After the disappearance of dinosaurs from the face of the Earth, a giant predator shark megalodon climbed to the top of the food chain. The only caveat was that his possessions were not located on land, but in the oceans. The species existed in the Pliocene and Miocene epochs, although some scientists cannot accept this in any way and believe that it could have survived to this day.
Origin of the species and description
Carcharocles megalodon is a species of extinct shark belonging to the Otodontidae family. Translated from Greek, the name of the monster means “big tooth”. According to the finds, it is believed that the predator appeared 28 million years ago, and died out about 2.6 million years ago.
Interesting fact: The teeth of a predator are so huge that for a long time they were considered the remains of dragons or huge sea kites.
In 1667, the scientist Nils Stensen put forward the theory that the remains are nothing but the teeth of a giant shark. In the middle of the 19th century, the megalodon established itself in a scientific classification under the name Carcharodon megalodon due to the similarity of teeth with the teeth of a great white shark.
Video: Shark megalodon
In the 1960s, the Belgian naturalist E. Casier transferred the shark to the genus Procarcharodon, but soon the researcher L. Glikman ranked it in the genus Megaselachus. The scientist noticed that shark teeth are of two types – with and without serrations. Because of this, the species moved from one genus to another, until the French ichthyologist Capetta assigned the giant to the current genus in 1987.
It was previously thought that predators were similar in appearance and behavior to white sharks, but there is reason to believe that due to their enormous size and separate ecological niche, the behavior of megalodons was very different from modern predators, and their appearance is more similar to a giant copy of the sand shark .
Appearance and Features
Most of the information about an underwater inhabitant obtained from his found teeth. Like other sharks, the giant's skeleton did not consist of bones, but of cartilage. In this regard, very few remains of sea monsters have survived to this day.
Giant shark teeth are the largest of all fish. In length they reached 18 centimeters. None of the underwater inhabitants can boast of such fangs. In shape, they are similar to the teeth of a white shark, but three times smaller. The whole skeleton has never been found, only some of its vertebrae. The most famous find was made in 1929.
The remains found make it possible to judge the size of the fish in general:
- length – 15-18 meters;
- weight – 30-35 tons, up to a maximum of 47 tons.
According to the estimated size, the megalodon was on the list of the largest aquatic inhabitants and was on a par with mosasaurs, deinosuchs, pliosaurs, basilosaurs, gainosaurs, kronosaurs, purussaurs and other animals, the sizes of which are larger than any living predators.
The teeth of the animal are considered the largest among all sharks ever living on Earth. The jaw reached a width of up to two meters. There were five rows of powerful teeth in the mouth. Their total number reached 276 pieces. The sloping height could exceed 17 centimeters.
The vertebrae have survived to the present day due to the high concentration of calcium, which helped to withstand the weight of a predator during muscle exertion. The most famous vertebral column found consisted of 150 vertebrae with a diameter of up to 15 centimeters. Although in 2006 a vertebral column was found with a much larger diameter of the vertebrae – 26 centimeters.
Where does the megalodon shark live?
Giant Fossil fish are found throughout, including the Mariana Trench at a depth of more than 10 kilometers. The ubiquitous distribution indicates a good adaptability of the predator to any conditions, except for cold regions. The water temperature fluctuated around 12-27 °C.
Shark teeth and vertebrae have been found at different times in many regions of the planet:
- South and North America;
- New Zealand;
- Puerto Rico;
In Venezuela, finds in fresh water are known, which makes it possible to judge the adaptability to being in fresh water, like a bull shark. The oldest reliable finds date back to the Miocene epoch (20 million years ago), but there is also information about the remains from the Oligocene and Eocene epochs (33 and 56 million years ago).
The inability to establish a clear time frame for the existence of the species is connected with the uncertainty of the boundary between megalodon and its putative ancestor Carcharocles chubutensis. This was due to the gradual change in the signs of teeth in the course of evolution.
The period of extinction of the giants falls on the border of the Pliocene and Pleistocene, which began about 2.5 million years ago. Some scientists put the figure at 1.7 million years ago. Relying on the theory of sediment crust growth rates, the researchers obtained an age of thousands and hundreds of years ago, however, due to different growth rates or its cessation, this method is unreliable.
What does the megalodon shark eat?
Before toothed whales appeared super Predators were at the top of the food pyramid. They had no equal in the extraction of food. Their monstrous size, powerful jaws and huge teeth allowed them to hunt large prey, which no modern shark could cope with.
An interesting fact: Ichthyologists believe that the predator had a short jaw and did not know how to tightly capture the victim and dismember it, but only tore off pieces of the skin and superficial muscles. The feeding mechanism of the hulk was less efficient than that of, for example, the mosasaurus.
Fossil remains with traces of shark bites give an idea of the diet of the giant:
- sperm whales;
- bowhead whales;
- rump whales;
- walrus dolphins;
The megalodon fed mainly on animals ranging in size from 2 to 7 meters. Mostly these were baleen whales, whose speed was low and they could not resist the sharks. But despite this, the megalodon still needed a hunting strategy to catch them.
On many of the remains of whales, bite marks from a huge shark were found, and some of them even had giant teeth sticking out. In 2008, a group of ichthyologists calculated the bite force of a predator. It turned out that he squeezed the prey 9 times stronger with his teeth than any modern fish and 3 times more powerful than the combed crocodile does.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Basically, sharks attack the victim in vulnerable places. However, the megalodon had a slightly different tactic. Rybina first rammed prey. In a similar way, they broke the bones of the victim and caused damage to the internal organs. The victim lost the ability to move and the predator ate it calmly.
Especially large prey fish were bitten off by tails and fins so that they could not swim away, and then killed. Due to their weak endurance and low speed, megalodons could not pursue prey for a long time, so they attacked it from ambush, not risking going into a long pursuit.
In the Pliocene era, with the advent of larger and more developed cetaceans, sea giants I had to change my strategy. They rammed precisely the chest to damage the heart and lungs of the victims, and the upper part of the spine. They bit off fins and fins.
A very common version is that large individuals, due to slow metabolism and less physical strength than young animals, ate more carrion and did little active hunting. Damage to the remains found could not speak of the monster's tactics, but of the method of extracting internal organs from the chest of dead fish.
It would be extremely difficult to hold even a small whale by biting it in the back or chest. It would be easier and more logical to attack prey in the stomach, as modern sharks do. This is confirmed by the great strength of the teeth of adult sharks. The teeth of the young were more like those of today's white sharks.
Social structure and reproduction
There is a theory that the megalodon died out at the time of the appearance of the Isthmus of Panama. During this period, the climate changed, warm currents changed directions. It was here that a cluster of teeth of giant cubs was found. Sharks bred in shallow water and the babies lived here for the first time of their life.
In the entire history, it was not possible to find a single such place, but this does not mean that it does not exist. Shortly before this, a similar find was discovered in South Carolina, but these were the teeth of adults. The similarity of these discoveries is that both places were above sea level. This means that sharks either lived in shallow water or came here to breed.
Prior to this discovery, researchers argued that baby giants did not need any protection, because this is the largest species on the planet. The finds confirm the hypothesis that the young animals lived in shallow water in order to be able to protect themselves, because two-meter-long babies could well become the prey of another large shark.
It is assumed that at a time the huge underwater inhabitants could produce only one baby. The cubs were 2-3 meters long and attacked large animals immediately after birth. They hunted herds of sea cows and grabbed the first one they found.
Natural enemies of megalodon sharks
Despite the status of the highest link in the food chain, the predator still had enemies, some of them were its food competitors.
Researchers rank among them:
- carnivorous schooling mammals;
- killer whales;
- toothed whales;
- some large sharks.
The killer whales that arose as a result of evolution were distinguished not only by a strong body and powerful teeth, but also by a more developed intellect. They hunted in packs, because of which the megalodon's chances of survival fell significantly. Killer whales, in their usual manner of behavior, attacked the young in groups and ate the cubs.
Orcas were more successful in hunting. Due to their speed, they ate all the large fish in the ocean, leaving no food for the megalodon. Killer whales themselves escaped from the fangs of an underwater monster with the help of their dexterity and ingenuity. Together, they could even kill adults.
Underwater monsters lived in a favorable period for the species, since there was practically no food competition, and a large number of slow, undeveloped thinking whales lived in the ocean. When the climate changed and the oceans became colder, their main food was gone, which was the main reason for the extinction of the species.
The scarcity of large prey led to the constant hunger of giant fish. They searched for food as desperately as possible. During times of famine, cases of cannibalism became more frequent, and during times of food crisis in the Pliocene era, the last individuals exterminated themselves.
Population and species status
Fossils make it possible to judge the abundance of the species and its wide distribution. However, several factors influenced first the decrease in the population, and then the complete disappearance of the megalodon. There is an opinion that the cause of extinction is the fault of the species itself, since animals cannot adapt to anything.
Paleontologists have different opinions about the negative factors that influenced the extinction of predators. Due to the change in the direction of the currents, warm streams stopped reaching the Arctic and the northern hemisphere became too cold for heat-loving sharks. The last populations lived in the Southern Hemisphere until they completely disappeared.
Interesting fact: Some ichthyologists believe that the species could have survived to our time due to finds that are allegedly 24 thousand and 11 thousand years. Claims that only 5% of the ocean has been explored give them hope that a predator might be hiding somewhere. However, this theory does not withstand scientific scrutiny.
In November 2013, a video shot by the Japanese appeared on the Internet. It captures a huge shark, which the authors pass off as the king of the ocean. The video was filmed at a great depth in the Mariana Trench. However, opinions are divided and scientists believe that the video is falsified.
Which of the theories of the disappearance of the underwater giant is correct, we are unlikely to ever know. The predators themselves will no longer be able to tell us about this, and scientists can only put forward theories and make assumptions. If such a hulk survived to this day, it would have been noticed by now. However, there will always be a percentage chance that the monster will survive from the depths.