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Megalodon sharks were much thinner than previously believed

Recent research has unveiled surprising details about the Megalodon, a colossal shark species that became extinct approximately 3.6 million years ago. Contrary to earlier beliefs, this study reveals that the Megalodon was much thinner than previously thought.

This new understanding significantly alters our perception of Megalodon behavior, its role in ancient ocean ecosystems, and the factors contributing to its extinction.

In popular culture, notably in sci-fi films like “The Meg” (2018) and “Meg 2: The Trench” (2023), the Megalodon is often depicted as a gargantuan and bulky creature.

Previous scientific studies, largely based on its teeth and vertebrae fossils, supported this portrayal, estimating the shark’s length to range from 50 feet to a staggering 65 feet.

However, this new study challenges these assumptions and reshapes our understanding of this ancient predator.

“Our team reexamined the fossil record, and discovered the Megalodon was more slender and possibly even longer than we thought. Therefore, a better model might be the modern mako shark,” said UCR biologist and paper first author Phillip Sternes.

“It still would have been a formidable predator at the top of the ancient marine food chain, but it would have behaved differently based on this new understanding of its body.”

A thinner Megalodon surmised

This revelation suggests that while still a formidable apex predator, the Megalodon‘s hunting and feeding behavior might have been different than previously imagined.

The research involved an international team of 26 scientists, co-led by Sternes and Kenshu Shimada, a paleobiology professor at DePaul University.

The team’s ‘eureka moment’ occurred when they noticed discrepancies in the estimated body lengths for the same Megalodon specimen. This inconsistency prompted a deeper investigation.

“We measured the whole vertebral skeleton of a living great white shark with a CT scanner and compared that to the previous reconstruction of the Megalodon vertebral column,” Sternes elaborated.

The findings indicated that the Megalodon was not just a larger version of the modern great white shark.

This revised understanding of the Megalodon’s body type has far-reaching implications.

“The remarkably simple evidence that O. megalodon had a more slender body than the great white shark was hidden in plain sight,” said Kenshu Shimada, a co-leader and the senior author of the new study.

Evolutionary and ecological implications

This stunning discovery alters our view of not only the giant shark itself, but also its impact on the evolution and ecology of marine ecosystems that have shaped today’s oceans.

A thinner, more elongated Megalodon body suggests a longer digestive canal, implying enhanced nutrient absorption and potentially less frequent feeding needs.

Sternes added, “With increased ability to digest its food, it could have gone for longer without needing to hunt. This means less predation pressure on other marine creatures.”

This insight offers a new perspective on the Megalodon‘s ecological role and its interactions with other marine life.

While some scientists believe a natural decrease in prey led to the Megalodon’s extinction, Sternes proposes a different theory, influenced by the new understanding of its shape.

“I believe there were a combination of factors that led to the extinction, but one of them may have been the emergence of the great white shark, which was possibly more agile, making it an even better predator than the Megalodon,” he suggested.

Lifestyle and extinction of a thinner Megalodon

This competitive dynamic might have been a significant factor in the decline and ultimate extinction of a thinner Megalodon.

The international team of researchers from countries including the U.S., UK, Austria, France, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia agree that this new understanding of the Megalodon necessitates a reevaluation of ancient marine life.

“Now that we know it was a thinner shark, we need to reinvestigate its lifestyle, how it really lived, and what caused it to die,” Sternes concluded.

“Despite the major scientific advancement in our new study, the fact that we still don’t know exactly how O. megalodon looked keeps our imagination going,” Shimada said.

“The continued mystery like this makes paleontology, the study of prehistoric life, a fascinating and exciting scientific field.”

In summary, this study challenges existing beliefs about Megalodon sharks and proves the need for more research in the future.

Concurrently, Shimada and Sternes’ new research offers exciting opportunities to unravel the mysteries of ancient marine life and its enduring influence on our oceans.

The full study was published in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica.


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