Who would win in a prehistoric fight, a great white shark or a megalodon? The answer may seem obvious. When both species lived at the same time, the megalodon was probably two or three times larger. And it likely ate smaller sharks as part of its diet. So it would win that battle. But over a longer scale, it may be that great white sharks won the war.
Scientists used the composition of zinc in shark teeth to determine that megalodon and great white sharks occupied the same level of the food chain. So it’s possible that competition from great white sharks drove the megalodon to extinction. And in case you’re into conspiracy theories or easily convinced by Hollywood techno-babble, yes, megalodons have been extinct for millions of years.
The study, which we found via Gizmodo, takes a technique often used in mammals and applies it to shark research. Scientists took samples from dozens of species of sharks and fish, both fossilized and living. The peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications published the research.
The graphic below really puts the size difference between megalodons (grey/red) and great white sharks (green) in perspective. Also included is the largest living fish, the whale shark (purple). But it filter feeds on tiny animals and looks much less intimidating. The only question left is why the human in the graphic stopped to wave instead of quickly retreating to a shark cage.
Scientists can’t definitively say how big megalodons were, it’s an estimate based on tooth size. Though Nerdist did our own math for the shark in The Meg’s super-scientifically accurate movie poster and determined it was 88 feet long.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.