What was the Largest Predator?

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When we think of big predators, this big guy, Tyrannosaurus rex, is probably the first to come to mind. Is it really as big as predators got?

What is the largest predator that ever lived?

Some may eagerly respond, “Oh, Oh! I know this one! Tyrannosaurus rex!”

That would immediately be followed up by someone noting, “No, it’s not Tyrannosaurus rex. Gigantosaurus and Spinosaurus were both bigger. Spinosaurus is the largest predator that every lived.”

Actually, none of those are correct. Those answers focus on the largest land creature (or semi-aquatic creature, in the case of Spinosaurus). The largest predator that every lived was not a land creature.

“Oh, well in that case, it is Megalodon, the gigantic great white shark.”

Unfortunately, that is not the answer either (plus, megalodon is not a genus name nor was it a great white: more on those in just a moment). What if I were to tell you that the largest predator to every live is still alive today?The largest predator to every live is the sperm whale. While they have an average size of 52 feet in length, they can get up to 65 feet long. While we may not envision sperm whales as a great predator, they are definitely predatory. Their favored prey are squid of all sizes. They are famous for clashing with the giant squid, which they are known to kill and eat. However, they take any squid of any size that they can find, and they take other prey, as well (mostly fish).

How do sperm whales catch and kill giant squids? It is not really known. Giant squids have been found in the stomachs of sperm whales, so we know it happens, but aside from a few anecdotes, no one has observed a sperm whale hunt a giant squid. It is known that sperm whales are deep divers, plunging down to depths of 7,000 feet. At such depths, they would have to rely on echolocation to find anything, as sunlight cannot reach that deep into water.

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Reconstructed jaws of megalodon.

While sperm whales are predators, they only have teeth on their lower jaws, which again, contributes to the mystery of how they catch giant squid. Certainly, small prey could be grabbed by holding them against the toothless upper jaw and then swallowed whole.Now, just because the sperm whale is the largest living predator, I do not want to overlook other gigantic predators, so let us talk a little bit about megalodon. First of all, notice that I have written its name in normal text (not italicized) and have not capitalized the name. That is because an italicized name that is capitalized means that name is the genus of a creature. For example, Tyrannosaurus is the genus of Tyrannosaurus rex (in case you are wondering, the second part, “rex,” is the species name). Megalodon is not the genus name of the shark, though some thought it was once upon a time. Now, megalodon’s scientific name is Otodus megalodon, so “megalodon” is actually the species name. Also, megalodon is not a great white shark. It actually belonged to an extinct great of sharks called Otodontidae. This family still belonged in the order that contains the great white shark, but megalodon would have been no more related to it than it was to a mako shark or a thresher shark.  

With a maximus length of 52.5 feet, megalodon was big, but not quite as big as the sperm whale. With its large, slicing teeth, it may have tackled larger prey. Megalodon is though to have specialized in hunting and eating whales, as in, the large baleen whales. Thus, it may be surprising to learn that that is another big-toothed marine predator similar in size to megalodon that also probably preyed on large whales.

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The skull of Livyatan, a macropredatory sperm whale. Image found on Wikimedia Commons, photograph from Hectonichus.

This other gigantic predator is Livyatan. The full scientific name is Livyatan melvillei, and yes, that species name is taken from Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick. The reason this beast is named after Melville is because it was a sperm whale (emphasis on was: Livyatan is now extinct). However, unlike the modern sperm whale, it had teeth in its lower and upper jaws, and its teeth were over a foot long! It is thought that this creature would have behaved more like a killer whale than a modern sperm whale, so its diet probably included large whales. With a maximum length estimated at 57 feet, it would have been an intimidating predator.It was explained how the species name melville was named after Herman Melville, but the genus name, Livyatan, is also named after something that may be familiar. Try reading the name out loud. Does it sound familiar? It is the latinized version of leviathan, the great sea beast described in Job 41. Could Livyatan be the real leviathan? Probably not. The creature God describes to Job appears to be a different creature altogether. It appears to be something that had some kind of armor on its body, as well as may have been able to come up on land. Nevertheless, Livyatan would have been an intimidating predator, as was megalodon, and even the sperm whale. While these creatures are probably not the Biblical leviathan, they still remind us of the power of our Creator, for if He is able to create creatures as big and as powerful as these, how much more powerful must He be?