📸 A megalodon on the hunt.
With 276 teeth staggered across five rows, and a bite force of 40,000 PSI to match, the Otodus megalodon ruled over the oceans of the Neogene Period. Like other sharks, Megalodon constantly replaced its teeth on a near weekly basis–during its lifetime, a single shark could go through 40,000 teeth. This kept the shark ready for its next battle and gives us plenty of fossil evidence to speculate on the lives of these oceanic beasts. Megalodon teeth have been valued since prehistory, used as knives and ornaments by Native Americans along the Chesapeake Bay and as ritual offerings from ancient Mayans.
You might be wondering how you can get your hands on a Meg tooth for yourself. Because of their ubiquity in the fossil record, Megalodon teeth are relatively easy to find in the wild, as long as you know where and what to look for. Here are a couple tips for searching out some Megalodon teeth of your own.
📸 Meg teeth come in different shapes and sizes.
First off, you have to know where to look. Megalodon was a globe-spanning predator that hunted in waters across the world, wherever warm temperatures attracted prey. The United States’ East Coast holds the most productive fossil sites, with hotspots along Florida’s Peace River or Morgan River in South Carolina. Do some research on wherever is closest to you and see what resources are available. Checking a beach after it’s been reclaimed or after a storm is a good bet, as well as when it’s at low tide.
📸 Look out for even serrations along the edges.
Megalodon was the largest shark on record, topping out at around 60 feet, with teeth to match. The largest tooth recovered clocks in at just over seven inches, double that of the largest great white ever found. When you’re looking for a megalodon tooth, remember that size matters, though the average is a little closer to between three and five inches. Smaller than that, and you may be looking at another shark species, still an exciting find!
📸 Keep an eye out for a meg tooth's bourlette line.
Beyond size, there are plenty of other tell tale signs of a Megalodon tooth. The fossilization process will have mineralized the enamel, giving it a smooth glossy color and feel distinct from the rest of the fossil. This process will also have perserved the tooth's symmetrical shape, making it stand out from natural rock formations. Look for fine serrations along the tooth’s edge, the Megalodon tooth’s hallmark.
The tooth's base will also be thicker than other sharks and have a dark band of color between the tooth and its root called the bourlette, another sign you’ve found the genuine article. Remember that a tooth’s color is determined by the sediment it was buried in, but most are a black color caused by phosphate interacting with the tooth’s calcium. Also keep in mind that barncles and other creatures may have attached themselves to your tooth, but these can be removed with a little work.
📸 A meg tooth with barnacle buildup.
If you’re interested in some more advanced searching, consider pulling on a dive suit and scouring a riverbed for yourself. Between certifications and chartering a boat, fossil dives can cost a pretty penny, but the rewards speak for themselves. Since riverbeds are harder to access, finds tend to be much larger than what you’d get on the surface. Some states require a permit to remove fossils, but these are generally cheap and teeth are often exempt from such requirements. These underwater teeth tend to have a buildup of barnacles and coral, but cleaning is fairly simple with a few soaks in vinegar and the use of a flat file.
There’s an obvious reason why we’re so interested in these massive teeth: people have valued these specimens throughout human history. Because of their wide appearance in the Americas, Megalodon teeth were valued by many Native American tribes, traveling along trade routes operated in the Ohio River Valley. In Europe, Megalodon teeth were believed to be tongue stones: petrified tongues of dragons turned to rock. This held until Nicholas Steno’s famous 1666 dissection of a shark, the first time it was suggested these stones were fossilized teeth. Steno was one of the earliest scientists to suggest fossils were once living organisms, originating the field of paleontology.
What we know of Megalodon is drawn almost entirely from their teeth–few other fossils of the shark have ever been recovered. When you hold a Megalodon tooth in your hand, you’re holding one of the few links we have to one of the largest predators that ever swam in our planet’s oceans. Unlike other fossils that have more barriers to entry, the Megalodon tooth is the perfect specimen for some casual fossil-hunting, with untold numbers hidden right in our backyards, ready to be found. Get out there and go do some exploring!