3D model reveals megalodon could obliterate an 8-meter orca in five clean bites

Study reveals megalodon was larger, faster, and fiercer than previously known.
Sade Agard

According to a new 3D modeling study published in Science Advances, the extinct giant shark, Otodus megalodon, could reach body sizes and speeds much greater than previously imagined. The study suggests that the shark had quite the fierce feeding ecology with the ability to ingest completely and, in as few as five bites, prey as large as an eight-meter orca.

The million-year-old megalodon once ruled the oceans

As the largest shark to have ever roamed the oceans, the megalodon, meaning ‘big tooth,’ continues to capture widespread interest. We know that the superpredator was alive around 20 million years ago before going extinct 3.6 million years ago, based on the earliest megalodon fossils, Otodus megalodon. Yet, while its large fossilized teeth have been found on every continent except Antarctica, in reality, these are just fragments of the megalodon, and as such, our understanding of its anatomy remains limited.

So far, only megalodon's teeth and some vertebrae have been discovered due to their skeletons being made of cartilage which does not fossilize well. Therefore, the size and shape of other components of the megalodon’s anatomy inferred from these fragments remain questionable — and in some cases, outdated. For example, the study highlights that the megalodon’s body mass was last estimated in the early 1990s and was based on the now disfavored assumption that C. carcharias is a direct descendant of O. megalodon.

The new study reconstructed a 16-meter O. megalodon using an exceptionally well-preserved fossil to create the first three-dimensional model of its body. The study also challenges what was previously known about the apex predator’s ‘cruising’ speed and feeding habits.

A larger body size than previously known

The resulting model suggests that the megalodon had a body size of approximately 15.9 meters — considerably longer than a previous estimate of 9.2 meters. Additionally, the study explains that the specimen used to produce these estimates is smaller than other fossilized vertebrae discovered. Some of which are up to 50 percent larger than those used in the model, suggesting that the maximum length of the megalodon’s body size could be as much as 19.8 meters.

Faster ‘cruising’ speeds

When compared to 33 extant species, including the megalodon’s closest mesothermic and macropredatory relatives, the study reveals that the 16-meter reconstructed shark was able to cruise faster — at over three miles an hour, to be exact. To put this into context, the largest living fish, the filter-feeding whale, cruises at around two miles per hour.

A whole orca in five clean bites

The 16-meter reconstructed megalodon shark was calculated to have a gape of around 1.8 meters and could completely ingest, in as few as five bites, prey as large as an 8-meter orca. Importantly, this challenges a previous study’s suggestion that the O.megalogan focussed on small prey.

The Conversation has described this as equivalent to eating the Tyrannosaurus rex in just three bites.

The full study and its limitations are published here.

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