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The Size Of Megalodon

How large was the megalodon that your fossil tooth came from?

Fast Fact: Megalodons did not get as large as many websites and documentaries say they were. A maximum body length of around 60-65 feet is now generally accepted. Anything over 65 feet would be rare for a Megalodon. Sorry, there is no such thing as a 100 foot Megalodon.

Reconstructed megalodon skeleton at Calvert Marine Musuem

Reconstructed megalodon skeleton at Calvert Marine Musuem

Worlds Largest Megalodon Teeth

This is possibly one of the worlds largest megalodon teeth from Chile

The tooth above is the worlds largest verified megalodon tooth. The tooth was measured by Paleontologist Craig Sundell and has a slant height of 7.48 inches. The tooth was found broken and glued back together. It was found in the desert of Ocucaje, Peru. This area contains the Pisco Formation which is famous for its large megalodon teeth. Based on Shimada's Method, the shark this tooth came from was between 60 and 65 feet! The tooth resides in a private collection. Images used with permission of paleontologist Craig Sundell. There are most likely other similar sized teeth found from this formation that have not been officially measured.

This is probably the worlds second largest megalodon teeth from South Carolina

This is probably the worlds second largest megalodon tooth. It has a ~ 7 1/4" (184 mm) slant height. This tooth was found by Vito Bertucci in South Carolina. It is in the collection of Gordon Hubbell.

The Sizes of Megalodon


Obviously, we know they had MASSIVE teeth, with the largest having an over 7" slant height. But what does this tell us about the size of the shark? How big did they get?

We don't exactly know. This has been debated for some time and numerous methods of calculating the length of a megalodon have been proposed. The crux of the problem is that sharks are not made of bone, but instead are made of soft cartilage which does not fossilize easily. We have no complete specimens of megalodon and only few partial specimens (such as associated teeth and vertebra). Because of this, paleontologists cannot directly measure the size of a megalodon. However, they can compare the preserved parts to living sharks, such as the Great White and Mako sharks, and make an estimate.

The Methods of Determining Megalodon Size:

Based on the measurement methods that are discussed below, scientists have a pretty reasonable estimate on the size of megalodons.

The Largest:

Pimiento and Balk did a study on the body-size trends of megalodon. They reached a statistical maximum size of 17.9 meters, or 58.7 feet (Pimiento & Balk 2015). It's important to note this is a statistical maximum size, so ones over 18 m could have existed.

According to Dr. Mike Siversson, the largest tooth he measured came from a 19 m or 62 foot megalodon (Siversson, 2012).

Finally, according to Gottfried et al. in the 1996 paper, he uses data from a HUGE Great White from Malta and uses the Great White / megalodon tooth ratio and comes up with 20.2 m, or 66 feet for the maximum size of a megalodon.

So, it appears the largest of the megalodons, were probably over 60 feet in length, perhaps closer to the 65 foot mark.

Average Sizes:

Pimiento and Balk also found the average (mean) size of megalodons. They were around 10 m or 33 feet in length (Pimiento and Balk, 2015).

Gottfried et al., 1996 lists the sizes of megaldons in different life stages from Newborns (Neonates), Juveniles, to Adults. In Pimiento and Balk (2015), they reiterate the sizes, and give the following information:
- Neonates reach sizes up to 4 m (13 feet)
- Juveniles range from 4 to 10 m (33 feet)
- Adults range from 10 m and up (33 feet and up)

The First (Now Invalid) Estimates of Megalodon Size:

The first megalodon
jaw reconstruction - Bashford Dean 1090

The first attempt at a jaw reconstruction of megalodon took place in the early 1900's by Bashford Dean from the American Museum of Natural History. In 1909 he reconstructed a jaw that exceeded 10 feet. Based on this jaw reconstruction, he stated the resulting megalodon would have been over 80 feet in length. However, this reconstruction was based on unassociated sets of South Carolina teeth, as no associated teeth had yet been found. Today, we have associated teeth and know megalodon was much smaller.

The image to the left shows Dean sitting in his reconstructed jaw. This image and his article is in the The American Museum Journal: 1910, Volumes 9-10 page 232. Click on the image for a larger version.

More recent research, based on associated partial dentitions, show that a megalodon with 5 - 6" teeth would have had jaws roughly around 6.5 feet wide and 8 feet high. One of these unassociated reconstructed dentitions can be seen at the Calvert Marine Museum. The reconstruction is shown toward the top of this article.

The Recent Calculations of Megalodon Size:

There have been a number of proposed megalodon size calculations in the scientific literature. Below, I outline 2 methods and give a brief description of a couple more complicated methods.

Shimada's Equations (Shimada, K. 2003):

Crown Height Measurement of a Megalodon Shark Tooth

This is an easy method that is used by many paleontologists.

Shimada studied the dentition of Great White sharks of known body size, He concluded the roots and the crowns of the teeth did not grow at the same rate as the shark grew. Based on this finding, he came up with a linear relationship (Y = mX + b) between the crown height of a tooth and the size of the shark. He then used this equation to extrapolate the tooth size (CH) vs total body size (TL) of megalodon sharks.

This linear equation has a different slope and intercept for each tooth position in the sharks jaw.

For an upper A2 tooth, the equation is TL = 12.103(CH) + -2.16
For a lower a2 tooth, the equation is TL = 13.597(CH) + -7.643

The example upper L4 tooth to the left has a crown height of 7 cm. This is the VERTICAL distance of the crown. It would have come from a 12.4 m (40 foot) megalodon.

How to determine the size of a megalodon based on your tooth using Shimada's method:

1. First, you need determine the tooth position of your tooth.
Below the charts are two figures from Pudry et al., 2001, showing an associated partial upper megalodon dentition and a composite lower dentition. I have labeled on the diagrams, the upper anterior 2 and lateral 4 tooth (A2 and L4), and the lower anterior 2 and lateral 4 tooth (a2 and l4).

2. Second, you need to measure the crown height of the labial side of the tooth. This is important step. Do not measure the Slant Height, and make sure you use the labial side of the tooth. Refer to sample tooth to the left.

3. Simply refer to the charts below to determine the megalodon length. I can't make charts for all 18 tooth positions. I have charts for the upper A2 and L4 position, and the lower a2 and l4 position, which should give you reasonable estimates.

This method is preffered by many paleontologists because it is relatively easy to use. However, this method is based off of Great White sharks. Megalodons were more robust animals than Great Whites; their teeth were made for crunching bone. Also, teeth size and shape not only vary from position in the jaw, but also between individuals. As a result, the calculations may not be completely accurate; the lengths may slightly underestimate or overestimate the actual megalodon length.

The largest teeth measured with this method are from the Gatun Formation in Panama (Pimiento et al., 2010) and (Pimiento et al., 2013). Pimiento has a lower lateral tooth with a crown height of 2.81 cm (specimen UF 257579), which gives a total length of 16.8 meters (55.1 feet) for the megalodon. She also has a specimen (UF 257579) that has a total length of 17.9 m (59 feet)!

Megalodon size chart based on megalodon tooth height

Size chart for Megalodon body size using crown heights of Upper and Lower AII and L4 megalodon teeth.

When using these charts, remember to look up the correct tooth position, and measure your tooth via the Crown Height.
If you use the wrong tooth position, the numbers are WAY off.
If the chart appears too small on your display device, click on it to see the full sized image.

Partial Associated Megalodon Dentition from Purdy et al., 2001.

Partial Associated Megalodon Dentition from Purdy et al., 2001. Here, I label the A2, a2, L2, and l2 tooth positions for reference.

The Older Method: Gottfried's Equations (Gottfried, et al., 1996):

Vertical Height Measurement of a Megalodon Shark Tooth

This is an older method thats been handy for many years. Gottfried based his measurements on tooth heights of Greate White shark teeth with known body lengths. Although it was an invaluable method many years ago, many paleontologists do not use this method anymore and instead use Shimada's method or other methods. Compared to other methods, Gottfried's equation appears to underestimate the current consensus on the length of a megalodon.

His equation from his paper (Gottfried et al., 1996) is as follows: TL(m) = a + b[UA2H(mm)]
His equation (converted into cm) with the constants added in is:

Length in meters = [(.96 x Upper A2 height in cm) - .22]

To use this equation, you need an upper A2 tooth. Also, when taking measurements, you need to measure the VERTICAL HEIGHT, not the Crown Height or the Slant Height.

To use this method, take a vertictal measurement of an upper anterior 2 tooth from the root lobe to the tip of the crown and then simply refer to the chart below. See the diagram showing how to measure it. The problem is, if you don't have an A2 tooth

One slight problem is if you don't have an upper A2 tooth, you need to "guestimate" the size of it based off your tooth and its position. You may want to refer to the dentition image in Shimada's section for this.

Chart showing an older method of using  A II tooth height to determine corresponding megalodon lengths.

Chart showing Gottfrieds older method of using A II tooth height to determine corresponding megalodon lengths.

Other Methods of Determining the Length of a Megalodon Shark

There are other methods developed by other paleontologists. Some appear to be more accurate than Shimada's method, however they are more complicated and often require more than an isolated tooth.

Jaw Perimeter:

One method by Dr. Mike Siversson measures the total width of the teeth in the upper jaw and compares it to living sharks. (Siversson, 2012). This method would be more accurate than basing measurements off of a single tooth because it uses more of the animal. Siversson estimates the maximum size megalodon to be around 19 m or 62 feet (Siversson, 2012).

Megalodon Vertebra Size:

One of the most accurate methods for the megalodon size does not use teeth. Instead it used vertebra and compares those vertebra to the lengths of similar sharks. Two researchers arrived at two different, yet similar, formulas for estimating the size of megalodons by this method.

The first is from the 1996 Gottfried et al. publication. In this paper, they compared the body length and vertebra size of the Great White shark and extrapolated it to megalodons. The equation is as follows:

TL = 0.22 + 0.058(CD)

Where TL is the total length of the shark in meters, and CD is the diameter of the largest vertebra centurm in mm.

The second vertebra method comes from Shimada (Shimada K, 2008). In 2008 he estimated the body length of Cretoxyrhina mantelli, a cretaceous shark. His equation (converted to meters) is as follows:

TL = 0.281 + .05746(CD)

Notice both equations are VERY similar. The only problem with this method is examples of vertebra from megaldodon sharks are rare. Also, you need the largest vertebra from the shark, which again is something very difficult to find.

A notable discovery of associated megalodon vertebra came from Denmark in 1983. A partial vertebra column of a megalodon was excavated from the Gram clay. There were 20 associated vertebra, with the largest having a diameter of approximately 23 cm (Bendix-Almgree et al., 1983).
Based on an average of both formulas above, this megalodon would have been around 13.5 m (44.3 feet) in length.

23 cm Megalodon Vertebra in Denmark - from: (Bendix-Almgree et al., 1983)

This a a 23 cm Megalodon Vertebra in Denmark - It's Figure 3 from: (Bendix-Almgree et al., 1983)

I would like to thank Sam Cro for his expert help and input on this article. Thank you!

For much more information about megalodon sharks, go to the Megalodon Shark Gallery

Recommended Books and Video about the Megalodon Shark:

The following book: Megalodon: Hunting the Hunter is an impressive book about megalodons. This informative book is easy to understand, filled with interesting facts and has many high quality images. It's a must for any "Meg" fan!

MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror
A FICTIONAL NOVEL by Steve Alten, first published in 1997.
This is not a REAL science book about megalodons. This is a FICTIONAL NOVEL about a megalodon shark terrorizing the California coast. "Meg: A Novel fo Deep Terror" and its sequals are fast and entertaining reads. The reason why I have it listed here is the novel is going to be made into a movie. Kind of like Jurrassic Park, I like to read the novel first and then see the movie!

The National Geographic DVD: Prehistoric Predators: Monster Shark is the only Video I've found that actually has real facts about the Megalodon. It is not one of those garabage "mocumentaries" of recent. National Geographic does a great job at presenting everything about the Megalodon, including it's paleoecology and extinction.

If you are looking for a real megalodon documentary to watch, this is it.

Get Your Very Own Megalodon Tooth:

These are Authentic Megalodon teeth sold by Fossil Era , a reputable fossil dealer (that I personally know) who turned his fossil passion into a business. His Megalodon teeth come in all sizes and prices, from small and inexpensive to large muesum quality teeth. Each tooth has a detailed descriptions and images that include its collecting location and formation. If you are looking for a megalodon tooth, browse through these selections!

References / Works Cited

Bendix-Almgreen, Svend Erik. (15 November 1983) Carcharodon megalodon from the Upper Miocene of Denmark, with comments on elasmobranch tooth enameloid: coronoi'n. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Denmark (Copenhagen: Geologisk Museum) 32: 1-32. (PDF).

Gottfried, Michael D., Compagno, Leonard J. V., and Bowman, S. Curtis. (1996) Chapter 7. Size and skeletal anatomy of the Giant Megatooth shark Carcharodon megalodon. pp. 55-66. IN: Klimley, A. Peter, and Ainley, David G. (editors). In: Great White Sharks the Biology of Carcharodon carcharias Academic Press. San Diego, CA. 517 pp.

Pimiento, Catalina and Balk, Meghan A.. (2015) Body-size trends of the extinct giant shark Carcharocles megalodon: a deep-time perspective on marine apex predators. Paleobiology, 41, pp 479-490. doi:10.1017/pab.2015.16.

Pimiento, Catalina, Ehret, Dana J., MacFadden, Bruce,J., Gordon Hubbell. (2010) Ancient Nursery Area for the Extinct Giant Shark Megalodon from the Miocene of Panama PLoS One. 2010; 5(5): e10552. Published online 2010 May 10. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010552

Pimiento, Catalina, Gerardo Gonzalez-Barba, Dana J. Ehret, Austin J. W. Hendy, Bruce J. MacFadden, Carlos Jaramillo (2013). "Sharks and Rays (Chondrichthyes, Elasmobranchii) from the Late Miocene Gatun Formation of Panama". Journal of Paleontology 87 (5): 755-774. doi:10.1666/12-117.

Purdy, R., Schneider, V., Appelgate, S., McLellan, J., Meyer, R. & Slaughter, R. (2001). The Neogene Sharks, Rays, and Bony Fishes from Lee Creek Mine, Aurora, North Carolina. In: Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III. C. E. Ray & D. J. Bohaska eds. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, No 90. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. pp. 71-202.

Siversson, Mike. "Lamniform sharks: 110 million years of ocean supremacy" Royal Trell Museum Speaker Series. Western Australian Museum, Perth, Australia. March 28, 2012.

Shimada, K. (2008) Ontogenetic parameters and life history strategies of the Cretaceous lamniform shark, Cretoxyrhina mantelli, based on the vertebral growth increments. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28: 21-33. doi: 10.1671/0272-4634(2008)28[21:opalhs]2.0.co;2

Shimada, K. (2003) The relationship between the tooth size and total body length in the white shark, Carcharodon carcharias (Lamniformes: Lamnidae). Journal of Fossil Research 35:28-33.

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