Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Shark teeth: Jaw-dropping finds abound in Florida

LUTZ

A 9-year-old boy created a sensation recently when he found a 5-inch-long prehistoric shark tooth on Egmont Key.

But to anyone with a long memory — say 20-million years or so — it should come as no surprise. Florida is an old seabed that spent eons beneath teeming ocean waters, several times over. Millions of sharks swam above, and many more of their teeth eventually sank to the bottom.

The former ocean floor is now lined with highways and studded with condominiums, but the jagged relics of ancient sharks still lie beneath our feet. And not just along the coast, but in places like Egmont Key or Venice.

"I can find them anywhere in Florida," said Michael Searle, head of the Tampa Bay Fossil Club.

Floridians also have found fossilized remains from other fish, as well as bones from land animals like horses, saber-toothed cats and mastodons. Still, there's a key difference with sharks.

"Over the entire lifetime of a shark, they can produce thousands and thousands of teeth," said Richard Hulbert, collections manager for vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. "Sometimes they've been referred to as tooth factories."

That's why prehistoric shark teeth are so plentiful, making them the classic Florida fossil.

"In the right place, you can, in just a matter of a few hours, find dozens of fossilized shark teeth … or if you're more lucky, whale or manatee-type fossils, giving you an idea of what was swimming over Florida thousands to millions of years ago," Hulbert said.

There are several hot spots in the state for shark teeth, including the "four corners" area of Hillsborough, Manatee, Hardee and Polk counties, various creeks north of Gainesville, the Jacksonville area and the beaches around Venice.

The Tampa Bay Fossil Club makes regular pilgrimages to the Peace River 50 miles inland because of the rich finds there. This time of year, they say, is good for fossil hunting before summer rains raise the river levels.

You also don't have to go far.

Searle said he went fossil hunting a few years ago, with permission, at the Safety Harbor construction site for an addition to Mease Countryside Hospital.

"We probably found hundreds and hundreds of shark teeth," Searle said, including one that was about 5 inches long. All in a single day.

That's not to say you can find shark teeth just anywhere. Fossil hunters, like gold diggers, expect to come up empty on some trips. And even when they do find shark teeth, they're usually not the awe-inspiring 5-inch choppers that belonged to a giant, extinct megalodon. Many fossil shark teeth would not cover your fingernail.

So can anyone guess how many shark teeth are in Florida?

"I couldn't even try," said Peter Harries, a geology professor at the University of South Florida. "A googol — I don't know. There's just a ton of them … more than Bill Gates has dollars."

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@sptimes.com.

>>fast facts

Where to find shark teeth

• Probably the best place for a novice to go is Sarasota County, especially to Venice Beach or Casperson Beach. Get an old colander or a screen. Walk into the water and look for a small ridge of sand where the waves break. Sift the sand like you're panning for gold. Fossilized shark teeth will usually be black. Many are smaller than a fingernail.

• The Peace River also is known as a good place for finding fossils, including shark teeth. Here are two spots near Arcadia, in De Soto County: De Soto Park on State Road 70 on the west side of the Peace River just west of Arcadia; and Brownville Park, which can be found by driving 6 or 7 miles north of downtown Arcadia on State Road 17 and turning left on Brownville Street. Follow the safety tips below.

• To learn more, visit the Tampa Bay Fossil Club. It meets on the first Saturday of the month in Room 103 of the Behavioral Sciences Building at the University of South Florida in Tampa. A fossil-hunting trip to the Peace River is scheduled for May 17, weather permitting. For more information, go to tampabayfossilclub.com.

Safety tips: Don't hunt in rivers unless the water is less than waist deep. As summer rains set in, the rivers will rise too high for safe searching. Wear old tennis shoes in the water. If you go with children, supervise them at all times. Remember: the ancient sharks are dead, but alligators and snakes are very much alive, so watch out for them. Try to find an experienced fossil hunter to come with you the first couple of times.

FINDING OTHER FOSSILS: If you are hunting for fossils other than shark teeth, you generally need a permit from the state. More information is available at flmnh.ufl.edu/vertpaleo/vppermit.htm.

Shark teeth: Jaw-dropping finds abound in Florida 05/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 9:29am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Irma roughs up endangered snail kites, birds that help us gauge the Everglades' health

    Wildlife

    Hurricane Irma was as rough on some wildlife as it was on the humans. Audubon of Florida reported Thursday that the storm destroyed all 44 nests around Lake Okeechobee built by the endangered Everglades snail kite, a bird considered crucial to the River of Grass ecosystem.

    Hurricane Irma destroyed 44 snail kite nests, capping off a poor mating season for the endangered species, which is seen as an important barometer of the health of the Florida Everglades. Their off-center beaks allow them to probe inside the spiral shells of the native apple snails. But the snails' population has dropped as the Everglades has changed. [MAC STONE | Audubon of Florida]
  2. New center opens in Tampa to help those with missing, damaged limbs

    Veterans

    TAMPA — Justin Lansford, his service dog Gabe by his side, smiled broadly Thursday as he imagined the future of a sprawling, resource center for people who need artificial limbs and those interested in helping them.

    Justin Lansford, 27, lost his left leg above the knee in Afghanistan. He was one of dozens of people attending the opening of the Veterans International Institute of Orthotics & Prosthetics in Tampa on Thursday. [HOWARD ALTMAN   |   Staff]
  3. Still worried about family, Tampa Bay Puerto Ricans ramp up relief effort

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — Brenda Irizarry is worried.

    Brenda Irizarry of Tampa, while agonizing over the status of family in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, is helping lead an effort to collect and send supplies to the island. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
]
  4. Was it a crime? 10 patients at nursing home died after Irma

    News

    HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — A 10th elderly patient has died after being kept inside a nursing home that turned into a sweatbox when Hurricane Irma knocked out its air conditioning for three days, even though just across the street was a fully functioning and cooled hospital.

    The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, 1200 N. 35th Ave. [EMILHY MICHOT | Miami Herald]
  5. Oh, Florida! Irma's gone, but she left behind plenty of lessons for us

    Columns

    I don't want to make light of the misery and death that Hurricane Irma inflicted on Florida this month. A lot of it was ugly, and some of it was downright criminal. We saw greed and pettiness on display, and it brought illness and death.

    Tampa Bay Times staff writer Craig Pittman.