Megalodon mystery: Mega-shark tooth study reveals secrets of apex predators’ early years

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New research studying fossilised megalodon teeth suggests the giant sharks used nurseries to rear their young. A University of Bristol study has identified five potential megalodon nurseries, dating back to 16 million years ago using fossilised teeth of varying lengths.

And the authors discovered these megalodon nurseries were responsible for both the success and later demise of this king of the ancient oceans.

The use of nursery areas is likely to play a key role in the evolutionary history of some shark species

Carlos Martinez-Perez and Humberto Ferron

A naturally-cooling planet resulted in ever-declining sea levels millions of years ago.

The now-extinct mega-predator may have consequently found fewer and fewer safe-haven coastal zones where its children could safely shelter until adulthood.

But the researchers suggest such reliance on nurseries may have contributed to the demise of the megalodon’s epic 20-million-year reign.

Otodus megalodon may have taken up to 25 years to become an adult, a period described by researchers as “an extremely-delayed sexual maturity”.

However, once the megalodon became an adult, the shark reached up to 60ft (18m) in length – almost three times the size of the largest great white shark.

As an apex predator, an adult megalodon ruled the seas without any competition, feasting on smaller sharks and even whales.

But their babies remained vulnerable to attacks by other predators, including cannibalistic sharks.

Nurseries on shallow continental shelves offering wide ranges of smaller fish available for food and few competing predators gave the creatures an ideal space to reach their awe-inspiring size.

The researchers spotted a nursery zone off Spain’s Tarragona Province after visiting a museum and observing a collection of megalodon teeth.

Study authors Carlos Martinez-Perez and Humberto Ferron from the University of Bristol wrote: ”Our results reveal, for the first time, that nursery areas were commonly used by the O. megalodon over large temporal and spatial scales.”

And according to the researchers, many of them were quite small for such a large animal, meaning they were most likely young megalodons.

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The study authors said: “These nurseries would have been a shallow bay area of warm waters, connected to the sea and with extensive coral reefs and plenty of invertebrates, fish species, marine mammals and other sharks and rays.”

Eight other sets of shark teeth food across the United States, Peru, Panama and Chile were also analysed by the researchers.

Of these, four were identified as belonging to younger megalodon sharks.

The authors then suggested these four areas might also have been megalodon nurseries.

They said: ”The remaining four formations… demonstrate size-class structures typical of populations dominated by adults, suggesting these regions might correspond to feeding or mating areas.”

Sharks continuously shed their teeth throughout their lifetime, and nurseries are environments with a high abundance of the apex animals.

The authors said: “As a consequence, huge numbers of teeth can be shed, increasing the chances of subsequent fossil discoveries.”

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