Carcharodontosaurus, the "Great White Shark" Dinosaur

Dmitry Bogdanov

Carcharodontosaurus, the "Great White Shark lizard," certainly has a fearsome name, but that doesn't mean it springs as readily to mind as other plus-sized meat-eaters like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Giganotosaurus. On the following slides, you'll discover fascinating facts about this little-known Cretaceous carnivore. fascinating facts about this little-known Cretaceous carnivore.

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Carcharodontosaurus Was Named After the Great White Shark

Great White Shark

Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 3.0 

Around 1930, the famous German paleontologist Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach discovered the partial skeleton of a meat-eating dinosaur in Egypt―on which he bestowed the name Carcharodontosaurus, "Great White Shark lizard," after its long, shark-like teeth. However, von Reichenbach couldn't claim Carcharodontosaurus as "his" dinosaur, since virtually identical teeth had been discovered a dozen or so years before (about which more in slide #6).

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Carcharodontosaurus May (or May Not) Have Been Bigger Than T. Rex

Sameer Prehistorica

Because of its limited fossil remains, Carcharodontosaurus is one of those dinosaurs whose length and weight is especially difficult to estimate. A generation ago, paleontologists flirted with the idea that this theropod was as big, or bigger than, Tyrannosaurus Rex, measuring up to 40 feet from head to tail and weighing as much as 10 tons. Today, more modest estimates put the "Great White Shark lizard" at 30 or so feet long and five tons, a couple of tons less than the biggest T. Rex specimens.

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The Type Fossil of Carcharodontosaurus Was Destroyed in World War II

Carcharodontosaurus Skull

Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 3.0

Not only human beings suffer the depredations of war: in 1944, the stored remains of Carcharodontosaurus (the ones discovered by Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach) were destroyed in an Allied raid on the German city of Munich. Since then, paleontologists have had to content themselves with plaster casts of the original bones, supplemented by a near-complete skull discovered in Morocco in 1995 by the globe-trotting American paleontologist Paul Sereno.

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Carcharodontosaurus Was a Close Relative of Giganotosaurus

Giganotosaurus, Royal Tyrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada
Peter Langer / Getty Images

The biggest meat-eating dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era lived not in North America (sorry, T. Rex!) but in South America and Africa. As large as it was, Carcharodontosaurus was no match for a closely related occupant of the carnivorous dinosaur family tree, the ten-ton Giganotosaurus of South America. Somewhat leveling the honors, though, this latter dinosaur is technically classified by paleontologists as a "carcharodontosaurid" theropod.

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Carcharodontosaurus Was Initially Classified as a Species of Megalosaurus

A Carcharodontosaurus tooth

Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 3.0

For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, pretty much any large, meat-eating dinosaur that lacked any distinctive characteristics was classified as a species of Megalosaurus, the first theropod ever identified. Such was the case with Carcharodontosaurus, which was dubbed M. saharicus by the pair of fossil-hunters who discovered its teeth in 1924 in Algeria. When Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach renamed this dinosaur (see slide #2), he changed its genus name but preserved its species name: C. saharicus.

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There Are Two Named Species of Carcharodontosaurus

James Kuether

In addition to C. saharicus (see previous slide), there is a second named species of Carcharodontosaurus, C. iguidensis, erected by Paul Sereno on 2007. In most respects (including its size) virtually identical to C. saharicus, C. iguidensis had a differently shaped braincase and upper jaw. (For a while, Sereno claimed that another carcharodontosaurid dinsoaur, Sigilmassasaurus, was actually a Carcharodontosaurus species, an idea that has since been shot down.)

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Carcharodontosaurus Lived in the Middle Cretaceous Period

Carcharodontosaurus dinosaur in the Sahara region of Africa
Corey Ford/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

One of the odd things about giant meat-eaters like Carcharodontosaurus (not to mention its close and not-so-close relatives, such as Giganotosaurus and Spinosaurus) is that they lived in the middle, rather than the late, Cretaceous period, about 110 to 100 million years ago. What this means is that the size and bulk of meat-eating dinosaurs peaked a full 40 million years before the K/T Extinction, only plus-sized tyrannosaurs like T. Rex carrying on the tradition of gigantism to the very end of the Mesozoic Era.

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Carcharodontosaurus Had a Relatively Small Brain for its Size


Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 3.0

Like its fellow meat-eaters of the middle Cretaceous period, Carcharodontosaurus wasn't exactly a stand-out student, endowed with a slightly smaller-than-average brain for its size―about the same proportion as Allosaurus, which lived tens of millions of years earlier. (We know this thanks to scans of the braincase of C. saharicus, conducted in 2001). Carcharodontosaurus did, however, possess a fairly large optic nerve, meaning it probably had very good eyesight.

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Carcharodontosaurus Is Sometimes Called the "African T. Rex"

Tyrannosaurus Rex

  Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 3.0

If you hired an advertising agency to come up with a branding campaign for Carcharodontosaurus, the result might well be "The African T. Rex," a not-uncommon description of this dinosaur up until a couple of decades ago. It's catchy, but misleading: Carcharodontosaurus wasn't technically a tyrannosaur (a family of carnivores native to North America and Eurasia), and if you really wanted to designate an African T. Rex, a better choice might be the even bigger Spinosaurus!

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Carcharodontosaurus Was a Distant Descendant of Allosaurus


 Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

As far as paleontologists can tell, the giant carcharodontosaurid dinosaurs of Africa and North and South America (including Carcharodontosaurus, Acrocanthosaurus, and Giganotosaurus) were all distant descendants of Allosaurus, the apex predator of late Jurassic North America and western Europe. The evolutionary precursors of Allosaurus itself are a bit more mysterious, reaching tens of millions of years back to the first true dinosaurs of middle Triassic South America.

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Strauss, Bob. "Carcharodontosaurus, the "Great White Shark" Dinosaur." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Strauss, Bob. (2021, February 16). Carcharodontosaurus, the "Great White Shark" Dinosaur. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Carcharodontosaurus, the "Great White Shark" Dinosaur." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 29, 2023).