New research suggests that Otodus megalodon, easily one of the most popular prehistoric creatures, went extinct earlier than scientists originally thought. This new discovery pushes the extinction date of megalodon back by about one million years, which is a pretty significant shift. On top of that, this research potentially sheds new light on why megalodon went extinct in the first place.
After all, as a 50-foot long shark, megalodon wasn’t much of a biological pushover, and beasts like that don’t necessarily die out easily. Megalodon was originally thought to have gone extinct around 2.6 million years ago, and scientists came to that conclusion by viewing fossil data. However, new research throws some of that fossil data into question, suggesting megalodon went extinct earlier than originally believed.
The research was carried out by a team of scientists led by Robert Boessenecker, a vertebrate paleontologist at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and collected in a paper published today in Peerj – the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences. Boessenecker and his team looked at the megalodon fossil record of California and Baja California in Mexico, finding that genuine fossils end in the Pliocene era around 3.6 million years ago. Other fossils that were dated later were found to “exhibit clear evidence of reworking or lack reliable provenance.”
“We used the same worldwide dataset as earlier researchers but thoroughly vetted every fossil occurrence, and found that most of the dates had several problems–fossils with dates too young or imprecise, fossils that have been misidentified, or old dates that have since been refined by improvements in geology; and we now know the specimens are much younger,” Boessenecker said in a statement.
That pushes the extinction of megalodon back to the early-late Pliocene boundary approximately 3.6 million years ago, moving it away from the proposed Pliocene-Pleistocene extinction event that claimed a number of marine species between one million and 2.5 million years ago.
Boessenecker and his team speculate about the primary reasons for megalodon’s extinction in the paper as well. They think that cooling oceans may have led to range fragmentation for megalodon, but what may have been the nail in the coffin for it was the rise of Carcharodon carcharias – the modern great white shark. Great white sharks have serrated teeth, which may have given them an edge over megalodon when it came to hunting prey, potentially allowing them to thrive at the expensive of megalodon.
This is certainly an interesting discovery, and it’s one that will likely lead to more research later on down the road. The implication that the great white shark may have been a driving factor behind the disappearance of megalodon is fascinating as well, and it shows just how ruthless and capable those modern sharks are.
Image Source: Peerj