Jessica Owens was on the hunt for shark teeth. As she walked along the muddy banks of a river near Charleston, South Carolina, last spring, something caught her eye. The pointed object was nearly the size of her hand. Could it possibly be a tooth? Owens was amazed to find out it was! The tooth had once belonged to a gigantic prehistoric shark called megalodon.
When this fearsome shark ruled the world’s oceans, the coastal area where Owens found the tooth was covered with seawater.
Megalodons were some of the biggest sharks that ever lived. They measured up to 60 feet long. That’s bigger than a school bus—and about three times the length of today’s great white sharks.
Megalodons became extinct about 3.6 million years ago. Much of what scientists know about them comes from studying their teeth. Like modern sharks, megalodons had skeletons mostly made of cartilage. That’s the tissue in your ears and nose. It doesn’t usually turn into fossils the way bones do. So, unlike dinosaurs, megalodons left no skeletons. Only their teeth survived.
Because of their size, megalodons probably had huge appetites.
“Megalodons were the apex predators of their time,” says Sarah Boessenecker. She’s a scientist at the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History in Charleston. “It probably ate anything that it could fit in its mouth.”
Scientists say the shark’s knifelike teeth helped it tear into the flesh of giant whales and dolphins. It’s not surprising then that megalodon means “giant tooth”!