Story at a glance
- Scientists used a CT scanning technique on a Megalodon vertebral specimen to calculate the shark’s size at birth.
- Researchers found the Megaldon’s size at birth was about 6.6 feet in length.
- The research suggests the animals achieved this size in part by feeding on unhatched eggs while still in their mother’s womb, a form of intrauterine cannibalism known as oophagy.
The gigantic Megalodon shark that stretched up to 50 feet in length and roamed the world’s oceans roughly 3.6 million years ago gave birth to babies larger than most adult humans, according to a new study.
While the enormous megatooth shark that once ruled the ancient sea left behind a rich fossil record, little is known about the creature’s biology as shark skeletons are mostly made of cartilage.
Researchers behind the study published in the journal Historical Biology, however, are learning more about the shark’s reproductive biology, growth and life expectancy thanks to fossils of the animal’s backbones.
Scientists used a CT scanning technique on a Megalodon vertebral specimen housed in the royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. The 6-inch wide fossil is estimated to have come from a Megalodon that was 30 feet in length based on comparisons with vertebrae from modern great white sharks.
The scanning images showed the vertebrae had 46 growth bands, which are similar to tree rings, meaning the enormous shark died at age 46.
By back-calculating the shark’s body length when each band formed, researchers found the Megaldon’s size at birth was 6.6 feet in length, meaning the ancient shark gave live birth to possibly the largest babies in the shark world.
“As one of the largest carnivores that ever existed on Earth, deciphering such growth parameters of O. megalodon is critical to understand the role large carnivores play in the context of the evolution of marine ecosystems,” Kenshu Shimada, a paleobiologist at DePaul University in Chicago and lead author of the study, said.
The research suggests the animals achieved this size in part by feeding on unhatched eggs while still in their mother’s womb, a form of intrauterine cannibalism known as oophagy that’s still characteristic of some modern sharks.
The study notes that while the practice of oophagy meant fewer offspring survived, it reduced the chances newborns would be eaten by other predators due to their large size.
“Results from this work shed new light on the life history of Megalodon, not only how Megalodon grew, but also how its embryos developed, how it gave birth and how long it could have lived,” Martin Becker, a co-author of the study from William Paterson University, said.
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