Are sharks older than trees? Believe it or not, they are much older. In fact, the earliest shark fossil evidence dates back to over 400 million years ago.
Read more to revisit the evolution of sharks, from the first known subspecies to today’s predators.
Are Sharks Older Than Trees
Both sharks and trees have existed for millions of years and witnessed many other animal and plant species go extinct. However, as already stated, sharks did exist before trees.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise since life in the deep ocean began 3.7 billion years ago. Sharks may not be the earliest species to exist there, but they rank high on that list. The earliest discovered shark skeleton shows that these predators evolved in the early Silurian period.
Trees, on the other hand, appeared much later. The first known tree originates from the Devonian period, around 385 million years ago, which indicates at least 65–year difference between the first sharks and the first trees.
Even more amusing is that both are significantly older than dinosaurs, let alone humans. In comparison, dinosaurs appeared 230 million years ago, while humans started evolving only seven million years ago.
Although many confuse the Megalodon shark as a dinosaur, it is impossible to classify it as such since Megalodons were first noted long after dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago.
How Long Have Sharks Been Around
How old are sharks as a species? The Acanthonian was the very first ancestor of sharks and started evolving during the Silurian period—450 million years ago— when the ocean was already filled with bony fish. These creatures, widely known as spiny sharks, are the first to develop cartilaginous skeletal structures and the physical characteristics sharks are known for nowadays.
In the early Devonian Era, the first fully developed shark appeared. Although not much is known about the Leonodus shark, scientists believe it was 16 inches long with an eel-like body and most likely occupied freshwaters.
It wasn’t until the late Devonian Era that the first sharks reminiscing those we’d recognize today, the Cladoselache, started evolving. This apex predator had a six-foot long streamlined body with 5-7 gill slits and dorsal fins, all of which are characteristics of the modern-era shark. All these features influence how fast they can swim when hunting for food.
The only notable differences between the Cladoselaches and today’s sharks are that the former had a round nose shape, had no claspers, and their jaws were inflexible and fixed to their skull.
How Did Sharks Survive Five Mass Extinction Events
Now that we know that sharks existed before trees, let’s see how exactly these species could persist in an ever-changing environment.
Until now, five mass extinctions have managed to wipe off some of the world’s most notorious predators, such as dinosaurs, but sharks somehow remained intact despite the changes. How did they survive? Is it due to their sturdy physique?
Scientists believe there is no one size fits all answer to this question. However, one reason seems to pop off as a general theme—sharks are dietary generalists in nature.
These predators eat various foods: planktons, fish, crabs, seals, and whales. This dietary diversity makes them more likely to survive any changes that might occur in the ocean.
Furthermore, they can swim through different parts of the water column—going from the deep, dark oceans to shallow seas and even some river systems.
The historical resilience of sharks seems more likely to become a thing of the past nowadays, as overfishing and climate change threaten their existence. Many subspecies such as the angel shark are under the direct threat of extinction, as there are only several thousand left.
Why Are Fossil Shark Teeth So Common
Shark teeth comprise most of the fossils found of these predator creatures. This is because the jaws are made of dentin—a more rigid material than soft cartilage, the main component of a shark’s skeleton.
Sharks also continuously produce thousands of new teeth throughout their life. If a shark breaks or loses a tooth, it’s soon replaced with a new one.
If we’re talking numbers, these predators usually grow from 20,000 to 40,000 teeth, thus significantly increasing the chance of a tooth rather than any other part of their bodies being found by researchers.
What Was the First Tree on Earth
The now-extinct Archaeopteris is the first tree to ever emerge on our planet. Just like the first fully developed shark, this tree first appeared in the Devonian Era and could grow up to 50 meters. It had a thick trunk with wood that resembled conifers.
First appearing in the Carboniferous Era, Lycopsids are the oldest group of living vascular plants and are tightly connected to their ancestors—Archaeopteris. These peculiar trees reinvented secondary thickening and foliage and are still commonly found in today’s age.
Afterward, just out of the dinosaur era, scientists discovered two venerable ancestors: the Wollemi pine and Ginkgo biloba. The Wollemi pine first appeared 150 million years ago, while the latter is over 290 million years old and is now considered endangered.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are sharks older than the rings of Saturn?
Saturn’s rings were only formed about ten to 100 million years ago. It might be hard to believe, but they’re relatively young compared to the 450 million-year existence of sharks.
Have sharks been around longer than trees?
Yes. While sharks first emerged 450 million years ago in the early Silurian era, the first ever tree appeared 65 million years later in the Devonian period.
How did sharks survive the dinosaur extinction?
Sharks have survived all five mass extinctions thanks to their dietary diversity and ability to swim in different parts of the water column.
Are crocodiles older than trees?
Although crocodiles share a heritage with dinosaurs from the Early Triassic period, the first ever crocodile started to evolve only 95 million years ago, which is nothing compared to the fact that trees have existed for 350 million years.
So, we’ve concluded that sharks are older than trees, and by much. It’s been 100 million years between the appearance of the first sharks and the first trees.
Sharks have existed long before many creatures, including dinosaurs—having lived through five different mass extinctions. The secret to their longevity is attributed to their dietary choices: sharks aren’t picky eaters and, depending on the subspecies, can feed on pretty much anything.