The megalodon may have been the largest marine predator to ever live, growing up to 60 feet with teeth nearly the size of a standard sheet of paper. But, even more stunning, a new study suggests it succumbed to one foe that caused it to go extinct — itself.
New research presented at Monday's annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union suggests that, specifically, the giant shark's body temperature may have been the culprit. This comes as a surprise as modern-day sharks can self-regulate their body heat and adapt to their environments.
Preliminary tests involving clumped isotope measurements using megalodon teeth and teeth of modern-day sharks suggests that megalodons "maintained a higher body temperature" when compared to great white sharks.
"While still preliminary, these results may provide clues as to what may have led to the demise of O. megalodon during the Pliocene," an abstract of the research reads. "For example, one hypothesis is that O. megalodon consumed large quantities of prey in order to maintain such a high body temperature."
The abstract continues: "However, cooling of ocean temperatures during the Pliocene would have constrained the species to lower latitudes where ocean temperatures were warmer, whilst its preferred prey (e.g., whales) evolved traits to adapt to cooler temperatures of the higher latitudes. Therefore, 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."
Scientifically known as Otodus megalodon, the largest megalodon tooth ever found was slightly more than 7 inches in length.
Speaking with LiveScience, researcher Michael Griffiths, one of the authors of the paper, said that megalodons may have had body temperatures as high as 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, ancestors of modern-day mako and great white sharks had temperatures ranging from 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition to reaching up to 60 feet, megalodons are thought to have weighed approximately 120,000 pounds or 60 tons. The species is commonly thought to have gone extinct 2.6 million years ago.
The researchers acknowledged that there "is little agreement as to the primary cause for O. megalodon’s disappearance," but added that either the lack of food or the "environmental change influenced its extinction."
Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia