Dinosaurs may have stopped roaming the earth millions of years ago, but the progeny of their ancestors live on. Great white sharks and Nile crocodiles are two of the largest predators on the planet, and they can also trace back their family tree to before the time that dinosaurs began to dominate the world in the Triassic period more than 200 million years ago.
The ancestors of modern sharks were able to survive all five known mass extinction events throughout the earth’s life. Early fossil records discovered in Siberia and Mongolia reveal shark-like marine predators that would have existed 420 million years ago, almost twice as old as the earliest dinosaurs.
Around 100 million years ago during the mid-Cretaceous arose the first sharks that we would be able to recognize as similar to the species we see today. They ranged far off from the shore, swimming fast and aggressively overtaking prey. By the late Cretaceous, lamnoid sharks roughly the size of a great white came about.
Megalodon was the most fearsome of the sharks, stretching up to 50 or even 65 feet long. At one time people thought the Megalodon was an ancestor to the great white, but now they suspect that the great white and the Megalodon could have cohabitated for as long as 10 million years. Staring into the eyes of a great white, you can almost see the savage history of their species as they patrolled the oceans since before man first walked the earth.
Crocodiles are more directly related to dinosaurs. In fact, since crocs are members of the archosaur family along with birds, they could easily be considered some of the last living dinosaurs.
Like dinosaurs, Crocodilians are cold-blooded and featured thick dermal layers like armor. The order encompasses the family Crocodylidae, which includes proper crocodiles like the Nile crocodile. This family began in the very late Cretaceous period — over 65 million years ago.
Since then, scientists believe that not a whole lot has changed with the appearance of crocs and their scaly cousins. During the early to mid-Cretaceous before that time, Crocodilians had an incredible amount of variety. Their morphological variations included ocean crocs, herbivorous crocs and even a fast-moving predatorial croc that walked on two legs. Try getting that image out of your head!
Seeing the Living Dinos in Action
South Africa has a host of viewing opportunities for seeing great white sharks in action; some would say the best in the world. Cage diving and eco tours are available to find some of the densest great white populations on the planet located near Dyer Island, Gansbaai and Cape Town.
Since Nile crocodiles are present throughout Africa, spotting them on your African safari tour should not be hard at all. The wildebeest migration that crosses through the Mara River often presents spectacular and heart-stopping encounters between the two species. Crocs are also prevalent along the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Going that far is not that necessary, either, considering there are plentiful crocs hanging around Kruger and other places nearby South Africa.
Visit our African safari vacation packages page to find the crocodile safari or shark viewing tour that you would want to see most, and catch these living prehistoric monsters in action.
Meta desc: Great white sharks and Nile crocodiles are two of earth’s largest predators, and they can also trace back their family trees to before the time of dinosaurs more than 200 million years ago.
Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa