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Giant Shark, Megalodon, Had Lots of Company: Photos

Here are some of the animals--both on sea and on land--that existed during this mega-sized shark’s heyday.

Controversy has surrounded the timetable of existence for megalodon, the world's largest ever shark, but a new study concludes that this 60-foot-long predator became extinct 2.6 million years ago. The study, published in the latest issue of the journal PLOS ONE, counters other theories that megalodon (

Carcharocles megalodon

) became extinct much later, with some even believing that the enormous shark never did die out. "I was drawn to the study of

Carcharocles megalodon's

extinction because it is fundamental to know when species became extinct to then begin to understand the causes and consequences of such an event," explained lead author Catalina Pimiento.

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If megalodon did indeed become extinct 2.6 million years ago, then members of our genus

Homo

were not around when the huge shark was still alive. Human-like beings were in existence, however, such as members of the genus

Paranthropus

, shown here. Many other terrestrial animals also existed, as did birds, plants and insects.

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While not as large as monstrous megalodon, other big sharks lived at the same time. Dana Ehret, curator of paleontology for the Alabama Museum of Natural History, told Discovery News that

Carcharodon sp.

"most likely shared habitat" with megalodon. It belonged to the same genus as today's great white sharks and was just as fierce.

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Non-avian dinosaurs were long gone by the time megalodon emerged, as they all died out 66.5 million years ago. Many of their bird relatives, however, were going strong during megalodon's lifetime. Some, including

Titanis walleri

— aka Terror Bird — were formidable in their own habitats. Terror Bird is thought to have stood 8-feet-tall and weighed over 300 pounds.

Ehret and other paleontologists believe that megalodon frequently feasted on whales. One such species was

Squalodon calvertensis

, shown here. Megalodon is thought to have emerged approximately 17 million years ago, while Squalodon went extinct around 14 million years ago. Was the whale's entire population eaten to death over time? That has not been ruled out, although researchers have also proposed competition from dolphins and climate change as other possible reasons for the whale's extinction.

Video: Whale Attacked by Megalodon

Evidence suggests that seals have been on Earth for at least 15 million years. Ehret said that they would have been in megalodon's habitat. Seals likely served as meaty snacks for megalodon.

Leatherback sea turtles are the only living species in the genus

Dermochelys

. Many other members of this genus existed in years past, however, including giant sea turtles during megalodon's time. Could megalodon have bitten through their hard shells? The answer is probably not, based on modern great white shark bite force measurements and behavior. Megalodon's teeth were nonetheless formidable. Ehret said that the teeth were "much different" than those of other sharks during megalodon's lifetime, "having much finer serrations, being much thicker, and possessing a 'chevron,’ which is a V-shaped portion of the tooth crown."

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Large, plant-loving Desmostylus was a hippo-like animal that lived during the earlier part of megalodon's time on the planet. Comfortable both on land and in water, Desmostylus surely would have attempted a hasty getaway if megalodon were near. Desmostylus usually ventured in freshwater, though, seeking aquatic plants.

The first penguins are thought to have emerged around the time of the mass extinction event 66.5 million years ago that ended the Cretaceous Period. Ehret said penguins would have shared habitat with megalodon. Some prehistoric penguins grew to be quite large, such as "Colossus," which stood 6'7" tall. It preceded megalodon's existence, however. The penguins during the large shark's lifetime would have been like a kernel of popcorn to megalodon, which probably exerted more effort targeting much larger prey.

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When one animal goes extinct, the void can really benefit other species. Dinosaur extinction, for example, benefitted mammals, which evolved to become the world's dominant animals. Pimiento similarly believes that megalodon's demise led to bigger whales. "When we calculated the time of megalodon's extinction, we noticed that the modern function and gigantic sizes of filter feeder whales became established around that time," Pimiento said. "Future research will investigate if megalodon's extinction played a part in the evolution of these new classes of whales."

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