📸 An illustration of a megalodon on the prowl.
📸 Bashford Dean's 1909 reconstruction of megalodon, later found to be an overestimate.
The Otodus megalodon, with an average length of 10.2 meters (33.5 ft), was the largest known fish in Earth’s history, as true a sea monster as any creature of legend. Beyond its staggering size, the unanswered questions around Megalodon have only added to its mystique. Like other extinct sharks, our reconstructions of this species rely almost entirely on their teeth, as few other fossils have been recovered. From this starting point, scientists are left to speculate on the bodies and lives of these massive predators of the sea.
Megalodon fed on a wide variety of prey. Smaller marine mammals, like dolphins, seals, and manatees were obvious targets, but even the largest early whales were not safe from this enormous apex predator. Analysis suggests that Megalodon was likely a very intelligent hunter, disabling large whales by crushing flippers or piercing internal organs. Recent studies of developing populations of predatory whales also suggest that pack hunting behavior may have developed as a competitive response to Megalodon's dominance.
📸 Megalodon size comparison. (Source: Encyclopædia Britannica)
Computer models suggest that a full-grown megalodon had the most powerful bite of any known animal in the fossil record, somewhere between 11 and 18 tonnes or 25,000-40,000 pounds. This epic jaw was also lined with enormous teeth–46 in the front row, with 5 more rows waiting behind. Based on these teeth, Megalodon likely resembled the modern great white shark superficially, although more recent studies indicate their evolutionary lines were further apart. Debate continues around where exactly the megalodon falls in the shark evolutionary line.
Finding a home for Megalodon in the hierarchy of sharks has been an interesting task for science. For years two competing branches of the shark family laid claim to this monster, the Carcharodon, or the white-shark line, and the now extinct line of "megatooth" sharks of Carcharocles. These two branches of the shark family had radically different feeding patterns. The megatooth sharks specialized in hunting whales and sirenians (manatees) in warmer waters, while the white-shark line focused on colder climate hunting, a practice that continues today as young great white sharks switch from fish to seals as they mature.
📸 The HMS Challenger which discovered the first megalodon teeth at sea.
Owing to these characteristics, Megalodon has taken quite a bite out of the popular imagination, with some cryptozoologists insisting the shark is not actually extinct. A number of blunders in Megalodon research has supported this error. When the first Megalodon teeth recovered at sea were examined in 1959 by Wladimir Tschernezky, the zoologist asserted that the amount of manganese dioxide accumulated suggested it was a mere 11,000 years old. More recently, a faux-documentary on the Discovery Channel came under fire for suggesting the animal was still alive.
It is certain that the megalodon is no more, but there are still many unanswered questions of the animal’s extinction and why it disappears from the fossil record 2.6 million years ago. As with most extinctions, the Megalodon’s owes itself to a confluence of factors. Their widespread resilience allowed them to traverse across the Neogene Period’s 20 million years, but as shifting tectonic plates remade the Tethys Ocean, Megalodon found its feeding patterns disrupted. These beasts required 2,500 pounds of meat a day to survive–without a reliable food source, Megalodon may have found itself outpaced by its smaller cousins.
📸 A megalodon tooth.
Questions of Megalodon’s extinction persist in part because of the difficulty of reconstructing their fossil record, as they are known almost entirely by their teeth. A surprising amount of information can be garnered from these fossils: beyond being used for size reconstructions, the coloring of individual teeth indicate which sediments the fossils were buried in. This is useful to help pin down where an individual specimen originated, as Megalodon had a global distribution all over the world, wherever warm water suitable for hunting was to be found.
These teeth were massive, topping out at seven inches and numbering over 250 across five rows. Like other sharks, Megalodon was on a continious cycle of dental replenishment, going through tens of thousands of teeth in a lifetime, stocking the fossil record with plenty of evidence. Their serated edges coupled with Megalodon's massive bite force could cripple prey in one fell swoop. These teeth have been valued by humans since prehistory: Native Americans traded them along the Chesapeake Bay and Ohio River Valley, not simply as curiosities but as cutting tools.
📸 A living basking shark (Not a Megalodon)
In 2021 an online video of a basking shark swimming near a cruise ship sparked rumors that it was in fact a Megalodon. The basking shark is quite a large creature to be sure, but even at 26 feet, it's still a far cry from the massive and extinct Megalodon. Funny enough though, this wasn't the first time one of these animals was misidentified as a prehistoric creature. The basking shark has a unique and massive gullet and upon death the lower jaws can fall off of the main body. This leaves the carcass with the look of a long thin neck attached to a larger body — a figure which many have mistaken for the corpse of a long dead plesiosaur. Needless to say, these creatures aren't lurking in our ocean's depths either.
As exciting as it may be to speculate on the existence of a living specimen, the simple fact is that we would easily see if the Megalodon was around. A coastal superpredator like that would have far more interactions with humans and its impact on the ecosystem would be drastic enough to leave a mark. As it is now, there's no mysterious absence in fish and whale populations that could feed a surviving group of megalodons.
Despite scientists’ insistence, belief in a still-living Megalodon remains popular among the public, but this can not simply be attributed to misinformation and faulty science. The Megalodon continues to have such a hold on the popular consciousness because its very size and strength seem almost otherworldly to us. It was the king of the seas, surviving so long that only the shifting of the Earth’s continents and seas could stop it in its tracks. Belief in the Megalodon persists because it truly seems like nothing could kill this powerful animal. The fact of the matter is though, all things most come to an end, even the reign of this super shark.
Find a Megalodon tooth!
Extinct or not, one thing is for sure: Megalodons are awesome!
Below, we've got a list of all our coolest Megalodon teeth, with massive fossils ranging up to nearly 6 inches long! Check out all our authentic Megalodon teeth and find one to add to your collection.
Each tooth is inspected and prepared by our specimen technicians and comes with a statement of authenticity and more information about the shark.
Start searching the sea of teeth below!
Boessenecker, Robert W., et al. “The Early Pliocene Extinction of the Mega-Toothed Shark Otodus Megalodon: a View from the Eastern North Pacific.” PeerJ (San Francisco, CA), vol. 7, 2019, pp. e6088–e6088, https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6088.
Cajus, G. "Evolution of White and Megatooth Sharks, and Evidence for Early Predation on Seals, Sirenians, and Whales." Natural Science 2013 (2013).
Eilperin, Juliet. Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks. Anchor, 2012.
Guimont, Edward. “Megalodon: A Monster of the New Mythology.” M/C Journal, vol. 24, no. 5, 2021, https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2793.
Pimiento, Catalina, and Christopher F. Clements. "When did Carcharocles Megalodon Become Extinct? A New Analysis of the Fossil Record." PloS one 9.10 (2014): e111086.
Shimada, Kenshu, et al. “Body, Jaw, and Dentition Lengths of Macrophagous Lamniform Sharks, and Body Size Evolution in Lamniformes with Special Reference to ‘Off-the-Scale’ Gigantism of the Megatooth Shark, Otodus Megalodon.” Historical Biology, vol. 33, no. 11, 2021, pp. 2543–59, https://doi.org/10.1080/08912963.2020.1812598.