There’s no doubt about it. No creature in today’s oceans is more feared than the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias).
51% of Americans admit to being terrified of sharks, and you can be sure it’s the great white they were thinking about.
The great white’s dangerous reputation is hugely overblown thanks to sensational Hollywood movies, including the classic Jaws, and a continually overzealous media. However, there’s no doubt that this apex predator is the effective king of the seas.
Millions of years ago, there was another massive contender for the greatest predator, the gigantic megalodon shark (Otodus megalodon).
Megalodon vs. great white shark isn’t a comparison we can make with live specimens, as the largest shark ever to have lived became extinct over 3.6 million years ago.
However, we’re going to look at all the facts about these two impressive shark species, assess how they compare, and discover which one ultimately came out on top.
Comparing the Megalodon vs. the Great White
Megalodon vs. great white shark is best approached by assessing the differences and similarities between these two fantastic shark species, so that’s precisely how we’re going to begin.
Time on Earth
To start considering megalodon compared to great white, let’s look at when in history they swam the world’s oceans.
Among the most apparent differences between the megalodon and the great white is that the megalodon is on the list of extinct sharks, while the great white shark is very much still alive.
The megalodon lived from approximately 23 million years ago to 3.6 million years ago, when its extinction occurred.
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On the other hand, the great white sharks we’re familiar with only evolved about 4 million years ago and still live in our oceans today.
While the megalodon’s extinction happened a very long time ago, the great white shark overlapped with the giant predator by about 400,000 years, so they did roam the same waters for a period.
When it comes to length, the megalodon is believed to have had no competition in the predatory shark world.
In fact, it’s believed that the biggest megalodon could have been about least three times longer than the largest known great white shark.
However, great white shark vs. megalodon length is based on scientific studies and opinions of how large the extinct sharks could grow.
The megalodon’s skeleton, like other sharks, was made from cartilage, and bacteria quickly destroyed this in the ocean once the shark died.
This means there aren’t any fossilized megalodon skeletons for scientists to measure.
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Instead, shark scientists have used fossilized teeth to estimate how large the megalodon could grow by making educated comparisons with other shark species.
The most extensive estimates suggest that the megalodon shark could reach a maximum of about 20 meters (66 ft).
By comparison, the longest great white shark ever recorded measured 6.1 m (20 ft) in length.
So, when it comes to length, the megalodon has the great white shark well beaten!
Having learned that there was as much as a three times difference in length, it’s probably not much of a surprise that when considering weight, megalodon vs. great white also isn’t a fair fight.
A female great white shark’s maximum estimated weight is between 1,905 kg (4,200 lb) and 2,268 kg (5,000 lb).
However, the vast megalodon could have reached as much as 60,000 kg (131,000 lb) – over thirty times heavier!
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The female gets the largest in both megalodons and great whites.
But even a fully grown male megalodon shark at around 34,000 kg (74,736 lb) was fifteen times heavier than the heaviest estimate for a great white female.
Great White Shark Tooth vs. Megalodon Shark Teeth
Comparing megalodon vs. great white teeth is a little like comparing the other physical aspects of the sharks. The megalodon’s teeth are similar but much, much bigger!
How Big Are Megalodon Teeth?
Simply put, compared to other sharks, megalodon teeth can be huge.
The largest known megalodon tooth measures an incredible 19 cm (7.48 in) from tip to root.
Only about 1% of the many megalodon teeth ever found have a slant height of over 15.24 cm (6 in).
Most adult megalodon teeth fossils are between 10 and 13 cm (about 4 and 5 in), which is still pretty big.
Even the most common juvenile megalodon teeth are about 2.54 cm (1 in) tall.
Large megalodon teeth in good condition are not only impressive, but they can be worth a large amount of money.
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The public auction record appears to be the $2,600 paid in 2019 for the 6.03-inch (15.32 cm) tooth North Carolina tooth, but it’s safe to say that the same size or larger teeth would be worth considerably more now.
How Big Are Great White Shark Teeth?
The biggest known great white shark tooth is a fossilized tooth that measures about 7.62 cm (3 in).
Modern great white sharks generally appear smaller than their prehistoric ancestors (perhaps due to man’s influences on the ocean’s ecology).
This means that the largest modern great white has teeth measuring no more than around 5cm (2 in).
So, at their very largest, megalodon teeth were at least 2.5 times larger than the biggest ever great white shark tooth.
Apart from the size, both sharks’ teeth are reasonably similar in appearance.
The megalodon and the great white have teeth that are reasonably triangular and even in shape. Well-preserved specimens have sharp serrations along the edges.
Speaking of the shark’s teeth, the megalodon could use its giant teeth with incredible force.
A great white exerts a powerful bite by any standard of 18,000 Newtons.
However, with its larger and more numerous shark teeth, the megalodon could bite with 182,000 Newtons of power!
Both the megalodon and the great white are mackerel sharks (Lamniformes), so they share some common ancestry and characteristics.
Historically shark researchers thought that the extinct megalodon was part of the Lamnidae family and, accordingly, a close relative of the great white.
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However, it’s now known that megalodon belonged to the “megatooth sharks” family, Otodontidae, who lived from the early-mid Cretaceous to the Pliocene era.
Megalodon was the last member of this family, and when it became extinct, the lineage ended.
The great white shark and its family were a different co-evolved branch, so today’s great white is not directly descended from the megalodon.
Finally, despite its vast bulk, the megalodon is thought to have been considerably overall quicker than the great white.
Scientists studying the megalodon have used mathematical models to calculate that the giant shark could swim at a continual cruising speed of about 18 kilometers per hour (11 mph).
By comparison, a large great white can cruise at about half this speed – 8 kph (5 mph).
The lead author, Dr. David Jacoby, said: “The megalodon was an enormous apex predator that appeared to cruise the oceans at speeds unrivaled by any shark species present today.”
However, it’s thought that the great white can reach short bursts of up to 58.6 kph (36 mph), so it certainly shouldn’t be considered a slouch.
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Despite the difference when looking at megalodon vs. great white size, there are some similarities between the two species.
Position in the Food Chain
Both the megalodon and great white sat at the very top of the food chains of their time.
These are both fearsome apex predator sharks who faced few, if any, natural enemies.
While the megalodon could tackle larger prey, including small whales, thanks to its vast size, both shark species fed on large fish, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and turtles, amongst many other unlucky species.
Due to the absence of any megalodon skeletons and thanks to the shark having been extinct for over 3.6 million years, no one knows for sure what the megalodon looked like.
However, many shark experts believe that the megalodon looked like a larger, thicker-set great white shark.
The massive shark probably had a shorter nose and longer pectoral fins to support its vast size.
However, as with everything involving the megalodon, other experts disagree and believe that the two great predators didn’t look quite similar as was once thought.
The megalodon’s appearance and shape have been considered and reconsidered over the years.
Some researchers believe that the megalodon may have more closely resembled the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), whose shape may have been more streamlined in common with other giant aquatic animals.
Who Would Win a Megalodon or a Great White?
At first glance, any theoretical battle between a megalodon and a great white shark seems like it would be over very quickly.
Surely the megalodon would win in a fight with a great white shark – it could grow over three times longer, weigh as much as thirty times heavier, and bite ten times harder!
These vastly superior physical characteristics would mean that any battle between a megalodon and a great white shark would be a complete mismatch.
The one advantage that a great white could have is maneuverability.
Being smaller may come as an advantage in a battle allowing the great white to avoid the bigger shark for a while and perhaps even get some bites in.
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However, ultimately the megalodon would just be too powerful.
Even if the great white was able to inflict some damage in a sneak attack, just one bite from a megalodon could cut the smaller shark in half.
Perhaps the only hope for a great white is if they could gang up and attack the megalodon in large numbers.
However, most great white sharks hunt exclusively on their own.
Some studies have shown them hunting in pairs. However, even two great whites probably couldn’t see off a fully grown megalodon!
Did Megalodons Eat Great White Sharks?
It seems safe to say that a megalodon would happily eat a great white shark. After all, it probably ate just about anything it met.
The two sharks lived alongside each other for about 400,000 years, so there would have been plenty of opportunities for the larger predator to enjoy a meal of its smaller relation.
Did the Great White Shark Cause the Megalodon’s Extinction?
The Megalodon was the fearest predator of its time and capable of quickly killing and devouring any great white shark it met.
However, researchers now believe that the great white may have contributed to the megalodon’s extinction by outcompeting it in a prehistoric food fight.
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Research analyzing zinc isotopes found in the enamel of fossilized shark teeth has shown that the two predators shared almost identical diets.
When the sea level fell as the oceans cooled at the end of the Pliocene era, the megalodon lost its stranglehold on valuable food sources, particularly baleen whales.
The whales migrated to cooler waters, while other large marine animals died off as they could not adapt successfully to climate change.
This left the megalodon, which preferred warm seas, with fewer and fewer food chain options.
The great white, which could hunt the same food web in a wider temperature range, was also an efficient hunter and ate much of the food that the megalodon had been left with.
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The megalodons were left struggling to find enough prey. Together with multiple factors, including a reduction in available nursery grounds due to the falling sea level, their extinction was inevitable.
Is a Great White Shark Bigger Than a Megalodon?
No, the megalodon is the largest shark ever to have lived, and the great white is about 2.5 times smaller.
The largest modern great whites can reach a maximum of 6.1 m (20 ft) in length.
Meanwhile, the enormous megalodon could reach about 20 meters (66 ft).
Do Megalodons Still Exist?
No, the megalodon does not still exist.
The “big tooth” shark became extinct over 3.6 million years ago.
What Sea Creature Can Eat a Great White Shark?
Today, the great white shark’s most notable predator is the orca, aka the killer whale (Orcinus orca), and these only attack the shark rarely.
Great white sharks can be cannibalistic and large specimens will attack juveniles. However, the most significant numbers of great white deaths are caused by man.
If the megalodon shark were still in our seas, it would happily eat a great white shark. However, fortunately, they are extinct, so the great white doesn’t need to worry about them now.
Without a doubt, megalodon vs. great white shark isn’t a fair comparison.
In length, weight, tooth size, and bite force, the megalodon had the great white wholly beaten, and it swam the ocean as the most fearsome of all predators.
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However, while the megalodon might have been able to beat the great white in a battle, the smaller shark may have actually contributed to the giant meg’s extinction by providing overwhelming competition for food.
Clearly, the great white did something right; as its populations are threatened, they’re still with us.
The megalodon, on the other hand, is only known now thanks to its huge fossilized teeth.
British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt's Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm's desert surroundings.