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Fossil Identification Guide for Invertebrate Fossils of North Carolina, including Aurora


Fossil Identification Guide for Shark Teeth of Auorora, North Carolina

Fossil Shark Tooth Identification Guide for the Miocene and Pliocene of Aurora and Coastal North Carolina

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 maybe found, however mostly the hard shark teeth and ray crushing plates are found.

Sharks and Rays

Fossil shark teeth are the most popular fossils to look for in North Carolina. They are all from Miocene and Pliocene time period. One of the more sought after shark is the Megalodon shark, a giant 60 foot shark!

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

Shark Fossils

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

The image below shows a few modern shark jaws, including a mako and bull shark. These are on display at the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

Modern Shark Jaws

Alopias cf. latidens (Leriche, 1909)
Thresher Shark

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.s sharks, many are nearly impossible to tell apart based on isolated teeth.

Fossil Thresher shark teeth from the Pungo River formation. The largest is 5/8" (15 mm).

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

Formation: Pungo River - Age: Miocene, ~18-22 m.y - Location: Aurora, North Carolina - Size: ~5/8" (15mm)

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.

The two leftmost teeth are labial views. All others are lingual views.

Various species of Sand Tiger can be found in the Pungo River, Yorktown, and James City Formations. Two common species are C. taurus and C. cuspidata.

The Carcharhinus Genera
The Gray Sharks

Carcharhinus, or the Gray 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.

Teeth from this genus are among the most common teeth found at many places in the Pungo River and Yorktown formations. Unfortunately, it can be VERY difficult to distinguish between many of these species based on their fossil teeth alone.

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

Common Carcharhinus Teeth

This image shows some of the more common Gray shark species found in North Carolina. There are however, many more species which are incredibly difficult to tell apart. For more detailed information on Gray shark identificaiton, go to the Carcharhinus page.

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

Megalodons are among the most sought after teeth in North Carolina. While large ones are difficult to find, small ones and pieces of them are common. 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 Pungo river formation has more subauriculatus that megalodon teeth. The Yorktown formation tends to have more megalodon teeth.

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!

Carcharocles subauriculatus (Agassiz, 1839)
The Megatooth Shark

This is a 3 5/8" C. subauriculatus in a chunk of Pungo River contact layer.

Click Here to see the trip is was found on, and to see it before it was prepped.

This is a lingual view of a small 1 7/8" lateral from the Pungo River formation in the PCS mine in Aurora, North Carolina.

This is a 3" chipped C. subauriculatus megatooth shark tooth from the Pungo River formation in the PCS mine in Aurora, North Carolina.

Carcharocles megalodon (Agassiz, 1843)
The Megatooth Shark

Obviously, this is the most famous prehistoric shark. It has the largest teeth, was twice the size of a Great White, and included whales in its diet! They lived from the Miocene and became extinct in the Pliocene. I sure am glad they're dead!

Go to the Megatooth Shark Gallery for your complete guide to the megalodon shark.

This is my largest Aurora megalodon tooth yet. It's a robust upper. Unfortunately, there is feeding damage to the tip.
Even with the tip damage, the slant height is slightly over 6". It measures a hair over 4.5" across, and a hair over 5" tall.
It's from the Yorktown formation in the PCS mine in Aurora, NC.
to see the trip it was found on.

This is a robust lower megalodon tooth. There are a few chipped serrations however. It has a 4 7/8" (124 mm) slant height.
It's from the Yorktown formation in the PCS mine in Aurora, NC.

This is a decent sized tooth. However the serrations are worn off. It has the look of a reworked fossil from some older formation. It has a 4 5/8" (117 mm)slant height.

This is an upper tooth. The root has some damage done to it. It has a 4.5" (114 mm) slant height. From the Yorktown formation of the PCS mine in Aurora, NC.

This is a smaller, but near perfect Aurora megalodon tooth. It has a 3 7/8" (98 mm) slant height.

Carcharodon carcharias (Linnaeus, 1758)
Great White Shark

This is the modern great white shark.
Great Whites are difficult to find. They are regularly found in the James City Formation. However, the roots are Great Whites are thin and fragile. Because of this, the roots are often broken or eroded when found.

Similar FossilsGreat Whites look slightly like megalodon teeth because they are both serrated. However, Great Whites are easy to tell apart. Great white serrations are much mofe coarse than a megalodon. A great white tooth is also very thin, with a thin root, while megalodon teeth look very thick and robust. Great Whites also do not have a bourlette.

Go to the Great White Shark Gallery to learn more

This Great White tooth is from the James City formation, which is either Pliocene or Pleistocene. From the PCS phosphate mine in Aurora, NC.

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

The genus Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) first appears in the Oligocene. It is represented by scarce fossil teeth found in Belgium. By the Miocene, there were two types of White sharks:

Carcharodon hastalis - Cosmopolitodus hastalis [narrow form]
Although incorrect, these sharks are commonly reffered to as 'mako' sharks.
Carcharodon plicatlilis - Cosmopolitodus hastalis [broad form]
This shark is also sometimes referred to as Cosmopolitodus xiphodon

Both of these sharks became extinct by the middle of the Pliocene.

To learn about White shark evolution, and why the names have changed, go to the Prehistoric White Shark page. This page includes images of associated and transitional specimens and current research.

C. plicatilis is the largest White shark to evolve and is closely related to the Great White Shark of today. The only difference is that it was a little larger and the teeth do not have serrations.

Carcharodon hastalis
aka: Cosmopolitodus hastalis (narrow form)
Narrow White Shark

Identification: The narrow form has a wide and 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.

The above image is a composite dention of a narrow form white shark C. hastalis from Aurora, North Carolina

These are two examples of fossil teeth from the C. hastalis White shark. Found at the PCS mine in Aurora, North Carolina. The largest one has a 1 7/8" slant"

Carcharodon plicatilis
Cosmopolitodus xiphodon (broad form)
Giant White Shark

Identification: The broad form White shark has a very wide and triangular crown. The blade is smooth and the enamel goes to the very edge of the root. The roots are a little shorter and less robust looking than the narrow form.

The above image is a composite dention of a broad form Giant White Shark C. plicatilis from Aurora, North Carolina

This is a perfect large specimen! It is 2 3/4" (70mm) in slant height.

This is a beauty. The enameloid shoulders are slightly chipped, but the blade is razor sharp. It has a 2 3/8" (60mm) slant height.

Here are two Broad Form Giant White Shark teeth that have a slant height of slightly over 2"

Here are two C. hastalis (broad form) found in Yorktown sediments about 10 feet from one another in the PCS mine in Aurora, NC.

Here are some additional upper and lower Giant White teeth from the PCS mine in Aurora, NC. The largest one has a 2 5/16" (58 mm) slant.

Galeocerdo sp.
Tiger Shark - Galeocerdo aduncus and Physogaleus contortus

Tiger sharks are found in tropical and temperate waters across the globe. 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. They diversified in the Oligocene and Miocene, but today there is only one living species of tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier.

In North Carolina, there are three general tiger and tiger like sharks found in the Miocene and Pliocene sediments, they are the Miocene Galeocerdo aduncus and Physogaleus contortus, and in the Pliocene it's Galeocerdo cuvier.

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

Galeocerdo cuvier (Peron and LeSueur, 1822)
Living Tiger Shark

G. cuvier, the living tiger shark has large teeth with complex serrations (serrations on serrations). They are found in the Yorktown formation in Aurora, NC.

The rightmost two are labial views. All others are lingual views. These are from the Yorktown formation of Aurora, NC. The largest one is 1 1/4" (32 mm).

Although tooth positions of tiger teeth appear very similar, the above image shows just how different tooth positions actually are.

The first left two are either symphysial or parasymphysial teeth. The right two teeth are posteriors.

Galeocerdo aduncus
Extinct Tiger Shark

This species lived from the Oligocene into the Miocene.
Purdy et al (2001) believe G. aduncus is not available as a scientific name. However, until a new name is assigned, I will continue to refer to it as G. aduncus. This extinct species is much smaller than the extant (living) Tiger shark (G. cuvier). G aduncus also has simple serrations.
These teeth are abundant in the Pungo River Formation.

These are sample G. aduncus fossil shark teeth from North Carolina. They are from the Pungo River formation. The largest is 11/16" (17mm) in size.

Physogaleus contortus
Extinct Tiger-like Shark

This is not a true tiger shark, but has teeth similar in shape to a tiger 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 indicates 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 be confused with worn Galeocerdo aduncus teeth.

These are examples of P. contortus fossil shark teeth. Notice the slightly "contorted" or twisted blade. The bottom right two are labial views. All others are lingual views.

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 and an articluated fossil specimen of a fossil Snaggletooth shark.

The right upper tooth is a labial view. All others are lingual views.

Uppers and lowers are generally easy to distinguish form one another.

The lower rightmost tooth is a symphysial tooth.
Although these teeth can be found in both the Pungo River and Yorktown formations, the teeth found in the Yorktown are generally larger in size.

Hexanchus griseus (Bonnaterre, 1788) aka Hexanchus gigas (Sismonda, 1857)
Sixgill Cow Shark

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. They are also very wide and bulky.
Two Genus of cow shark are found at Aurora, Notorynchus and Hexanchus. Hexanchus is the less common genus.
H. griseus is a living species today. The fossil teeth are probably from this extant species and first appeared in the miocene.

Hexanchus teeth can be easily differentiated from Notorynchus teeth. Notorynchus teeth have serrations on their mesial edge, whereas Hexanchus teeth have very fine conules on the mesial edges. Also Hexanchus teeth tend to have more cones running down the length of the tooth.

Identification: Cow shark teeth are unmistakable. 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 Cow Shark Gallery has a visual comparison between the two cow shark teeth.

Similar Fossils: Notorynchus

This is an outstanding lower Hexanchus tooth from the Yorktown formation. It's 1 5/8" (41 mm) across. See the TRIPit was found on.

The teeth of this shark are fragile and are often found broken, like the one in this image. The conules are missing on this specimen.

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.

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

These are more examples of fossil Shortfin Mako Shark teeth. The largest tooth is 2"

This is an upper anterior tooth fossil Shortfin Mako Shark tooth. The largest tooth is 1 9/16" (39mm).

Notorynchus cepedianus (Peron, 1807) aka primigenius (Agassiz, 1843)
Sevengill Cow Shark

Also known as N. primigenius

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

This is the more common species found at Aurora, NC.

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. 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. Most Cow shark teeth are Notorynchus. However, there are two types, Notorynchus, and the less commmon Hexanchus. 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 Cow Shark Gallery has a visual comparison between the two cow shark teeth.

Similar Fossils: Hexanchus

N. cepedianus teeth are common in both the Pungo River and Yorktown formations.
Their roots are fragile and are often found broken, as the two lateral teeth in the image show.

Here is a beautiful complete N. cepedianus cow shark tooth. It's from the Pungo River formation of the PCS mine in Aurora, NC, and is 1" (25mm) in length.

Here is a another complete N. cepedianus cow shark tooth. It's from the Pungo River formation of the PCS mine in Aurora, NC.

Sphyrna sp.
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.

There are three species of Hammerhead found at Aurora, S. lewini (Scalloped Hammerhead) , S. cf. S. media (Scoophead), and S. zygaena (Smooth Hammerhead). All three species found at aurora are extant (living today).

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.

The above is an example of an Sphyrna lateral tooth from the Pungo River formation. It has a ~1/2" (12mm) slant height.

Other Shark Fossils

More than just teeth fossilize from sharks. Other fossils that are found include shark vertebra, cartileage, and rostral nodes. Go to the Fossil Remnants of Sharks in the Gallery section to learn more.

Shark Vertebra

Although sharks are made of Cartilage, the vertebra sometimes fossilize. 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.

Shark vertebrae come in all sizes, and are found in both the Yorktown and the Pungo.

Here is another shark vertebra. Not all shark vertebra are thin and disk like. This one is appriximately 1.5" (38mm) in diameter.

Shark Rostrum - Rostral Node

This is a structure in the sharks snout that can sometimes fossilize.

Shark rostral nodes look like like a Mr. Potato Head noses.

Shark Cartilagee

Although uncommon, fossilized shark cartilage can sometimes be found. Usually only small fragments are found. Although the fragments can come in any shape and size, cartilage is easy to identify. It is covered in tiny prismatic structures.

Fossilized shark cartilage comes in all shapes and sizes, but usually has prismatic structures on the surface.

Recommended Books for North Carolina Fossil Collecting:

Shark Tooth Hunting on the Carolina Coast

by Ashley Oliphant, 2015

This is a great field guide for locating and identifying fossil shark teeth on the beaches of North and South Carolina. It is filled with clear photographs and easy to read descriptions.
There's not too many books about North Carolina Sharks teeth. This one is pretty good!

Fossil Shark Teeth of the World

A great book for identifying all those teeth. This book is laid out "as simple as possible." It's ease of use and small size makes it great to carry during collecting trips. This book shows teeth from around the globe, but all the North Carolina teeth can be found in 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!

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