When Did Megalodon Go Extinct?

Written by Kristen Holder
Published: October 25, 2022
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Modern sharks have ancient ancestors that roamed the oceans for hundreds of millions of years.  Megalodon was the largest shark that ever existed and they dominated the oceans during their reign that lasted about 20 million years. When did the megalodon go extinct and why?

Megalodon teeth are the almost sole evidence of these animals that remains and they’re found on every continent except Antarctica. A tooth from this animal has been recovered from every ocean on earth.

When did the megalodon go extinct? What did megalodon eat? We’ll answer these questions and more.

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When Did Megalodon Go Extinct?

Megalodon close-up

The massive megalodon went extinct around 2.6 million years ago.

©racksuz/Shutterstock.com

Megalodons went extinct about 2.6 million years ago before the end of the Pliocene Epoch. This was in response to a climate change event that took place around 5 million years ago. The glaciers at the poles gradually expanded, the oceans cooled, and sea levels dropped.

The megalodon used shallow and warm water near coasts as nurseries. These areas disappeared as a lot of their prey went extinct in response to the cooling ocean temperatures. Around 35% of sea birds and 45% of sea turtles went extinct around the same time likely as a result of the same mechanisms that killed the megalodon.

How Big was Megalodon?

Megalodon was around 65 feet in length and weighed up to 227,000 pounds. This makes it 50 times bigger than a great white shark or bigger than a school bus. Its dorsal fin alone was bigger than a human.

Their jaws were so strong that it’s believed they had a biteforce 250 times stronger than great white sharks. These powerful chompers were also 10 feet wide. The size estimates used today are based on models that compare the megalodon’s tooth size to the proportions of modern sharks.

The only way that scientists can estimate the size of a megalodon is by its teeth since almost nothing else remains of these sharks in the fossil record. Sharks are made of cartilage, and cartilage disintegrates instead of fossilizing.

What did Megalodon Eat?

Megalodon hunting

The megalodon mainly ate cetaceans such as whales and dolphins.

©Catmando/Shutterstock.com

Megalodon’s diet consisted mainly of cetaceans. Fish, baleen whales, other sharks, and sea turtles were also regularly on the menu. They were apex predators that actively hunted their meals instead of waiting for an opportunity to eat.

These massive sharks ate up to 2,500 pounds of food per day. Their bite force was probably the strongest the earth has ever seen and could crush a car. This makes them one of the most dangerous animals that ever lived in the oceans.

A recent study shows that megalodons primarily preyed on animals the size of modern apex predators. This reduced the number of times they had to feed which assisted in the long-distance migrations they were undertaking.

Some think megalodon teeth were designed to shear off tough cartilage. They may have sliced off a prey’s fins before the main consumption event so they couldn’t swim away.

Were Megalodons Cold-Blooded?

Megalodons were not completely cold-blooded because they generated heat while they swam. This is similar to modern great white sharks who aren’t exactly cold-blooded for the same reason.

Megalodons probably had higher body temperatures than extant sharks with warmed blood. This allowed the megalodon to seek food in colder waters. 

Their biology worked against them when the earth began to cool. Their higher body temperatures fueled a high metabolism that couldn’t be sustained by the changing ecosystem.

How Much is a Megalodon Tooth Worth?

Megalodon tooth

Teeth are the only reliable source of information that scientists have about megalodons.

©Nico Ott/Shutterstock.com

A megalodon tooth is worth about fifty dollars to a few thousand dollars depending on its condition. Small broken teeth are as cheap as $20 while museum-quality giants are $10,000. The most widely collected fossil in the world is megalodon teeth because they are also one of the most common. 

Scientists aren’t sure how many megalodons graced earth’s oceans but the population was huge. Each shark also lost up to 40,000 teeth in a lifetime which provided plenty of fossilization opportunities.

The surroundings that produced the fossilized tooth also affect the coloration. This greatly affects the value. Odd colors and rare patterns fetch more money. Teeth with intact serrations are also more valuable than smooth teeth.

What is Megalodon Coprolite?

Megalodon coprolite is the fossilized feces of the megalodon shark. These feces are spiral-shaped which suggests megalodons had a spiral valve as part of their intestines much like today’s sharks.

Coprolite is important even though it doesn’t tell a direct story about the body of the animal that made it. Instead, it tells a story about that animal’s environment and behavior because it is a reflection of the animal’s activities. Inferences are made about their diets and movements based on where these coprolites are found.

Do Extinct Megalodon Clams have anything to do with Megalodon Sharks?

No, the huge extinct megalodon shark has nothing to do with the extinct genus of megalodon clams. Megalodon clams lived from the Devonian to the Jurrasic Era in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America.

There were five different kinds of megalodon clams and they went extinct over 150 million years before the megalodon shark. They’re very similar to today’s giant clams though they aren’t closely related. They were over 10 inches long in some instances.

The word “megalodon” means “large tooth” and we already learned that megalodon sharks had huge teeth. Megalodon clams had oversized “teeth” that articulated their hinges which also earned them this name.

What is a Tongue Stone?

A tongue stone is a megalodon tooth. They were believed to be serpent tongues that had been turned to stone by St. Paul. This evolved into the belief that they were dragon tongues.

This gave them medicinal properties and people sought out megalodon teeth in the Middle Ages. They were often used as pendants by people rich enough to get their hands on them.

A scientist in the mid-1600s determined that megalodon teeth were shark teeth after dissecting a shark and noting the similarities. This realization helped incubate the discovery of the fossil in a world dominated by the belief that the earth was only a few thousand years old.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Catmando/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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  2. , Available here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111086