Family's fossil hunting leads to the discovery of a megalodon's 'monster' tooth

Updated

A lucky Florida family found a once-in-a-lifetime fossil that belonged to one of the biggest predators that ever roamed the ocean.

Bricen Columbia, 19, found a 6.5-inch megalodon tooth in South Carolina while fossil hunting with his family and Palmetto Fossil Excursions. On June 10, the tour group posted a photo of the tooth to Facebook.

"Can you say MONSTER?!" it wrote.

The tooth, which is the size of a soup bowl, belonged to a shark that was around 60 to 65 feet long, the tour company's co-owner, Skye Basak, told USA TODAY.

"I honestly couldn't believe it," Columbia told USA TODAY. "The tooth just kept growing in size."

More young fossil hunters: Three boys discovered teenage T. rex fossil in northern US: 'Incredible dinosaur discovery'

Family of fossil hunters

The Columbia family, a family of four from Largo, Florida, were driving to Tennessee, where Leyton, Columbia's little brother, and his baseball team played in a baseball tournament.

"Our oldest son had convinced us since we were going up to that general direction, to sidebar over to South Carolina to do some fossil hunting," said Bricen's dad, Paul Columbia.

Bricen Columbia followed the tour guides online and said he wanted to go there because of the unique characteristic teeth found in a certain part of their property.

"I've heard good things about them," said Columbia. "They have this place called the Lightning Site and it gives the teeth like white veins all throughout the tooth. I've always wanted to find teeth like that."

Aside from the huge tooth, the family found 30 more teeth, a lot of which have the white veins the teen was looking for.

The other shark teeth they found belonged to the Otodus angustidens, a direct ancestor of the Megalodon, and teeth from today's Mako sharks.

The family adds the shark teeth they find to a big frame, but they have to wait a bit before they can frame this one.

The monstrous tooth was broken into pieces. So, they sent the tooth to get repaired. But, once it's returned, it will be displayed in a frame of its own.

A 'unicorn find'

According to the Smithsonian, sharks are cartilaginous, meaning their skeleton is entirely made up of cartilage. So, they don't leave behind bony fossils like dinosaurs or humans would. So, when people find remnants of the ancient sharks that are that big, it's a big deal.

Basak called the tooth a "unicorn find."

"What you call a 'unicorn' is when you reach what is considered a maximum size for a particular species," said Basak. "It's something that, as a fossil hunter, you're lucky to find one of in your lifetime."

She and her husband take people fossil hunting on their private property every day and said that folks have a good chance of finding shark teeth that are 2 inches or bigger, but the tooth the Columbia family found is rare.

"When you get into the realm of finding 6-inch megs, that's when you start dropping the percentage of likely hood down significantly," said Basak. "Basically, fossil hunters are lucky if they come across a 6-inch meg in their entire life."

People who dive for fossils have a better chance of finding the large tooth, but finding one on land is "so incredibly rare," she adds.

The family's tooth was located near the spot where Basak found a 7.2-inch meg tooth.

In the eight months that Basak and her company have been running excursions on the property, they've found it had multiple unicorn finds, but Basak doesn't know why.

"I've never seen anything like it," she said.

The preservation of teeth from sharks

"Although shark teeth are abundant in the fossil record, their bodies are rarely preserved," states a 2022 study.

Megalodons, which swam through our planet's ocean around 60 million years ago, don't have skeletons similar to other prehistoric creatures, like a T. rex, would have. Since its "bones" were made of cartilage, its body couldn't preserve itself as well as its teeth. And, while rare, those teeth are massive.

"It would've only taken about two to three teeth to cut you in half," said Basak.

Family's advice for fossil hunters

"Be respectful of the land," said the fossil hunting dad. "You know they're there for a reason but enjoy what you're doing."

People should go fossil hunting with a tour guide, he said and encouraged folks to do it together with friends and family.

"It's more fun to do it as a group, especially with family," he said. "We're thankful that we were all together to actually do it."

Parents with kiddos who want to try their hand at fossil hunting should just go for it, according to Bricen Columbia's mom, Dayna.

"It's a lot of work," she said. "But once you start finding them, the excitement on the kid's face is worth it," she said.

To get to the fossils, aspiring hunters have to move a lot of dirt to find what they're looking for, but they shouldn't feel discouraged if they don't find anything.

"Read as much as you can and continue at it," said Paul Bricen. "And one day keep living that dream until you find the big one."

Julia is a trending reporter for USA TODAY. She has covered various topics, from local businesses and government in her hometown, Miami, to tech and pop culture. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on X, formerly TwitterInstagram and TikTok: @juliamariegz

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Megalodon shark tooth fossil found by family vacationing in SC

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