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The “Stranger Things” about Megalodon

October 16, 2018

Written by Lindsay Roupe Abrams, Paleontology Collections Technician

When the monster enters our dimension, it’s like a shark breaching the water. Very much like a shark, it drags its prey back into its home, where it feeds.” – The Duffer Brothers on their inspiration for the Demogorgon

It’s that time of year when the temperature has dropped, Halloween is around the corner, and “Stranger Things” usually returns to our TV screens. Unfortunately, the season 3 premiere date has been delayed until sometime in 2019 so we are stuck daydreaming about what our favorite group of kids and Upside Down-dwelling monsters are up to in Hawkins, Indiana. Speaking of Upside Down-dwelling monsters, did you know that the Demogorgon was inspired by sharks, like those in the movie Jaws? Aaron Sims, the person who came up with the design of the Demogorgon, describes the creature as “this entity that appears from time to time to feed,” he told The Verge, “so I imagined myself as this [creature] that hasn’t evolved much over hundreds of millions of years because it’s so perfect at what it does.” When one thinks about the sharks that inspire the sci-fi genre, including this summer’s blockbuster hit “The Meg,” one in particular comes to mind–Megalodon. Megalodon is the largest shark to EVER exist, maxing out at 60 feet long with 7-inch teeth. The big bad wolf had nothing on these guys.

Megalodon thrived 20-2.6 million years ago in our coastal waters by feeding on large marine mammals and other fish.  In fact, they regularly chomped down on small whales. We know they favored whales because we find whale bones in the fossil record with slash marks caused by megalodon teeth. In fact, their teeth are sometimes even found lodged in the whale bones! Sharks are mostly made of cartilage so their fossil record is limited to teeth and vertebrae. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences houses a large collection of megalodon teeth that have been collected all across the coastal plain of North Carolina including Wilmington, Aurora, and New Bern. North Carolina is so abundant in these fossils that a festival is held every year in Aurora to celebrate the fossil history of our area (http://aurorafossilfestival.net/) and the megalodon tooth is the official fossil of the State of North Carolina.

Image is of a drawer of megalodon teeth. The teeth are the triangular-shaped tan to dark gray objects. The background is white boxes which hold the megalodon teeth.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences houses over 700 of these teeth!

A large portion of our collections of Megalodon teeth were collected from the Lee Creek Mine near Aurora, Beaufort County, NC. The reason so many megalodon teeth are found here is because the Lee Creek Mine contains the late Miocene-early Pliocene Yorktown Formation, a 10-5 million year old deposit of marine sediments that covers the coastal plains of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, and overlaps perfectly with the time period when Megalodon thrived along the coast. Also, unlike us lowly humans, sharks replace their teeth every time they lose one. A great white shark can go through over 2,000 teeth over the course of its life span! That’s a lot of teeth to lose and later be found by a wily fossil hunter.

Image is of a map of the eastern United States. The ocean is dark blue. The land is green. The white shows where the ocean was during the Miocene Period. Three North Carolina towns are labeled with orange dots, including Aurora, New Bern, and Wilmington. The upper left hand corner is an image of a megalodon tooth from Aurora, North Carolina. The triangular-shaped tan object is the megalodon tooth. The background is white with a collections label in the bottom right hand corner.

Megalodon tooth (NCSM 9545) found at Lee Creek Mine near Aurora, NC, a marine deposit from when Megalodon thrived. **Geographic map of the Early Miocene from deeptimemaps.com

We know Megalodon was a lean, mean eating machine, much like the demogorgon, that was able to thrive for 15+ million years even with their massive food requirements. According to the blockbuster movie “The Meg”, megalodon could still be lurking in the deep depths of ocean trenches far away from our coasts. Sorry to disappoint, but this is very unlikely. A pair of megalodon teeth were dredged up from the ocean floor by the HMS Challenger in 1875 but were determined to have drifted from their original coastal location. There are multiple theories surrounding the disappearance of Megalodon from our coastal waters but many believe they were outcompeted by smaller-bodied marine mammals and fish that didn’t require quite the amount of food intake, including their living relatives–great white sharks. Great whites took over the role as the modern monsters of our oceans and expanded their range across all ocean basins from tropical to temperate zones.  “The Meg” might not exist anymore but they certainly left their mark on North Carolina, along with inspiring the monsters of the sci-fi thrillers of today!

Image is of a megalodon jaw on display. The megalodon jaw is white with triangular-shaped dark gray and white teeth. In the center of the image is a woman pretending to be eaten by the megalodon.

Megalodon jaw at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences…scary!

Come learn more about the real-life monsters that inspired the Demogorgon while enjoying our Stranger Things-themed activities and games at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ The Upside Down Halloween, October 26th 7-10 pm.

Lindsay Roupe Abrams’ Paleontology Collections Technician position is funded through a National Science Foundation: Collections in Support of Biological Research (NSF: CSBR) Grant to the Paleontology Unit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Resources

https://www.geosociety.org/GSA/Education_Careers/Geologic_Time_Scale/GSA/timescale/home.aspx?hkey=8668fe3f-c0a8-4dd8-aaca-13603b24c9e0

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/megalodon–the-truth-about-the-largest-shark-that-ever-lived.html

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