300 million-year-old giant shark swam the Texas seas

Fossil find shows oldest known ‘supershark’ was bigger than today’s great whites

great white shark

SUPERSHARK  Today’s big predatory sharks, like this great white, top out at around 6 or 7 meters long. But 300 million years ago, an ancient shark found in Texas may have reached 8.5 meters in length.

Brook Ward/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0

DALLAS — Even sharks are bigger in Texas.

Around 300 million years ago, predatory “supersharks” that stretched about 8.5 meters long — the length of a limousine — prowled the warm, shallow seas of what is now Texas. Today’s biggest predatory sharks, such as great whites and tiger sharks, top out at around 6 or 7 meters in length.

Scientists have found fossils from big, ancient sharks before, but none this old, paleontologist John Maisey said October 16 at the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting. “You don’t see sharks this size again until the Cretaceous,” he said — roughly 200 million years after the Texas shark lived.

Except for teeth, shark remains don’t show up much in the fossil record. That’s because shark skeletons aren’t made of

ANCIENT PREDATORS Fossils found in Texas represent the oldest big predatory shark yet discovered. It lived about 200 million years before Cretoxyrhina mantelli, a supershark of the Cretaceous period. Courtesy of J. Maisey, adapted by E. Otwell
easy-to-preserve bones. Instead, protein fibers connect bits of mineralized cartilage, like glue cementing tiles in a mosaic. When sharks die, the fibers break down, leaving behind unconnected pieces.

Remains of the Texas shark rested in an area that was once home to corals, clams, mollusks and bony fish, said Maisey, of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He and colleagues used fragments from the back of the shark’s head to calculate skull size: about 85 centimeters, or roughly the length of a 2-year-old child. The team then used skull size and what they know about the body proportions of other ancient sharks to estimate the Texas shark’s total length.

The fossil shark may be related to Glikmanius, an extinct shark with a long body and forked tail that lived around the same time, but scientists will need to examine more specimens to say for sure. 

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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