Carcharodon megalodon: The "mega shark" of the Cenozoic Era

The Carcharodon megalodon is an extinct megatoothed shark that existed in prehistoric times, from the Oligocene to Pleistocene epochs, approximately  25 to 1.5 million years ago.

C. megalodon was an apex predator of its time, and possibly the largest and most powerful macro-predatory fish that ever lived. Carcharodon may have approached a maximum of around 67 feet in total length.

C. megalodon is believed to be a stockier cousin of the present day Great White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias.

C. megalodon's great size, high-speed swimming capability, and powerful jaws coupled with formidable killing apparatus, made it a super-predator with the capability to consume a broad spectrum of fauna.

C. megalodon hunting Eobalaenoptera whales

Fossil evidence indicates that C. megalodon preyed upon cetaceans (i.e., dolphins, small and large whales -- including sperm whales, bowhead whales, and rorquals), pinnipeds, porpoises, sirenians, and giant sea turtles.

C. megalodon jaws reconstruction at Tucson Gem & Mineral ShowMarine mammals were regular prey targets for C.  megalodon. Many whale bones have been found with clear signs of large bite marks (deep gashes) made by teeth that match those of C. megalodon, and various excavations have revealed C. megalodon teeth lying close to the chewed remains of whales, and sometimes in direct association with them.

The fossils of C. megalodon have been excavated from many parts of the world, including Europe, Africa and both North and South America, as well as Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malta, Grenadines, and India. C. megalodon teeth have also been excavated from regions far away from continental lands, such as the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

The earliest remains of C. megalodon have been reported from late Oligocene strata, circa 28 million years old. Although fossils of C. megalodon are predominantly absent in strata extending beyond the Tertiary boundary, they have been reported from subsequent Pleistocene strata. It is believed that C. megalodon became extinct in the Pleistocene, probably about 1.5 million years ago.

The subject of the extinction of C. megalodon is still under investigation. Several possible causes for its decline and eventual disappearance have been proposed, including oceanic cooling and sea level drops, a decline in its food supply, and new competition for food sources. Expert consensus suggests that factors such as a cooling trend in the oceans and a shortage of food sources during Plio-Pleistocene times played a significant role in the downfall and demise of C. megalodon. Paleontologist Albert Sanders suggests that C. megalodon was too large to sustain itself on the declining food supply in the tropics. Other apex predators seem to have gained from the extinction of this formidable species.


Portions of this article are excerpted and adapted from Read the full article here.


Size comparison chart for Carcharodon megalodon

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