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Miocene Fossil Shark Teeth Identification




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Megalodon Shark Tooth at the Calvert Cliffs

Fossil Shark Tooth Identification for Maryland and Virginia
Calvert Cliffs and Horsehead Cliffs

Sharks are related to Skates and Rays, as they are all in the Chondrichthyes Class. Fish in this class have a skeleton made of cartilage instead of true bone. What this means for the fossil collector is bones from these animals seldom fossilize. Occasionally a vertebra may be found, however mostly the hard shark teeth and ray crushing plates are found.




Click on the type of shark tooth, or scroll down to browse:




Fossil Shark Teeth and Vertebra





Shark Fossils

Shark fossils that can be found include Teeth (most common), Vertebra, and sometimes Cartilage.


Alopias cf. latidens (Leriche, 1909)
Thresher Shark

Identification based on Kent (1994, pp.71-73).
These teeth are uncommon in this area.
Thresher sharks can get up to 11 feet in length, however almost half of its length is in its long tail. Modern Thresher sharks (A. vulpinus) are pelagic (open ocean sharks), and nocturnal. They usually eat small fish and squid. These fossil Thresher sharks probably had a similar behavior to their modern counterparts.

Identification: Small, No Serrations, Very Curved Root
Similar Fossils: Similar in shape and size to Hammerhead and worn Gray shark teeth.


fossil thresher shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above is an example of an Alopias cf. latidens lateral tooth

Formation: Calvert, Plum Point member
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: ~9/16" (13mm)


fossil alopias shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are more examples of Thresher shark teeth (Alopias cf. latidens).
Thresher shark teeth are MUCH less common than the Gray shark teeth.




Carcharias sp.
Sand Tiger Shark

C. cuspidata, Odontaspis reticulata aka C. acutissima aka C. retuculata

Growing up to 10 feet in length, Sand Tigers are found in temperate waters worldwide along the coast, including the Eastern United States. They look ferocious in the water as they usually swim with their mouths partially open, showing rows of long and pointy teeth. These teeth are ideal for grasping onto bony fish, their prey.

Sand Tigers do not look like and are not related to the similarly named Tiger Shark.

Individual Sand Tiger teeth are highly variable. As a result, the research is a little muddy on fossil sand tigers.
There is debate as to how many species of sand tiger are found in the Miocene formations along the Chesapeake Bay. Two possible species include: C acutissima, and O. retuculata. C. acutissima may be C. retucalata, which is often called Odontaspis retuculata.

Identification: Sand Tiger teeth have a distinctive shape, they have a long crown, small recurved cusplets (sometimes worn off), and long pointy root lobes.
Similar Fossils: From isolated teeth, it's very difficult, if not impossible to distinguish one Sand Tiger species from the next.


Carcharias cuspidata
Sand Tiger Shark

C. cuspidata is the larger and more common fossil sand tiger shark tooth found in the Miocene sediments. They range in size from roughly 1/2" to 1.5".
Like all Sand Tiger teeth, they are highly variable. They can have one or two cusps, the cusps can be long and pointy, they could be low "bumps", or anything in between. Each tooth position has a different tooth shape.
Similar Fossils: Other Sand Tiger Species, Laterals can sometimes be confused with juvenile Mako Teeth .

fossil sand tiger shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above is an example of a Carcharias anterio-lateral tooth. It may be C. cuspidata.
Sand tiger teeth are highly variable. This one has two cusps instead of the more typical single cusp.
The cusps on the other side are broken off.

Formation: Calvert
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: ~7/8" (22mm)


fossil sand tiger shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are additional examples of fossil Sand Tiger Shark teeth. Most are probably C. cuspidata. This shows the variation amung different tooth positions.




Odontaspis reticulata aka Carcharias reticulata
Smalltooth Sand Tiger Shark

This shark might be synonymous with C. acutissima

Identification: Teeth from this shark are very small and slender. They are usually around 1/2" in size (12mm), and usually don't reach sizes over 3/4" (19mm).
The blade and root are both very slender. O. reticulata teeth also have long, pointy cusps on the enameloid shoulders.

Similar Fossils: These can easily be confused with other species of juvenile sand tiger teeth.




fossil Odontaspis shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

Notice the small, slender shape of this tooth. The cusps are also long and pointy.

fossil Odontaspis shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are other examples of fossil Smalltooth Sand Tiger shark teeth.




The Carcharinus Genera - Whaler Sharks
Carcharinus, or the Whaler Sharks are a genus of requiem sharks with over 30 extant species. They are very common and found virtually all over the globe. They feed on a variety of prey, from bony fish, other sharks and rays, and squid.

Many people know examples of Whaler Sharks:
The Bull Shark, Gray Shark, Blacktip Reef Shark, Sandbar Shark, Copper Shark, Oceanic Whitetip, Silky Shark, Galapagos Shark, Spinner Shark, and the Dusky Shark are all species of Whaler Sharks.

This genus of shark still populates the Chesapeake Bay today. The Bay even acts as one of the most important nursery grounds on the east coast for the sandbar shark, Carcharhinus plumbeus.

Whaler Sharks were also very common in the Miocene seas. Teeth from the Whaler Shark genus are among the most common teeth found at many places in the Chesapeake group. Unfortunately, it can be VERY difficult to distinguish between many of these species based on their fossil teeth alone.

Carcharhinus teeth tend to be smaller in Maryland and Virginia than in formations further south, like North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida.

Identification: Small, Serrations, lower teeth are more peg like than upper teeth.
Similar Fossils: There are many species of Carcharinus, many are nearly impossible to tell apart based on teeth alone.


Carcharhinus brachyurus (Gunther, 1870)
Bronze Whaler

A more common Whaler shark found at the Calvert area is the Bronze Whaler.
This species of shark is still extant today.
Similar Fossils: The lowers are easily confused with lemon shark teeth (Negioprion sp.), however, C. brachyurus lowers have tiny serrations at the top of their teeth, whereas lemon sharks do not.

fossil bronze whaler shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are uppers and lowers of Carcharhinus shark teeth. Many are probably C. brachyurus (Bronze Whaler Shark).

Formation: Calvert and Choptank
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: Uppers are about 3/4" (19mm), lowers are a bit smaller (19mm)


Carcharhinus priscus (Agassiz, 1843)
Gray Shark

This is another very common Carcharhinus shark tooth found along the Chesapeake Bay area.
Identification: These teeth are a little smaller than the other Carcharhinus teeth. They have serrations running the length of the enamel. They look less robust than other Carcharhunus species teeth. Uppers and lowers are nearly impossible to tell apart.

fossil gray shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above is an example of some C. priscus shark teeth. Uppers and lowers are not differentiated here.

Formation: Calvert and Choptank
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: Uppers are about 5/8" (16mm), lowers are a bit smaller (19mm)




Carcharocles megalodon (Agassiz, 1843)
Carcharocles subauriculatus (Agassiz, 1839)
The Megatooth Shark

Megalodons are among the most sought after teeth in the Calvert cliffs and other nearby Miocene exposures. However, before you go looking for a huge megalodon from the cliffs, you should be warned most of the meg teeth found in this area are in the 1 - 3" class. Although larger ones are found, you have a better chance at finding the large ones in the younger Pliocene exposures further south in the Atlantic coastal plain.
For information about megalodon sharks, go to the Megalodon Shark Gallery

If you found a megalodon tooth and want to know the size of the shark it came from, go to the Tooth Size vs Body Size page.

Identification: Large Teeth, Robust, Bourlette, Fine Serrations

C. megalodon vs C. subauriculatus
C. subauriculatus is thought to have evolved directly into C. megalodon. The only difference is the tiny cusplets This species is only found in the early to middle Miocene.

The problem at the Cliffs is, during this time period, both sharks were present, and there appears to be many variations of the two species. Some subauricilatus have well defined cusps, while others barely have any. The line between the two species is often blurred. Further compounding the situation is that juvenile megalodons can have cusps on their teeth, making them look like subauriculatus.

Basically, if you are not sure what exact species a tooth is, either C. megalodon or a C. subauriculatus, don't fret! It's a megatooth shark!


fossil megalodon shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

This tooth has a special place in my heart, it's the first megalodon tooth I ever found!

Formation: Calvert, Plum Point member
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: ~ 2.75" (68mm)


fossil megalodon shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are more examples of megatooth shark teeth - Carcharocles Megalodon and Carcharocles subauriculatus.
This is the typical size and condition the teeth are found in at the Calvert Cliffs.




Cosmopolitodus hastalis (broad form and narrow form)
Giant White Shark



The genus Cosmopolitodus first appears in the Oligocene. It is represented by scarce fossil teeth found in Belgium. By the Miocene, there were two types of Cosmopolitodus hastalis: a broad-form shark, and a narrow-form shark. Both of these sharks became extinct by the middle of the Pliocene.

However, the broad form version gave rise to the modern Great White sharks. For more about White Shark evolution, go to the White Shark Gallery to learn more.

Cosmopolitodus hastalis [narrow form]
This is the more common White shark found at the Calvert Cliffs. These sharks have been historically classified as mako sharks. Although incorrect, the common name 'mako' is still often used. Cosmopolitodus hastalis [broad form]
This shark is sometimes called C. xiphodon, but xiphodon is an invalid name.
This is the largest White shark to evolve, and is closely related to the Great White Shark of today.


Cosmopolitodus hastalis (narrow form)
Giant White Shark

Identification: The narrow form has wide, triangular crown. The blade is smooth, but the enamel does NOT go to the very edge of the root. The roots are a little longer than the broad form.

This is the more common hastalis form found at the Calvert Cliffs.

fossil giant white shark teeth - cosmopolitodus hastalis - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above is an example of an upper and lower tooth of C. hastalis, the Giant White shark.

fossil giant white shark teeth - cosmopolitodus hastalis shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are more examples of interestingly colored Giant White shark teeth (hastalis).

fossil giant white shark teeth - cosmopolitodus hastalis shark teeth in original matrix - calvert cliffs, maryland

This is a nice Giant White shark tooth still in the matrix.
The tooth is 2" (51mm) long.


Cosmopolitodus hastalis (broad form)
Giant White Shark

Identification: The broad form has very wide, triangular crown. The blade is smooth, and the enamel goes to the edges of the root. The root lobes are short and thin.

The broad form is less common than the narrow form.

fossil giant white shark teeth - cosmopolitodus hastalis broad form (xiphodon) shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are a few broad form hastalis (xiphodon) teeth.




Galeocerdo sp.
Tiger Shark

Galeocerdo aduncus and Physogaleus contortus

Tiger sharks are found in tropical and temperate waters across the globe, including the Pacific. They are large sharks with an unmistakable appearance as they have very short and blunt snouts. They also have a unique color pattern. At birth, Tiger sharks have dark spots along their dorsal surface, which fuse into vertical bars or stripes at maturity. These unique stripes begin to fade as the shark ages.

Tiger sharks first appear in the fossil record in the Eocene as Galeocerdo latidens. Today there is one living species of tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier.

In the Miocene, the living Tiger shark does not yet exist. There are two types of Tiger like sharks: Galeocerdo aduncus and Physogaleus contortus.

Go to the Tiger Shark Gallery to learn more about Tiger Sharks.


Galeocerdo aduncus
Extinct Tiger Shark

G. aduncus is very similar to the living Tiger shark (G. cuvier), except that it is smaller.
G. aduncus lived from the Oligocene into the Miocene.

Identification: G. aduncus is very easy to identify. Teeth have a very curved, but low and wide blade. The blade is serrated with coarse serrations on it's distil shoulder, and fine serrations on the mesial side. The roots are compressed, almost square shaped, with rounded root lobes. The teeth are very flat.

Upper and lower teeth are very difficult to distinguish from one another. Generally, the tooth gets flatter as the tooth position gets further toward the back of the mouth.

G. aduncus teeth are usually between 1/2" to 3/4" (13mm - 19mm)

Similar Fossils: Worn G. aduncus teeth sometimes look like the other tiger-like shark, P. contortus.

fossil galeocerdo aduncus tiger shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

This is an example of a lateral G. aduncus fossil shark tooth.

Formation: Calvert
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: ~7/8" (22mm)


fossil galeocerdo aduncus tiger shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are additional examples of fossil Tiger Shark teeth, G. aduncus. This shows the variation amung different tooth positions.




Physogaleus contortus
Extinct Tiger-like Shark

This shark is also known as Galeocerdo contortus and Physogaleus aduncus in some paleontology circles.
The teeth are similar to G. aduncus, but have more of a grasping shape to them instead of a cutting shape. This could indicate it had more of a fish diet (like sand tigers) than G. aduncus.

Identification: The defining characteristic of these teeth are their twisted crowns. Unlike G. aduncus, the crowns have VERY fine serrations. The enameloid shoulders sometimes have course serrations. Their roots appear thicker and more robust than G. aduncus teeth.

A composite dentition of this shark can be seen on the Tiger Shark Gallery page.

Similar Fossils: Worn teeth can someimtes be confused with worn Galeocerdo aduncus teeth.




fossil physogaleus contortus fossil shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

This is an example of a lateral P. contortus fossil shark tooth. Notice the slightly "contorted" or twisted blade.

fossil physogaleus contortus shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are examples of different tooth positions of P. contortus. The first three teeth on the left are Parasymphyseal teeth, the teeth in the very front of the jaw.




Hemipristis serra (Agassiz, 1843)
Snaggletooth Shark

This species lived from the late Oligocene into the early Pleistocene. They are commonly called Snaggeltooth Sharks due to the large serrations on their teeth. Species of Hemipristis are extant today, however, they are only found in tropical waters, and are much smaller than the fossil species. The fossil species are also found worldwide.

Identification: Upper teeth are unmistakable, as they have very jagged serrations and the root makes a "Z" type shape
Lower anterior teeth look similar to sand-tiger teeth, however, they have jagged cusps and a very thick bulge on the root.
Lower lateral teeth are similar to upper teeth, but are more compressed length wise.
Similar Fossils: Worn lower anterior teeth may resemble sand-tiger teeth.

Go to the Snaggletooth Shark Gallery to view a composite dentition of a Snaggletooth shark and to learn more about these sharks.


fossil snaggletooth shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above is an example of three Hemipristis serra teeth. One upper tooth and two lower teeth.

Formation: Calvert, Plum Point member
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: ~9/16" (13mm)


fossil snaggletooth shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are more examples of the extinct Snaggletooth Shark - Hemispristis serra
The tiny one on the bottom is a Symphyseal tooth.


pathological fossil snaggletooth shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

This is an example of a Pathological shark tooth. It's a lower snaggletooth, but with a twisted crown and two tips.




Isurus oxyrinchus (Rafinesque, 1809) aka Isurus desori (Sismonda, 1849)
(Shortfin Mako Shark)

Shortfin Mako sharks can grow up to 12 feet in length. Some fossil Makos probably were slightly larger than this.
Makos are generally pelagic, or open ocean sharks. Modern Makos eat a variety of prey, including other sharks, fish (including tuna and swordfish), and squid.
For information on Mako Sharks, please visit the Mako Shark Gallery

Since the fossil species, I. desori, is nearly identical to the living species, I. oxyrinchus, some assign the fossil specimens to the living species I. oxyrinchus.

Some prehistoric makos most likely branched off and evolved into the modern Great White shark. The "Makos" that evolved into the Great Whites are assigned into the genus Cosmopolitodus to distinguish them from other Makos.

Identification: long crown with no serrations with pointed root lobes, and a thick root center.
Lateral teeth are more compressed and sometimes have small cusps.
Similar Fossils: Smaller Shortfin Mako teeth can look like larger lateral Sand Tiger teeth and also small Cosmopolitodus hastalis teeth.

There are also supposedly Longfin Mako sharks present, Isurus paucus, but I am unable to identify any.


mako shark tooth - isurus oxyrinchus (desori) - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above is an example of an isurus oxyrinchus (desori) tooth


fossil mako shark teeth - isurus oxyrinchus - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are more examples of fossil Shortfin Mako Shark teeth.




Negaprion eurybathrodono (Blake, 1862)
Lemon Shark

This species of lemon shark only lived in the Miocene.
Lowers can be easily confused with Carcharhinus sp. lowers, however they have smooth to very week serrated enameloid shoulders, where Carcharhinus sp. have serrated enameloid shoulders.

Identification: Crown has a smooth edge, shoulder is weakly serrated, root and blade are at a nearly 90 degree angle
Similar Fossils: Gray shark lower teeth.


fossil thresher shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above is an example of a Lemon Shark (Negaprion eurybathrodono) tooth

Formation: Calvert
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: 15/16" (25mm)


fossil alopias shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are more examples of fossil Lemon Shark teeth.





Notorynchus cepedianus (Peron, 1807)
Sevengill Cow Shark

Also known as N. primigenius

Identification based on Purdy et al (2001).
Purdy et al (2001) believe these teeth are identical to the extant N. cepedianus, and therefore N. primigenius is just synonymous to N. cepedianus.

At any rate, Cow sharks are very primitive sharks and look almost as weird as their teeth. Cow sharks lack the many dorsal fins on their backs that most sharks have. Instead, they only have a single dorsal fin toward their tail. They are also very wide and bulky.

This species is extant today, but somewhat rare. They are active in shallow waters and are very aggressive. They can get up to 10 feet in length. Their diet consists of mainly other sharks, rays, bony fish, and seals.

Go to the Cow Shark Gallery to learn more.

Identification: Cow shark teeth are unmistakable. Almost all Cow shark teeth from the bay are Notorynchus. However, there are two types, Notorynchus, and the very rare Hexanchus. Less than a handfull of Hexanchus teeth have been found at the Calvert Cliffs. Some differences between the two are as follows:
Notorynchus teeth have larger and more coarse serrations. Notorynchus also have less cusps running down the tooth; typically a half dozen, while Hexanchus has around a dozen.

The Go to the Cow Shark Gallery has a visual comparison between the two cow shark teeth.

Similar Fossils: Hexanchus


fossil cow shark tooth - notorynchus shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above is an example of two different tooth positions of the Sevengill Cow Shark, Notorynchus cepedianus.


fossil cow shark teeth - notorynchus shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are more examples of different tooth positions of the Sevengill Cow Shark.





Squatina subserrata "lerichei" (Munster, 1846)
Angel Shark

Identification based on Purdy et al (2001).
Angel sharks are very flat, looking more like a Ray than a Shark.
Most angel sharks are small, only a few feet across. Some species can reach lengths up to 6 feet. Angel sharks bury themselves on the Ocean bottom, and wait for prey to swim by. They feed on fish, mollusks, crustaceans. Their mouths house numerous tiny teeth for grasping.
Because Squantina teeth are very small, they are difficult to find. All of my teeth were found by screening.

This fossil species lived from the late Oligocene to the Miocene.

Identification: Tiny, No Serrations, Wide Root, Root and Enamel make an L shape
Similar Fossils: Whale Shark Teeth


fossil angel shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above are examples of Angel Shark teeth. Notice the root and blade make an "L" shape, or a 90 degree angle.

Formation: Calvert
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: .25" (6mm)




Rhizoprionodon fischeuri (Joleaud, 1912d)
Sharpnose Shark


This is a small shark, reaching a maximum size of around 5 feet. It has a long snout (hence the name). This species is uncommon in the Calvert formation. This may be partly due to their tiny size.

Identification:Sharpnose shark teeth are very small, only about 5mm long. They superficially resemble a tiny hammerhead shark tooth, where they have a notched margin on their smooth enamel shoulder. The crown is slightly recurved.


fossil sharpnose shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are two examples of sharpnose shark teeth.




Sphyrna zygaena
Hammerhead Shark

Hammer Head Sharks can get up to 11 feet in length. They feed on a variety of prey, including other sharks, bony fish, and crustaceans. The Common Hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena), still populates the Chesapeake Bay today, and is one of the largest sharks in the Bay. For more information on Hammerhead Sharks, go to the Hammerhead Shark Gallery.

Identification: Small, No Serrations, Deep nutrient groove / notch on root, Notched margin on enamel
Similar Fossils: Similar in shape and size to Thresher and worn Gray shark teeth.


fossil hammerhead shark tooth - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above is an example of an Sphyrna zygaena lateral tooth

Formation: Calvert, Plum Point member
Age: Miocene, ~18-15 m.y
Location: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
Size: ~2/3" (19mm)


fossil hammerhead shark teeth - calvert cliffs, maryland

These are more examples of Hammerhead shark teeth.
Hammerheads are MUCH less common than the Gray shark teeth.




Shark Vertebra

Although sharks are made of Cartilage, their vertebra sometimes fossilizes. Shark vertebrae pieces are fairly common.
Stress cracks running to the center of shark vertebrae are very common, and are caused from the heat and pressure on the vertebrae during and after the fossilization process.


fossil shark vertebra - calvert cliffs, maryland

The above are examples of fossil shark vertebra.