The formidable ancestor of the great white, the ancient shark called megalodon — which translates to “megatooth” — grew to over 50 feet long and terrorized even the biggest creatures in the prehistoric seas. With a name echoing an infamous Transformer, the largest shark to roam this planet had the most powerful jaws of any creature that ever lived. While today’s great whites hunt dolphins, megalodon hunted giant whales. For a size comparison, a great white is roughly the size of a male megalodon’s clasper, or penis.
Megalodon dominated the globe. The sharks lived in the Northern Hemisphere, off the coasts of America and Europe, and off Asian, Australian and South American coasts.
So it only follows that researchers were always a little puzzled as to how such a powerful predator could have died out. Megalodon lived around 16 million to 2 million years ago, when the species went extinct in the middle of the Miocene era.
Scientists tossed around a medley of climate-centric theories. Some chalked it up to warming seas, others to an ice age. And all this made sense: Apex predators like megalodon that reign at the top of the food chain can’t adapt fast enough to trickle-down effects of environmental change that hurt every creature below them.
But it seems none of these theories were right after all. Researchers recently discovered that the giant megalodon, terror of the prehistoric oceans, died out because the diversity of its prey decreased and new predators emerged as competition.
And scientists believe the new, more successful predators that saw the downfall of the megalodon were none other than the tinier terrors of the modern age: great whites. Along with the ancestors of the killer whale, these smaller sharks marked one of the newer, more successful predators that edged out the monster sharks in search of increasingly scarce food sources.
Though it may have died out, the megalodon will forever live on in history as the greatest shark to ever traverse the planet’s seas.