A Toothsome Tale

Yes, there was advanced life after the demise of the trilobites. Although in Cincinnati we revel in the toothless wonders, Mark Renz, author of Megalodon, Hunting the Hunter, shows us that there were indeed impressive predators in the ancient seas.

Megalodon, Hunting the Hunter was published in 2002 by PaleoPress. It is an 8-1/2 x 11 softcover book of 161 pages. The book can be purchased through PaleoPress for $24.95.

Mark Renz is an amateur paleontologist. He also guides groups and individuals on collecting trips for vertebrate material in Florida. The Foreword and Introduction for Megalodon contain numerous accolades from paleontologists and other authors for this book and for the work Renz has done. Renz is also the author of Fossiling in Florida: A Guide for Diggers and Divers published by the University Press of Florida.

Megalodon is a must have book for fanciers of fossil shark teeth as well as those who are fascinated by sharks in general. Renz has dedicated Megalodon to nine individuals including professional and amateur shark researchers. Many of the teeth photographed for this book are in the collections of these individuals.

Renz has written Megalodon for the general reader so it is an easy read while being quite educational. By necessity there are scientific names to deal with but that should not phase a true enthusiast. A short list defining the few difficult terms used is included at the back of the book.

Had I known of Renz before my last Florida trip I would have been much more successful at hunting shark teeth. I might even have found one from Carcharodon megalodon - or “Meg” as the aficionados call her. Chapter 7 is devoted to describing sites for collecting Meg teeth worldwide. This was one of the new pieces of knowledge I gained from Megalodon. I had not realized that C. megalodon teeth were found all over the world. Site information includes directions and tips including the other fossils that can be found while searching for Meg teeth. Renz relates a chilling experience of finding modern teeth attached to a live alligator while dive collecting in the Peace River in Florida. No one was eaten - at least on that trip. It does seem that you will generally have to get wet to find the really big teeth with any degree of success.

Renz covers a wide range of topics through Megalodon to pull the whole story together. He begins with a plausible but fictional account of baby Megs feasting on abundant aquatic mammals in an ancient Florida bay. Fancy or not, this story is a possible explanation for small Meg teeth and dugong bones found in a concentrated area.

To help the reader comprehend the complete story of Meg, Renz’s chapter “Evolution Happens” is a basic guide to the science of paleontology. There are no long detailed explanations here but the critical areas are covered to the level of detail that is needed for the target audience. This chapter has sections as basic as “What are Fossils?” and “How Does Fossilization Work” to age determination of fossils. I liked the way Renz acknowledged the presence of Creationists while keeping Megalodon on scientific grounds saying, “Science at its best isn’t perfect, but we have yet to come up with a more accurate method of defining the natural world.”

The evolution of C. megalodon is actually covered in an earlier chapter than the “Evolution Happens” chapter. Here you will find out why it is best to refer to Meg scientifically as C. megalodon as opposed to Carcharodon megalodon. In true scientific fashion, two camps of paleontologists disagree with each other as to the evolutionary development of Meg. While Carcharodon has been the genus of choice for many years, one group claims that Meg belongs in the genus Carcharocles. By using the accepted custom of using the first initial of the genus when referring to Meg we can not be wrong in either case as C. megalodon is the same as C. megalodon regardless! The older reference to Carcharodon is based upon including Meg in the same genus as the modern Great White shark Carcharodon carcharias.

One of the fascinating parts of Megalodon is the chapter on pathologies (natural abnormalities) in shark teeth. As in the rest of the book, this chapter is full of photographs that will amaze you. There were some real snaggle-toothed sharks swimming around. Renz explains and illustrates true pathological abnormalities from physical damage.

Renz includes a chapter for fun too. He compares and ranks the fiercest creatures of all time to establish just who should be able to claim bragging rights to the “Baddest of the Bad.” Besides Meg, we get to rate T. rex and other giant dinosaur carnivores alongside the giant crocs and Pliosaurs.

At the end of Megalodon Renz has listed various resources to aid readers in learning more. Among these are books, fossil clubs by state (including the Dry Dredgers), museums by state, movies, and web sites. A short bibliography follows these lists.

I can’t end this review without saying more about the exceptional photographs and artwork in Megalodon. The book is jammed with illustrations to the point that there may be more surface covered with them than with text. You will see photographs of the absolute best shark teeth specimens ever found including some in color. One complete chapter is dedicated as a photo gallery of Meg teeth, the teeth of Meg’s evolutionary ancestors, teeth of other sharks and other contemporary marine creatures. From my limited experience of collecting shark teeth, I found it difficult to identify many positively to particular species. Renz and other shark experts would appear not to have this problem. At least in some cases they can tell the position within the shark’s mouth of an isolated tooth.

As I stated a the beginning of this review, Megalodon is a book for shark and shark tooth fanciers. It is easily read, entertaining, and a source of accurate information about one of the scariest fish that ever lived. What could be more impressive than a 60 foot long shark with 7 inch teeth and an 8 foot wide mouth!

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