Today’s sharks have nothing on their ancient cousins. A giant shark that roamed the oceans millions of years ago could have eaten a creature the size of a killer whale in just five bites, new research suggests.
For their study, published Wednesday, researchers used fossil evidence to build a 3D model of the megalodon – one of the largest predatory fish ever found – and look for clues about its life.
At about 16 meters from nose to tail, the megalodon was larger than a school bus, according to the study in the journal. science advance, It is about two to three times the size of today’s great white sharks. Megalodon’s massive jaws allowed it to eat other large creatures. Researchers suggest that once it fills its huge belly, it can roam the oceans for months.
The megalodon was also a strong swimmer: its average cruising speed was faster than that of sharks today and it could easily move across many oceans, they calculated.
“It would be a superpredator to dominate its ecosystem,” said co-author John Hutchinson, who studied the evolution of animal movement at England’s Royal Veterinary College. “There really isn’t anything that matches it.
It has been difficult for scientists to get a clear picture of the megalodon, said study author Catalina Pimiento, a paleontologist with the University of Zurich and Swansea University in Wales.
Pimiento said the skeleton is made of soft cartilage that doesn’t fossilize well. So the scientists used what few fossils were available, including a rare collection of vertebrates that have been in the Belgian Museum since the 1860s.
Hutchinson said the researchers also brought in jaws’ worth of megalodon teeth, each as large as a human fist. Scans of the modern great white shark helped pick out the rest of the flesh.
Based on their digital construction, the researchers calculated that the megalodon would have weighed about 70 tons, or as much as 10 elephants.
Even other high-level predators may have been lunch meat for the megalodon, which can open its jaws about 2 meters wide, Pimiento said.
Megalodon lived an estimated 23 million to 2.6 million years ago.
Since megalodon fossils are rare, these types of models require a “leap of the imagination,” said Michael Gottfried, a paleontologist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the study. But he said the study’s findings are reasonable based on what is known about the giant shark.