C megalodon was a Chondrichthyes of controversial genus
Megalodon (Greek- big tooth), pronounced Meg-ah-low-don, is a prehistoric species which possessed traits mirrored by the Great White shark of today. C. megalodon is the common abbreviated acknowledgement of the scientific name for this controversially classified sea creature of the Cenozoic era, from the late Oligocene to early Pleistocene epochs, roughly 2 million—17 million years ago.
|Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish)
|75 tons (68 tonnes)
|40—100 feet (12 – 30.48 meters)
|12 – 15 Feet (3.66 – 4.57 meters)
|Approximately 25 – 35 mph
|Worldwide oceanic regions
There are two schools of C. megalodon hypothesis: Carcharocles and Carcharodon. In 1835, naturalist Louis Agassiz (Swiss) named assigned megalodon to the Carcharodon classification based on tooth morphology. However, in 1923, D.S. Jordan and H. Hannibal classified megalodon as Carcharocles megalodon, also based in part on tooth morphology.
It has been challenging to determine exact size of C. megalodon, and there are significant variances in information and several methods have been developed to determine the species’ length and mass. Since recent fossil discoveries have revealed more vertebral information, C. megalodon has been revealed as the long-standing monster of the ocean, enjoying top-predator status for thousands of years. Eventually, time would affect the existence of even this most powerful sea creature ever known.
What did C. megalodon Look Like?
Imagine the great white shark of today, only much larger. Believed to commonly reach 40—100 feet in length, C. megalodon was at the top of the food chain beneath the sea. At almost 80 tons and sporting the Lamniforme appearance characteristics of sharks today, C. megalodon was of large enough size to encourage its own brutish development of muscle, lending to its ferocity of appearance. Lamniforme characteristics are two dorsal fins, an anal fin, five gill slits, eyes without nictitating membranes, and a mouth that extends beyond the eyes.
The finnage and build of C. megalodon would likely have been very stout and powerful, due to both genetics and the external environmental influence. C. megalodon had an entire ocean to explore and hunt, and is known to have been a fast mover. This species would have had a massive and even ferocious appearance to any other ocean species. Being a carnivore, C. megalodon possessed the main traits of a carnivorous animal—sharp razor like teeth and unlocking jaws that when open appear larger than its head. C. megalodon likely looked like a dark cave rushing toward its prey.
Members of the Chondrichthye class had tooth-like scales called denticles, which aided in streamlining as C. megalodon streaked through the ocean water after some prey or simply at play. Chondrichthye are a cartilaginous class, and have no ribs. When a member of this class fell ashore or left the water, their own body weight would crush their internal organs long before suffocation could occur. This lack of bone with cartilage as a substitute is the primary reason for the delay in determining actual size of C. megalodon, since cartilage does not preserve as well as bone does in fossilization.
What did C. megalodon eat?
C. megalodon is known to have been an avid and successful marine predator, likely due to its system of thermal protection which operated to increase species metabolism. Megalodon possessed a huge and gaping mouth, which operated much like that of a snake in the way that it could expand to massive and greater than body size circumference in order to entrap and engulf its prey. The teeth of C. megalodon were heavily serrated and deeply rooted, allowing for much grasping capability. Its jaws had the ability to partially disengage and extrude in order to suddenly grasp more tightly onto its prey.
The diet of megalodon consisted primarily of prehistoric sea life the size of a small whale today. Depending on the age and size of megalodon itself, a meal could be any early cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise), cephalopod (octopus) or fish. Other sea creatures with shells are not ruled out, since C. megalodon’s powerful bite made easy vice of crunchy meals. C. megalodon’s bite force is regarded to be ten times that of the modern great white shark.
Locations of tooth fossil recoveries indicate that C. megalodon preferred to feed in warmer coastal areas likely inhabited or frequented by many other feeding species. As climate and food chain supply changed to the detriment of C. megalodon, numbers began to decrease. C. megalodon preferred warmer temperatures and was of a size and accustomed to a large diet that it no longer had access to as a species. Over time, scarcity in prey led to a trend of cannibalism among C. megalodon. This put any younger and smaller specimens at risk of being in the vicinity of their own species. Ultimately, this put every C. Megalodon at risk, regardless of size.
How did C. megalodon move?
Despite the size of C. megalodon, the buoyancy of the sea combined with what must have been incredible muscle mass is thought to have enabled C. megalodon to power through the current at remarkable speed and with fair control assisted by its Lamniforme finnage characteristics. Its fins are thought to have been many times as strong as its modern-day shark counterparts. The theory being that due to the size and mass of C. megalodon, its muscle tone and size lent increased value to it’s efforts at propulsion.
It is surmised that the distances traveled by C. megalodon would have been quite long, with ocean-wide travel not out-ruled. Fossilized remains have been turning up on coasts all over the world, primarily all around Australia, Europe and the Americas. Studies of its prey indicate great speed when C. megalodon rammed it in order to stun it or to crush it prior to feeding. This speed of this prehistoric shark species, plus its massive size, contributed to C. megalodon’s mobility.
Where did C. megalodon live?
Adult C.megalodon and shoal traveled significantly enough to be regarded and labeled as a cosmopolitan species with a transient lifestyle and traveled wide and far. Much time was spent at sea, in the depths and cooler temperatures. It is believed that C. megalodon could generate its own warmth and some degree of metabolic speed through sheer movement and friction of its own large and powerful system. Fossilized remnants of C. megalodon have been found across Europe, North America, South America, and Australia. While the species is known to have appreciated the warm coastal regions of the world, it had hunting capabilities which adapted to most any environment. Primarily, the coastal regions were frequented during times of heavy feeding, birthing and brooding. The younger C. megalodon would cling to the safety of shallower coastal areas during upbringing until eventually migrating to larger open sea travel primarily.
The Discovery of C. megalodon
People have been recovering the fossilized teeth of C. megalodon since people have existed. Known as a cosmopolitan traveler, and having many regularly-shed teeth, specimens have been plentiful. For some time, the prehistoric remnants were thought to be the petrified tongues of dragons and giant snakes.
The recovery of any other part of C. megalodon has been nearly non-existent in comparison to the preserved teeth that have been found. However, with much perseverance and good luck, adequate samples of vertebral cartilage have been recovered over recent years and scientists have been able to focus better on C. megalodon’s actual size.
Controversial C. megalodon
Contrary to popular belief, C. megalodon is not believed to have existed during the time of dinosaurs. Fossil tests show the species to have evolved 20 million years ago, whereas the most recent dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago.
Although C. megalodon was extinct before people arrived at just 100,000 years ago, it was common for the earliest people- as well as today- to find fossilized megalodon tooth remnants. At the time however, these over-sized teeth weren’t regarded as teeth at all, but rather as tongues of the dragons and snakes of lore. They were referred to as glossopetrae, or petrified tongues.
The Significance of C. megalodon
This species serves as a sign and a reminder of issues faced today by any species. The eventual extinction of this top ocean predator offers an opportunity of education to scientists. The decline of the similar shark species today in combination with what is known about C. megalodon raises flags of concern and fuels the process of better understanding what may be done to prevent unnecessary extinctions of key species.
One of the main gathering areas for prehistoric C. megalodon, the Central American Seaway of the Oligocene epoch, changed over time due to cooling and ice age temperatures. As sea levels decreased over time, food supply was cut off as well as previous shoaling areas utilized by C. megalodon. These areas were slowly lost to the species, and both breeding and feeding became a treacherous environment for any C. megalodon. The habits of cannibalism which developed likely drove up the speed of decline in species population.
The existence of C. megalodon is a rare opportunity to investigate the ramifications of global condition, and how what seem to be small and insignificant occurrences are often major episodes of change, unavoidable by any known remedy.