Scientists have discovered a new species of large prehistoric shark, which they’re calling Megalolamna paradoxodon. It lived around the same time as the famous Megalodon, but wasn’t quite as big. While Megalodon could reach up to 33 feet, this species probably maxed out at about 13 feet or so, around the size of a great white shark. In fact, the great white and mako are both part of the same order, Lamniformes.
Megalolamna paradoxodon gets its name because of the similarity between its teeth and those of the modern salmon shark, or Lamna ditrpois, hence the first part of the name. The second part though, paradoxodon, is because scientists are confused about where exactly this species came from.
The teeth have been found on both coasts of the United States, in Peru, and in Japan, which indicates a pretty large range (and well south of the modern salmon shark). But it’s closest predecessor lived 45 million years earlier, so there’s a quite a large gap there that scientists would like to understand.
Furthermore, the period in which this shark lived, the Miocene, is known for offering up a lot of shark teeth, so it’s kind of weird that these teeth have only been discovered, or at least identified, recently. Of course, paleontology often goes that way; scientists identify a species from a handful of remains and then ask lots and lots of questions about that species, some of which are very hard to answer because the fossil record has a lot of blank spaces in it.
That’s because fossils are actually extremely rare. While it may seem like we find a lot of them, and we do, they only represent a very tiny number of individual animals, as most animals never fossilize when they die. Luckily, paleontologists have gotten very good at learning a ton of information from something as simple as a tooth.