Introduction to Megalodon

Megalodon is defined as the extinct species of shark that used to live in the sea and ocean. Is Megalodon real is a common question that is asked when discussed about the fish. To answer the question there was extensive evolutionary research was performed, it is now clear that the megalodon real is an extinct species of shark. The interesting characteristic of the creature was its extraordinary size. This article deals with the general; characteristics of megalodon, taxonomical classification of the shark, morphology of the megalodon,  habitat, and distribution. This article also deals with the reason for the extinction of the species of the shark.

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About Megalodon Shark

Megalodon is an extinct species of shark. The estimated time period during which the shark lived is 23 to 3.6 million years ago (mya). According to the geological time period the shark was found during the Early Miocene to the Pliocene. The study of these creatures is based on the fossils that are found in nature, advancement in the knowledge about these species was also a result of developments in phylogenetic tools, which lead to a better understanding of the taxonomical classification and evolution.  Is megalodon real or just folklore was still a question until the recent developments in palaeobiology (study of fossil). Megalodon is believed to be the largest fish to ever reside on the planet. The biggest megalodon fossil can range up to 25 meters (82 feet) long. The name megalodon can be traced back to a Greek origin, in which it translates into the giant tooth, thus indicating the extraordinary size of the shark. The taxonomical classification of the shark is still under debate specifically the genus of the shark. It is believed to be a relative species of the great white shark, but recent paleobiology suggests that it belongs to the extinct family Otodontidae. The taxonomical classification is discussed here to give a better understanding of the evolution of the species.

Taxonomical Classification

Taxonomical classification of organisms is very important to understand the evolution and extinction of the species. Despite the debate around the genus of the megalodon shark, it is believed that the biggest megalodon was the largest fish to ever reside on the planet. The taxonomy of the megalodon can be defined as the following,


Megalodon is classified under the kingdom of Animalia, they belong to the phylum Chordata. The main characteristic of the phylum Chordata is the presence of the vertebral column. They are then further classified into class, they belong to the class Chondrichthyes. Chondrichthyes consist of the fish that have the cartilaginous skeleton that is the skeleton of such fishes that are made up of cartilage rather than bones. They are further classified into orders, megalodon belongs to the Lamniformes order. This order is more commonly known as the mackerel sharks, another important family of sharks that are classified as mackerel sharks is the great white shark.  Megalodon is further classified into the family, they belong to the Otodontidae family. From this, they gain their scientific name. The scientific name of the shark is Otodus megalodon. 


The genus of the Otodus megalodon is still under debate, the debate is under the classification of megalodon under the following genus, Carcharocles, Megaselachus, Otodus, or Procarcharodon. The main reason behind this uncertainty is the transitional fossils. Transitional fossils indicate the evidence that the megalodon is the final chronospecies of a lineage of giant sharks. They were originally belonged to the genus Otodus, this genus evolved during the Paleocene era. But the genus Otodus is the widely accepted genus for the classification of megalodon. 

Distribution

Ancient megalodon is now considered an extinct species. But during the geological time period of the Early Miocene to the Pliocene, the sharks were believed to have a cosmopolitan distribution. The fossils of the shark are found in almost every part of the world except for Antarctica. The fossil is found in areas like shallow tropical and temperate seas along the coastlines of the continents. It is believed that during the Miocene era the megalodon was found in the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas, in the Bay of Bengal, and along the coasts of California and southern Australia,  coasts of northern Europe, South America, southern Africa, New Zealand, and East Asia.


The habitat of the ancient megalodon is considered to be very wide, they inhabited many different locations. They have remarkable adaption o the environment they inhabited the following habitats, shallow coastal waters, areas of coastal upwelling, swampy coastal lagoons, sandy littorals, and offshore deep water environments. It is important to note that they exhibited a transitional lifestyle. Transitional lifestyle can be defined as the movement of the ancient megalodons from coastal water to the deep oceanic environment during the different stages of the life cycle. The baby megalodon was most abundantly found in the shallow waters whereas the biggest megalodon or adult megalodon inhabited the deep seas. The favourable habitat of these organisms was believed to have a temperature range of  1–24 °C (34–75 °F). The remarkable range of temperature and the ability to survive in such low temperatures can be attributed to the mesothermal activity of the sharks. It can be defined as the ability to maintain the body temperature respective to the environment by maintaining the higher body temperature by the conservation of the metabolic heat. These organisms were found in the subtropical and tropical regions of the latitude, the latitude can range up to 55° N.

Morphology of the Megalodon

During the study of the fossil record of the megalodon, the common question that was asked is megalodon real? But with the discovery of fossils from the different regions of the world it was indeed confirmed that megalodon real existed several million years ago. The fossil was the main source of the study and description of the megalodon structure. As the name suggests that the megalodon has unique large tooth structures. The tooth of the biggest megalodon and even baby megalodon shares similarities with the great white shark. Even though they share similarities with the great white shark tooth structure, the jaws of the megalodon are wider and thicker than the jaws of white sharks. The jaws are even blunter in structure. The structure of this ancient creature can be defined as the bulky torpedo-shaped fish. They have a conical snout. Another characteristic of the megalodon is the presence of the large pectoral and dorsal fins, they have a strong crescent-shaped tail. These features share the resemblance of the biggest megalodon with the great white shark. The size of the baby megalodon can range up to 10.2 meters, which is about 33.5 feet. The adult male megalodon can range up to 17.9 meters, which is about 58.7 feet long. Although the fossil study has revealed that the biggest megalodon can range up to 25 meters which are about 82 feet long. 

 

Another important feature of the megalodon shark is the body weight of the organism. The adult megalodon shark body mass can range from 30 metric tons to 65 metric tons, this is approximately about 66,000 pounds to 143,000 pounds. 


As discussed earlier the megalodon and the great white shark share similarities between their teeth structure. Megalodon has similar triangular teeth like a great white shark but they are much bigger in size when compared to the counterpart. Megalodon tooth was about 17.8 cm (6.9 inches) which is about three times the size of the great white shark tooth, they have teeth of about 5.8 cm in size. Apart from size the megalodon teeth were also very thick, the serrations on each tooth were found in regular intervals, and they possess a bourlette. The bourlette can be defined as the area near the tooth root, they are generally dark in colour and have the shape of a chevron.


An interesting point about megalodon sharks is that the female megalodon shark was bigger in size than their male counterpart, the female megalodon shark was supposed to twice as bigger in size when compared to the biggest megalodon male shark. 

Reproduction in Megalodon

Many things and features about reproduction and parental care among this organism are still unknown. But due to the paleobiology study, there are some facts that can be proved through fossil evidence. It is believed that megalodon was the species that produced live young ones that are baby megalodon. But the confusion remains to date about the nature of the birth. It is still debatable about megalodon sharks whether they are to be categorized as ovoviviparous or viviparous. Ovoviviparous are the animals that lay eggs and eggs are present inside the mother’s body till the time they hatch to produce a baby megalodon. Viviparous organisms are generally categorized into mammals, they reproduce the offspring, which follows internal fertilization and direct development pattern. 


The parental care in such species was high, since they are closely related to the great white shark they are also believed to have nurseries to take care of baby megalodons. The nursery can be defined as the area which is generally located in the shallow waters, the main purpose of these nurseries was to provide a protected environment to young megalodon sharks. The adult megalodons generally guard such areas and protect the young ones from predators. As the baby megalodon grows they were supposed to leave the nursery and move into the deep waters. It is not clear whether the adult members of the species lived isolated or in groups.

Prey of Megalodon

The ancient megalodons were the top predators of the marine ecosystem, they were the largest fish to ever reside on the planet, apart from the huge size which provided dominance over the prey, the extraordinary tooth structure and thickness were sufficient to crack the bones of the prey. The diet of megalodon sharks or the prey of the megalodon included various other predators of the marine ecosystem. There are fossils remains of whales that were bigger than the megalodon with the marks of megalodon bite, the fossils also have raptured bones indicating the impact and strength of the megalodon bite. 


There are the following species that were mainly hunted as a part of the megalodon diet,  baleen whales, toothed whales (the species that originally evolved from ancestral forms of modern sperm whales, dolphins, and killer whales), sirenians (such as dugongs and manatees), and seals. It is very evident that the young ones or the baby megalodon were found in nurseries where they predate smaller species but as they grew they moved into deeper water to hunt much larger marine species like a baleen whale, baleen whale is much larger in size when compared to the biggest megalodon.

Predator of Megalodon

Due to their huge size and remarkable predatory skills, they were considered as the apex predators, there is no proof that the adult megalodon had any predator but the baby megalodons or even the juvenile megalodon was the prey of many marine species. The most prominent predator the juvenile Megalodon shark is the hammerhead shark. It is believed that apart from being the predator there was also interspecies competition between these two sharks as the range of nursery overlapped with the hammerhead shark.

Extinction 

The extinction of the megalodon can be attributed to two broad reasons one being climate change and the other is the changing ecosystem. These two factors combinely to lead to the extinction of the apex predator of the marine ecosystem. Climate change can be referred to as the change in the temperature and depth and area of the ocean sea during the geological time period, many of these changes in the environment were not adapted by the megalodon shark thus leading to their extinction. The second factor is the change of ecosystem, an ecosystem can be defined as the environment of the organism or in simpler terms the surrounding of the organism. Due to climate change, the ecosystem of the ocean changed leading to constricted areas and resource availability which also resulted in the extinction of the apex predator of the sea.

Climate Change

During the course of the evolution of the earth, the planet went through various geological time periods. With various geological time periods, they were associated with significant changes in the atmosphere. During Oligocene 35 mya (million years ago) a cooling trend started that is the ice cap started to melt leading to the cooling of the oceanic water, it is important to note that the megalodon shark inhabited the warmer waters and was incompatible to live in colder regions such as Antarctica. The closure of  Central American Seaway and changes in the Tethys Ocean was the driving force of the cooing of oceanic water during this age. The hindrance in the  Gulf Stream also resulted in the stoppage of nutrient-rich water that too contributed to the decline in the marine ecosystem. Between 5 million to 12 thousand years ago, it was estimated to have seen the expansion of glaciers at the poles, which negatively impacted the coastal environments of many marine animals. And lastly, the drop in warm water sea level was also one of the reasons that contributed to the decreased reproduction rate thus contributing to the extinction of the megalodon shark. 

Changing Ecosystem

The change in climate leads to a change in the ecosystem of the megalodon shark. The megalodon meaning can be defined from its greek origin as the giant tooth, these giant teeth were specialized and evolved to predate large animals such as baleen whales but the change in the ecosystem the number of such large creatures also decreased that lead to scarcity of the food resource for the megalodon. This ultimately contributed to the major extinction reason.  The increased competition as a result of restricted resources and habitat was also the driving force of extinction for the megalodon sharks. 

Conclusion

The megalodon meaning can be defined as an extinct species of shark. The scientific name for the megalodon shark is Otodus megalodon. This species of shark was present on earth for 23 to 3.6 million years ago (mya). According to the geological time period the shark was found during the Early Miocene to the Pliocene. The megalodon is considered to be relative species of the great white shark. The name megalodon has a greek root the megalodon meaning in greek can be referred to as gain tooth, similar to its name the megalodon had an exceptionally giant tooth, the size of megalodon and size of the tooth of megalodon was one of the characteristic features of the species. The megalodon species was distributed over a wide range of areas and the only region that did not have any megalodon fossil is Antarctica. This geographical distribution suggests that the megalodons were inhabitants of warm waters. An interesting fact about the megalodon shark is that the female of the species is larger than the male megalodon. The biggest megalodon can range up to 25 meters which are about 82 feet long. The weight of the megalodon shark can range up to 65 metric tons which are approximately about 66,000 pounds to 143,000 pounds. The reproduction in megalodons is generally performed in warmer waters, it is still debatable whether the megalodons were true viviparous or ovoviviparous animals. But the fossil evidence proves that the baby megalodons were provided with parental care. There were nurseries in which the young ones lived till they completely developed into adults. The adults of the megalodon species moved to deeper waters, thus indicating that they had a transitional lifestyle. The species was considered to be an apex predator the diet of the megalodon includes, baleen whales, sharks, seals, and other toothed whales. Due to their large size, the adult was generally not predated the only predator dangerous to the megalodon were the hammerhead sharks which predates the juvenile and baby megalodons. The main reason for the extinction of the megalodon sharks can be attributed to climate change which resulted in a change in the ecosystem. These two factors combined lead to the extinction of the megalodon sharks.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q.1 What are the Species That Were the Part of Megalodon Diet?

Ans- The megalodon shark prey over the baleen whales, seals, smaller sharks, hammer sharks, and ancestral toothed whales.

Q.2 What is the Megalodon Meaning in Greek?

Ans- The word megalodon has a Greek origin which is translated into gain teeth, the name suggests that the shark had exceptionally large teeth, they were the largest fish to reside in the aquatic system. The scientific name of megalodon is Otodus megalodon.

Q.3 What is the Major Reason for the Extinction of Megalodon.

Ans- The two main factors that attributed to extinction were the climate and the change in the ecosystem. Climate change leads to colling of ocean water and restriction of area and resources that lead to low reproduction, the increased competition that ultimately leads to the extinction of species.