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Ancient Sharks Had Giant Babies That Ate Their Siblings in the Womb, Finds New Study

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In most viviparous sharks, the egg hatches inside the mother and feeds on the egg yolk as well as fluids from the mother to reach the proper size.

It is important for growing foetus of any animal to receive proper nutrition for survival. Generally, nutrition can come from their mum. However, one ancient shark has caused a spark of intrigue and horror as researchers now claim that it used to eat their siblings in-utero for nutrition.

The animal in question is the most ferocious shark species to have ever lived, the Megalodon. The adults of the species were over 14 metres in length, and it lived almost for 15 years, around 3.6 million years ago. Its teeth could be up to 17 cm, which was a topic of wonder among scientists.

Films of action cinema might have spotted beast in 2018 Hollywood film, The Meg. However, there isn’t much-fossilised evidence of the mighty creature to shed light onto its life. As it has a soft cartilaginous skeleton, most of it doesn’t get properly mineralised as seen in the case of other ancient animals like dinosaurs or woolly mammoths.

But researchers still need to study them. So Kenshu Shimada from DePaul University turned to other ways to gather clues about the mysterious beast, particularly by studying its spine. They have published their results in Historical Biology: International Journal of Paleobiology.

Their spine from Miocene epoch was analysed for this research. Ring deposits on vertebra can be used the same as tree rings, to determine the age. They discovered their sample was 46 years old when it died.

It was discovered that these animals gave birth to babies which were over two metres long. For reference, the average human adult height is 1.8 metres. The researchers then posit the only way it could grow so big was by possibly eating other unhatched babies inside their mother. Sharks can be either viviparous (live birth) or oviparous (egg-laying). The Megalodon was viviparous.

In most viviparous sharks, the egg hatches inside the mother and feeds on the egg yolk as well as fluids from the mother to reach the proper size. The size of “the meg” foetus suggests it must get a lot of food in-utero.

So how did it eat so much? In a true horror manner, the researchers claim that the shark produced multiple eggs. One of them would survive by eating all the others in act of cannibalism. Shark pups eating other embryos are not that uncommon, as it happens even today with species like the tiger shark. The team also claimed that there would be at least two meg pups born at a time (though there isn’t much data to prove it), which would mean tens and hundreds of unborn meg pups consumed between the two.


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