Great White Shark Origins Found

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Great white sharks are among the world's largest living predatory animals, and now we have a better idea of their ancestors and how these toothy media superstars evolved.

Great whites turn out not to be very related to the extinct

Carcharocles megalodon, the largest carnivorous shark that ever lived. Instead, they likely descended from broad-toothed

mako sharks.

As you can see from the above photo, however, these sharks back in the day had impressive mouths and teeth too. The well-preserved fossil from Peru is the only intact partial skull ever found

of a white shark that lived about 4.5 million years ago.

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The species was named Carcharodon hubbelli for Gordon

Hubbell, who donated the fossil to the Florida Museum of Natural History

on the UF campus. The fossil jaw contains 222 teeth, some in rows up to

six teeth deep.

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"The

impetus of this project was really the fact that Gordon Hubbell donated

a majority of his fossil shark collection to the Florida Museum," author

Dana Ehret, a lecturer

at Monmouth University in New Jersey who conducted research for the

study as a University of Florida graduate student, said in a press release."Naming the

shark in his honor is a small tip of the hat to all the great things he

has done to advance paleontology."

Ehret studying the fossil

He continued, "We

can look at white sharks today a little bit differently ecologically if

we know that they come from a mako shark ancestor."

That ancestor is 2 million years older than previously suspected, based on recalibrated dating.

Ehret said,"That 2-million-year pushback is pretty

significant because in the evolutionary history of white sharks, that

puts this species in a more appropriate time category

to be ancestral or kind of an intermediate form of white shark."

He made the connection between modern great whites and C. hubbelli by comparing the physical shapes of shark teeth to one

another. While

modern white sharks have serrations on their teeth for consuming marine

mammals, mako sharks do not have serrations because they primarily feed

on fish. Hubbell's white shark has coarse serrations indicative of a

transition from broad-toothed mako sharks to

modern white sharks.

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So the relatives of great whites used to eat more fish, but then switched to a more red meat diet consisting of mammal flesh.

The Pisco Formation in Peru where the shark fossil was found also includes new whale,

marine sloth and terrestrial vertebrate species. I look forward to hearing more about those finds in future.

This question also now remains: Did the great Carcharocles megalodon just die out, leaving behind no modern ancestors? For shark fans, hopefully not.

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