This question threw me. For two reasons:
- first, I'd totally forgotten there used to be giant prehistoric sharks sneaking through the waters, as much as any lamppost-sized creature can sneak.
- second, because as the student asked, a bus was glancing past the window and I swear I saw the wheels suddenly screech away like a bright red deer, just in case something was about to smash through the water pipes and burst from the pavement with a short toothy greeting.
What is a Megalodon, and why does the name fill me with major concern?
Generally I never want to tell evolution what to do,
but sometimes there are too many teeth.
(Photo credit to Herschel Hoffmeyer/Shutterstock)
Megalodons (which means ‘big tooth’) don’t exist anymore: the water’s too cold and they’d leave too many bite marks to go unnoticed. That is the last reassuring thought you’ll get in this particular post.
According to research by Emma Bernard at the Natural History Museum (collected by Josh Davies), they dominated the ocean between 20 and 3.6 million years ago, casting ominous shadows between 15 and 18 metres long over the edible sealife (3 times longer than the largest recorded great white shark). A Bristol and Swansea study that hypothetically reconstructed our giant toothy friend estimates a 5-metre-long head and a tail nearly of 4 metres. Perhaps it’s less ‘could a megalodon eat a bus?’ and more ‘ketchup or BBQ?’.
These measurements are all based on the teeth: some of which we’ve found, some of which we've estimated through the marks they left on whale bones. To swallow an unfortunate whale, our giant shark would need a jaw 2.7 metres high and 3.4 metres wide, big enough to swallow two adult people.
(From the Natural History website: a Megalodon tooth next to a Great White Shark's)
Should I be concerned for the bus?
Buses do exist, but generally their teeth are much less of a problem.
The average London bus is 18.75 metres long, 2.55 metres wide and around 5 metres tall. So, definitely bigger than the jaws of a Megalodon, and the gust of wind you’re hearing is the bus depots of London breathing a sigh of relief.
But a hungry Megalodon is creative.
So if a megalodon was hurled in 2022 and saw its giant red prey hurtling down the street ...
The bite power of a human is about 1,317 Newtons. The Megalodon closes its jaws with a force of between 108,514 and 182,201 Newtons. The average bus window is made of tempered glass, which could be broken by an immensely strong human with a solid object - or one hungry shark.
The key to eating a bus (words I thought I’d never type) is probably much like cracking a steel Easter egg: with one steady thumb, or one battle-chipped megalodon tooth, we put stress on the object’s surface by pushing down with extreme force until it snaps. Once your chocolate/window snaps, you can bite your way around until you’ve enjoyed the petrol-fused nutrients of a TfL bus.
So a megalodon could eat a bus - but would they? Unfortunately, given their carnivorous instincts, I suspect they’d be more interested in any passengers on the primeval bus routes. Keep an eye on the Thames, folks, and stop the Jurassic World films before they get watery.