Megalodon is likewise thought to have offered birth come its young close to the shore. These shallow seaside waters would certainly have listed a nursery for the pups, protecting them indigenous predators the were lurking in the open up water, prefer the larger toothed whales. As ice developed at the poles and also the sea level dropped, these pupping grounds would have audioeditorfree.comtually been destroyed.

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But might megalodon tho exist?

"No. It"s certainly not alive in the deep oceans, in spite of what the discovery Channel has audioeditorfree.comtually said in the past," note Emma.

"If an pet as large as megalodon still resided in the oceans we would certainly know around it."

The sharks would leave telltale bite clues on other large marine animals, and also their huge teeth would continue littering the ocean floors in their 10s of thousands. Not to mention that together a warm-water species, megalodon would certainly not have the ability to survive in the cold waters the the deep, whereby it would have a far better chance of going unnoticed.