Everything’s bigger in Texas, or so they say. This appears to extend to the ancient past too, as a new shark fossil has been found and it’s pretty huge. A mega-sized shark that swam around 300 million years ago was unearthed in what is modern-day Texas, and it’s way bigger than many sharks we see today. Earth’s largest shark, the Megalodon, could reach 18 meters (60 feet) in length before it became extinct 2.6 million years ago. This fossilized beast is 8 meters (26 feet) long, which doesn’t make it a record breaker, but it is 25% larger than the modern great white shark. The findings were announced at the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting.
This “supershark” lived during the Carboniferous period 359 to 299 million years ago – way before dinosaurs ever plodded across the Earth. During this time, it swam through a shallow sea called the Western Interior Seaway, which today would have submerged much of Texas and a large swath of the American West. The aquatic environment would also have been home to corals, clams, mollusks and bony fish.
Although sharks have been around for hundreds of millions of years, beginning with their emergence during the Ordovician period, this new find is the oldest “giant shark” ever found, at least 170 million years older than the previous giant shark fossil.
One of the paleontologists still carefully excavating the fossilized remains, John Maisey, said this month at the meeting: “You don’t see sharks this size again until the Cretaceous [the last geological time period of the dinosaurs]," as reported by Science News.
Sharks do not, apart from their teeth, fossilize well: Their bones degrade rapidly after death. Their cartilage, however, is more effectively turned into a mineral form, and these are the parts that paleontologists find. Maisey and his team used fragments from the back of the shark’s skull to determine its full size. With this information, along with what is already known about extinct supersharks, they were able to estimate its body length.
The fossil supershark may be related to another extinct group of sharks: the Glikmanius, which had a similarly long body and a forked tail, and also lived in the Carboniferous period. More work is required to confirm whether this new shark is another Glikmanius or is in fact a brand new ancient shark species.
Sharks are, arguably, the perfect predators. Their basic form and behavior hasn’t changed for millions of years, so much so that sharks evolved before there were trees. The first tree, the now-extinct Archaeopteris, lived around 350 million years ago in dense woodland, which is today the Sahara desert. Sharks – well, they’ve been around for 400 million years, avoiding a few mass extinction events, including the Great Dying 252 million years ago that killed over 90% of all life on Earth. In fact, only 5% of the animal species in marine environments survived, so the fact that the shark family made it through this event, and later the extinction event that famously wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, is a testament to their incredible staying power.