If you've ever watched Jaws, you probably have a healthy fear of being ripped apart by a menacing Great White shark every time you get in the ocean.
But as we know from its appearances in pop culture, a far more terrifying creature once lurked in the depths of ancient oceans: the Megalodon (or "The Meg," if you're a fan of the Jason Statham movie).
As ferocious as The Meg made this Paleolithic predator appear, a study published in August in the journal Historical Biology suggests many of our wildest fantasies — and most terrifying fears — about this beastly creature may be true.
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Before this study, most of our information about this behemoth came from its (impressive) dental records.
This research also looked at the Megalodon's teeth, but instead of just concentrating on the ancient shark, researchers also compared tooth and body size measurements of 13 different modern-day sharks to better understand how this long-extinct sea creature may have differed from its contemporary counterparts.
Specifically, the scientists charted the size distribution of different species of lamniform sharks over time, which share DNA with the Megalodon. Lamniform sharks include the Great White, as well as the goblin shark and mako sharks.
In fact, this study represents the first broad survey of living and extinct lamniform sharks ever conducted. Ultimately, it confirms once and for all the Megalodon was definitely as fearsome as its massive teeth would suggest.
"My research team did expect Megalodon to be gigantic based on my previous study," Kenshu Shimada, professor of Paleobiology at DePaul University and research associate at the Sternberg Museum in Kansas, told Inverse at the time.
"But what surprised us was actually seeing in our data a 7-meter gap [23-foot gap] between the size of Megalodon and the size of the next largest non-planktiviorous lamniforms not directly related to Megalodon in the entire geologic history."
The study confirmed the Megalodon could measure up to 50 feet long — far longer than your average school bus. For reference, the biggest Great White sharks only reach up to 20 feet in length.
But as wild as the findings are, the study also corrects some of the more incredulous depictions of the Megalodon — not only in pop culture, but also in previous scientific studies, which claimed the shark could reach up to 59 feet.
By understanding the size of this massive aquatic beast from the past, the researchers claim we can better understand our modern ecology.
"The fossil record is a window into the evolution of ecosystems, and understanding why species become extinct, and how their rise and demise affected their ecosystem is critical to today's oceans for issues like conservation of organisms, habitat preservation, and sustainable marine natural resources," Shimada said.
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