Megalodon (Otodus megalodon) is known mainly in the fossil record for its giant teeth, which persisted for millions of years, long after its cartilaginous skeleton had decayed into nothingness. It is from the giant teeth, the size of your hand, that scientists estimate the size of the giant monster, with jaws that you can easily stand inside and still have room.
However, measuring a shark’s size from its teeth (and a few vertebrae) is not entirely accurate, especially given that an extinct species may have been structurally different from modern sharks, after all. , even today’s sharks have many forms. Previous megalodon size estimates mostly agree to be somewhere between 15 and 18 meters (60ft) in length.
Previous estimates of the megalodon’s size were up to 18m, but new measurements indicate that it was up to 20m . long
A new method to calculate the size of the megalodon based on the width of its teeth suggests that the size of this giant shark was in the range of 20 meters. That would make a megalodon about four times the size of a great white shark, which grows to about 4.5m. And it was an accidental discovery, made by students.
While megalodon skeletons may not be in the fossil record, their teeth are abundant. Giant monsters that lived between 23 million and about 3.6 million years ago dominated the oceans.
Sharks continuously lose and regrow their teeth throughout their lives – there are about 40,000 teeth before they die. A megalodon has 276 teeth in its mouth at any given time.
To estimate the size of sharks, scientists often use equations based on tooth height. You need to calculate where the tooth will be in the shark’s mouth, then use an equation for that position.
However, the Florida Museum of Natural History was gifted a near-complete set of megalodon teeth in 2015 which removed a lot of guesswork about the location.
Lower jaw of a megalodon at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Paleontologist Victor Perez, formerly at the Florida Museum of Natural History and now at the Calvert Oceanographic Museum, is doing a megalodon size exercise with students, using 3D replicas of the rock. megalodon teeth from this order.
Paleontologist Victor Perez
Despite using the traditional formula popularized in 2002, Perez’s students still estimate shark sizes between 12 and 45 meters for the same shark, based on the distance from the front of the jaws.
“I went around, checking, like, did you use the wrong equation? Did you forget to convert the unit?” Perez said. “But very quickly, it became clear that it was not the students who made the mistake. It was simply that the equations weren’t as accurate as we had predicted.”
After Perez detailed the results of the lesson in a fossil community bulletin, he received an email from Teddy Badaut, a paleontologist in France. Badaut proposes a different approach.
Since the width of a shark’s teeth is limited by the size of the shark’s jaw, and the size of the jaw can be directly proportional to the shark’s body length, why not try based on an estimate of the tooth width instead? height?
Megalodon’s teeth could grow up to 7 inches tall and were used to eat large, meaty prey, such as whales and dolphins.
So Perez and paleontologist Ronny Maik Leder of the Natural History Museum in Germany, devised a new set of equations, along with a model to estimate the width of the function based on the relationship between the width of the teeth and the width of the jaw.
The paleontologist says: “I was quite surprised because no one had actually thought of this before.”
They applied these to megalodon teeth from a Florida museum set of teeth, fossilized teeth of 11 individual sharks, representing five species, including the megalodon, its close relative, and the great white shark. modern. This gave them a modified length estimate – as well as a tool to estimate the size of a megalodon based on just a single tooth.
3D printed megalodon teeth
By measuring the combined width of each tooth in a row, they developed a model of the width of an individual tooth relative to the jaws of a given species. Now, when a paleontologist unearths a lone megalodon tooth the size of their hand, they can compare its width with the average obtained in the study and make a major estimate. How big is the shark?
However, it’s still not perfect. The teeth of some sharks are closer together than those of other sharks, and we don’t have that information for megalodon. But new research has perhaps brought us a little closer to assessing the true size of this fearsome ancient predator.
“While this has the potential to improve our understanding, we haven’t really solved the question of how big a megalodon is,” he said. Perez said. “There’s still work that can be done, but that probably requires finding a complete skeleton at this point.”