Thanks to Hollywood, the jaws of the great white shark may be the most famous in the animal kingdom. But despite its presence in film posters, the great white’s toothy mouth has received very little experimental attention.
Now, Stephen Rowe from the University of New South Wales has put the great white’s skull through a digital crash-test, to work out just how powerful its bite was.
A medium-sized great white, 2.5m in length and weighing in at 240kg, could bite with a force of 0.3 tonnes. But the largest individuals can exert a massive 1.8 tonnes with their jaws, giving them one of the most powerful bites of any living animal.
The jaws exert over three times more force than the 560kg exerted by a large lion, and 20 times more than the 80kg a feeble human jawbone can manage.
Impressive as the great white shark is, one of its extinct ancestors was even more so.
Megalodon (aka the megatooth shark aka Carcharadon megalodon), was a monster that may have grown to 16 metres in length and had a maximum weight of anywhere from 50 to 100 tonnes. And according to Wroe’s research, it had the most powerful bite of any animal.
A single chomp could exert up to 18 tonnes of force; even the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex could only muster 3 tonnes of force.
Being bitten by a megalodon would be like having three African elephants pressing on top of you with carving knives strapped to their feet. It truly was “one of the most powerful predators in history”.
If anything, these figures are underestimates. Wroe only modelled what would happen if the sharks raise their lower jaw, whereas an actual bite consists of lots of different movements – for example, a great white’s upper jaw pushes forward when it chomps and its head presses downward. Nor do great whites bite in an elegant, genteel way.
They frequently ram their prey driving their jaws towards them at high speed.
And once bitten, the victim is shaken from side to side. So it’s likely that an animal being bitten by these predators would experience forces far larger than the already considerable ones measured in Wroe’s study.
Despite the temptation to seek shelter myself, I took this photo of a small group of gentoo (penguins) on Saunders Island in the Falklands as they struggled against the wind and driving sand to return to their rookery.
Comment by Paul Goldstein, Judge:
A clear winner.
Initially I thought this was a study in slow shutter speed, but then saw that these gentoos are almost floating across this Falklands beach in a sandstorm.
I’ve been to this beach and never got close to this sort of masterpiece.
Some creatures demand more respect than others. It’s hard to fear a bunny, but it’s impossible not to bow before the incredible abilities of the mantis shrimp, which uses club-like limbs to hit its prey so hard it briefly heats the water around it to the temperature of the sun.
There’s also another variety, shown here, that impales its prey in a flash and drags it into a burrow. Respect, mantis shrimp. Respect.
Image Credit: Roy Caldwell
Well, here we are. Absurd Creatures of the Week made it one year without getting canceled. So to celebrate, I present some more critters.
When it comes to animal attitudes, it doesn’t get more badass than the aye-aye of Madagascar.
It’s evolved a highly elongated middle finger, which it uses to fish grubs out of trees. It therefore spends its whole life giving the world the bird.
Maybe that’s why the local people fear it, and why it isn’t allowed over for dinner at other animals’ houses.
Image Credit: Ed Louis
I like this one not because of that beautiful smile, but because I got to track down the very first person confirmed to have been attacked by a cookiecutter shark.
Mike Spalding was marathon-swimming between two Hawaiian islands in the middle of the night when the shark took a sizable chunk, or “bigass hole,” as Mike explained it to me, out of his leg.
Oh, and Mike went back a year later and finished the swim. You know, like ya do.
Image Credit: George Burgess
The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is one of my favorites not because of its epic name, but because it so elegantly reveals the wonders of evolution.
Over millions of years, geckos with mutations that helped them blend into their environment survived to pass along those genes.
And voila, a gecko that today looks exactly like a leaf.