The megalodon (Otodus megalodon) is one of the largest marine predators that ever lived, but the creature became extinct more than 2 million years ago. Findings of a new research suggest one of the possible reasons for its extinction.
The megalodon was an enormous fish that thrived during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs 23 to 2.5 million years ago. The prehistoric shark could grow up to 60 feet long and preyed on marine animals with its mouthful of teeth.
The fearsome predator, however, disappeared in the oceans as glaciers started to dominate the planet about 2.6 million years ago.
In a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) on Dec. 10, researchers said that the creature's body temperature may have been a reason why the species died out.
It was believed that the megalodon was able to thermoregulate like other modern-day sharks such as the mako and the great white.
Thermoregulation is the ability of organisms to adjust their body temperature in response to cooler or warmer environments. The ability to thermoregulate would have allowed the megalodon to hunt in a range of habitats.
Study researcher Michael Griffiths, from the Department of Environmental Science at William Paterson University in New Jersey, and colleagues, however, found evidence suggesting that the megalodons maintained higher body temperature than the great whites.
Megalodon's Body Temperature
The researchers examined that rare carbon and oxygen isotopes in the teeth of modern sharks and the megalodons. The isotopes form different bonds that depend of the animal's temperature when teeth are formed.
Analysis of the isotopes could give scientists an idea of the average body temperature of the megalodon, which could shed light on the ancient beast's biology or habits that may have contributed to its extinction.
Preliminary results showed that the megalodon was quite warm for a shark.
The ancestors of the modern-day makos and great white sharks that lived alongside the megalodon millions of years ago are believed to have had a body temperature between 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
By comparison, the body temperature of the megalodon was between 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which is comparable to the body temperature of whales.
Driven To Extinction By Food Scarcity And Competition
This body temperature means that the megalodon may have had a very active metabolism that needed frequent feeding, but the megalodon's prey likely moved to cooler waters at higher latitude when the climate warmed.
The resulting food scarcity and competition from new species of predators such as the killer whales may have drove the species to extinction.
"Large climatic shifts combined with evolutionary limitations may provide the 'smoking gun' for the extinction of the largest shark species to ever roam the planet," the researchers said.