Scientists reveal the Meg’s svelte new body

Megalodon, the prehistoric giant shark, was leaner and probably longer than previously thought, say scientists after re-examining the evidence.

A global team of 26 scientists re-visited body estimates for megalodon (Otodus megalodon, also known as Carcharocles megalodon) based on its fossil record comprising mainly teeth and vertebrae. 

They conclude the ocean giant’s body was more slimline than previous studies or popular culture suggest, and the ancient shark was not round and stocky like a Great White. 

Publishing in Palaeontologia Electronica, the team investigated after finding discrepancies in body length estimates based on the same fossils.

“Our team re-examined 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,” say University of California researcher and 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.”

“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 says.

Head of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Western Australian Museum, Dr Michael Siversson is an author of the study.

Siversson says: “Although we have a very good idea about the size of the mouth from associated dentitions seemingly including all tooth positions, other anatomical features such as the shape of the fins and tail are unknown.”

“The mismatch between the stocky build of Otodus megalodon in published palaeoartistic reconstructions and the surprisingly small diameter of the largest known vertebral centra of this species has bothered me for a long time,” he says. “The species had in fact an unusually slender vertebral column, which is at odds with previous reconstructions depicting megalodon as a girthy shark.”

Previous studies estimate the shark reached 15 – 20 metres long.

The new understanding of Megalodon’s body shape could further knowledge of its impact on marine ecosystems, as a more elongated body would allow for greater nutrient absorption.

Sternes says “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.”

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