Predators inspire both terror and majesty simultaneously, and so they awe the imagination. There’s also something thrilling about the hunt. Predators also tend to be smarter than prey items because it takes strategy to hunt while feeding on plants or plankton generally doesn’t. Some of the world’s favorite animals are predators – the tiger, lion, the Great White Shark. Other predators inspire the imagination through the eons long after their extinction, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
But one predator was greater, more fearsome and more terrifying than all of these creatures. This ocean giant was bigger and more powerful than any other predator to ever roam the world. With a bite force capable of crushing a truck, this was the Megalodon shark. And even though Shark Week was last week, who cares?
Roaming the oceans of the world from around 25 to 2 million years ago, the Megalodon shark was truly of a gargantuan size. From head to tail, it was roughly 60 feet long, three times longer than the biggest Great White Sharks of today. Likewise, while the Great White Shark tops out at around 2 tons in weight, the biggest Megalodon to ever live might well have weighed 100 tons or more! To put that into perspective, that completely dwarfs the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the largest known land predator of all time, at about 15 tons.
Megalodon was a big beast. But given it went extinct 2 million years ago (contrary to some reports you might have heard, Megalodon is not still alive), how were these figures calculated?
Unlike a T-Rex, Megolodon skeletons aren’t exactly easy to find. In fact, none have been found. Since sharks are made almost entirely of cartilige (the same stuff your ears are made of), they decay fast when they day. Only a few bones other than their teeth have been found.
So using those teeth, scientists have reconstructed the shark as best they could, from almost literally the ground up. Based on the size and shape of the teeth, they’ve reconstructed a jaw that’s 7.5 feet tall by 8.5 feet wide, which is smaller than previous estimates, but it’s still big enough to swallow most people whole. Also, there’s 254 teeth that can slice you in two easily. No biggie.
This reconstruction came from this show that I watched. Check it out for all things Megalodon.
In Shark Week 2017, Michael Phelps, in addition to “racing” a Great White Shark, was also part of a team that measured its bite force.
Anyway, they got something on the order of 1.8 tons per square inch, if I’m remembering this right.
Megalodons had about 40,000 lbs of bite force, or 20 tons per square inch. That sort of stuff can crush a truck.
Oh, and it’s generally thought that Megalodon leapt out of the water at 20 miles an hour to attack its prey, just like the Great White Shark. Only instead of seals, a Megalodon would do this with whales in its jaws.
A Megalodon shark at 100 tons moving at 20 miles per hour produces 36,259,234.0104192 joules of kinetic energy. To put that into perspective, that’s enough to demolish a small building. If a whale attacked by one of these sharks managed to avoid its truck-crushing teeth, it might just be rammed with wrecking ball force instead.
Have fun choosing.
Why did Megalodon Become Extinct?
With all this terrifying power going for it, why did extinction come for Megalodon?
Well, evolution isn’t always about power. It’s the greatest of all games, and sometimes power can work against you.
It’s thought that around 2 million years ago, the oceans began to cool. Gradually, the creatures that inhabited those now cooler oceans began to change. This is thought to have adversely affected Megalodon. The whales that were its main staple started to disappear, or at least became harder to attack.
Would you be able to answer the question “how long is a Megalodon” without scrolling up? If not, remember that they could max out at 60 feet and possibly even 100 tons. It takes a lot of food to sustain that sort of beast – 600 to 1,200 kilograms of food per day, in fact. And that’s over a long lifespan, with some Megalodons living up to 40 years or maybe even far more, like many other sharks do (Great White Sharks can live for 70 years or longer – the Greenland Shark can live for hundreds of years).
Hell, even the pups were as big as an adult Bull Shark is today. That’s straight out of the womb, too.
Point being, Megalodons needed food, and a lot of it, from birth.
Take away that food and bad things start to happen. You can see where it goes from here.
Megalodon vs. Great White Shark Teeth
For the longest time, most people thought that Megalodon was closely related to the Great White Shark because of the seeming similarity of their teeth.
And well, they do look kind of similar. And moreso, both have serrated edges. So the argument went, maybe they evolved from the same common ancestor that hunted the same sort of prey that they needed to hack to pieces?
But look closer, past the size disparity, and you’ll find something different.
It’s now generally thought that Megalodon and the Great White Shark aren’t closely related. That’s why the two are now in separate genuses (Carcharocles vs. Charcharodon). So the image of Megalodon as a super Great White might be a misnomer. We don’t really know what they looked like.
Except that they were big.
While it might not quite make you as fearsome as a Megalodon, if you read Stumped, you might wield fearsome influence over other people.