Column: Megalodon teeth are a great fossil find in Florida streams, Gulf Coast shorelines

The author’s megalodon tooth, given to him by a Florida friend. It’s one of the smaller teeth around. Many are 8 inches long.

John Guerra sig

Florida is one of the few states where you won’t find dinosaur bones or other fossils from the age of the magnificent creatures.

Sure, there’s a life-sized Allosaurus — 35 feet of gnashing teeth and whipping tail — outside Dinosaur World and much more inside the gates of the roadside attraction on I-4 west of Tampa, but if you’re looking for dinosaur fossils on the bluffs of Clearwater, you’re not going to have much luck.

That’s because between 65 and 250 million years ago, when dinosaurs populated Utah, Wyoming, Mexico, and parts of Europe, Africa, China and elsewhere, Florida was underwater, just a small hump on a vast ocean floor.

According to University of South Florida scientists, when the world’s sea level was 100 feet higher than it is now, Clearwater, Belleair Bluffs, Largo and the rest of Florida’s west coastline was probably 100 miles farther out in the Gulf. The Middle Grounds, where Clearwater fishing captains take anglers for a rich bounty of fish, is believed to be the former West Coast of Florida. It is a prehistoric coral reef complex that has bio-similarities to modern patch-reefs, and a species distribution that includes both Carolinian and Caribbean components. By the way, there are clear springs on the slopes of the Middle Ground, just as there are on mainland Florida today.

Over the ages, the level of the Gulf rose and fell, submerging Florida four times. It was while Florida was underwater that tyrannosaurs, brontosaurs, allosauruses, velociraptors and other Cretaceous period animals lived.

During the hundreds of millions of years that these magnificent animals ran, hopped, and leaped after prey items or stretched their necks to eat the tender shoots of plants, an impressive army of creatures swam the oceans and seas, including the Gulf of Mexico.

The one fish that ruled the water was tyrannosaur’s ruthless cousin, a shark with 276, 8-inch teeth and a bite radius of 8 by 10 feet. One snap of its mouth could eat two people. These were the kinds of statistics I loved as a kid as I worshiped tyrannosaurs, drawing them on my notebook rather than taking notes in class.

I don’t have a T-rex tooth, but I do have a megalodon tooth that once belonged in the grand-piano-sized smile of an apex predator that grew as big as a 55-foot Hatteras fishing yacht, weighed 60 tons, and ate when and what it wanted.

So, what did these maritime slaughter houses feed on? Anything up to 40 feet, I would guess. I happen to have one of those rather common megalodon teeth, which was given to me when I lived in Key West. It’s almost the size of my hand, proving that suppertime for megalodon was an important matter.

Marine biologists believe the deep-diving megalodons ate whales and large fish, and probably other sharks. According to the British Natural History Museum, “If you are that big you need to eat a lot of food, so large prey is required. This would have included animals as small as dolphins and as large as humpback whales.”

Megalodon teeth are rather common, though their owners are long gone. There are reasons they are found in riverbanks, sandy inlets, and sometimes along beaches, according to biologists. The museum’s website says, “Sharks continually produce teeth throughout their entire lives. Depending on what they eat, sharks lose a set of teeth about every other week, getting through up to 40,000 teeth in their lifetime. This means that shark teeth are continuously raining down onto the ocean floor, increasing the chance that they will get fossilized.”

So, if you consider how many sharks have how many teeth over how many millions of years, and they all float to the bottom of the ocean, then get wave-pushed ashore, then that’s a lot of megalodon teeth around the world and especially in the inlets and beaches of Florida’s west coast.

Where to find megalodon teeth? You can try the shorelines of inlets and streams where they enter the Gulf along the west coast of Florida, especially around the Peace River. According to fossil guides, Florida has several great spots to find megalodon teeth, such as the Peace River basin in DeSoto, Polk and Hardy counties. “In this river, there is proof that millions of years ago when megalodon sharks still existed, pregnant females would go to this river to give birth,” says treasurepursuits.com, another online fossil site.

Shark teeth, including megalodon teeth, have been known to wash ashore on Venice area beaches and inlets, which are south of Sarasota. One can also rent a dive boat and scuba dive the Peace River formation, which pops up just offshore around Venice, south of Sarasota. By the way, the Myakka River, a freshwater river that provides some of the best birdwatching in Florida, meanders in that country.

The Manasota Key area, further down the Gulf Coast, is another hotbed of megalodon teeth. The diving conditions are favorable all months of the year, so hop in the car with your dive gear and head south.