How Megalodon Sharks Grew Up to Become Apex Predators of the Sea, According to Scientists

Researchers have uncovered evidence to suggest that the largest sharks to ever roam the seas commonly raised their young in nursery areas where juveniles could grow up in a safe environment.

The scientists identified five potential megalodon nurseries—one off the eastern coast of Spain, two in the United States and two in Panama—in a study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Megalodon (Otodus megalodon) is an extinct shark species that lived between 23 million and 3.6 million years ago.

The shark is considered to be one of the largest and most powerful predators ever to have lived on Earth, with some estimates suggesting that it could have grown up to around 60 feet in length.

Despite its gigantic size, young megalodon would have been vulnerable to attacks by other predators.

In order to overcome this problem, the sharks gave birth to their young in shallow, warm water nurseries near coastlines where the juveniles would have had plentiful access to prey while also facing relatively few predators.

"Our results reveal, for the first time, that nursery areas were commonly used by the O. megalodon, reducing early mortality and playing a key role in maintaining viable adult populations," the authors wrote in the study.

These nurseries would have provided the the young with a "perfect place to grow" as they matured into adults—a process that took around 25 years.

"Many of them were quite small for such a large animal," two of the authors, Carlos Martinez-Perez and Humberto Ferron from the University of Bristol, U.K., told AFP.

An analysis of megalodon teeth found in nine locations around the world revealed the sites of the five potential prehistoric nurseries, according to the study.

Examining the size of these teeth, the researchers concluded that these locations contained a high density of sharks that likely had body lengths within the typical range of newborns and young juveniles, suggesting the presence of prehistoric nurseries.

The nursery off Spain's east coast would have been a "shallow bay area of warm waters, connected to the sea and with extensive coral reefs and plenty of invertebrates, fish species, marine mammals and other sharks and rays," the authors said.

But the scientists note that megalodon's apparent reliance on the existence of suitable nursery areas may have been a key factor in the demise of this iconic predator as the world cooled during the Pliocene period (around 5.3 million to 2.5 million years ago) and sea levels declined, leaving fewer of these safe havens.

Stock image showing megalodon teeth. iStock