Carcharodontosaurus skull. Photo by Franko Fonseca.

Throughout the tumultuous history of this roaring Earth, millions of species have risen and fallen over millions of years. Some of these species were docile and harmless, but others were violent and dangerous. These violent and dangerous species include the biggest and baddest predators that ever dominated the planet. Let’s turn back the clock and take a look at some of the deadliest predators throughout Earth’s history, from sea scorpions to giant sharks…

Sea Scorpions

Eurypterus. Illustration by Dimitris Siskopoulos.

Sea scorpions were some of the first predators to stalk the ancient seas, and they were the largest of all arthropods. They were not true scorpions, but they were arachnids, which include scorpions, spiders, and horseshoe crabs.

Reigning for over 200 millions years, sea scorpions were among the world’s most formidable invertebrates until they were wiped out in the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event.

Toothed Whales

Skull cast of Livyatan melvillei. Photo by Hectonichus.

While giant snakes and terror birds appeared on land after the extinction of the dinosaurs, a group of mammals returned to the sea and evolved into what are now known as whales. Today, we generally think of whales as gentle giants, but for a few million years, whales were anything but gentle.

Basilosaurus was an ancient whale that grew up to 59 feet (18 meters) and ate sharks and other whales. Meanwhile, Livyatan melvillei was 57 foot (17.5 meter) an ancient sperm whale that preyed upon 33 foot (10 meter) sharks, dolphins, seals, and other whales. That is decidedly more badass than modern sperms whales, which primarily eat giant squid.


Megalodon shark jaws. Public Domain.

Sharks have existed for 420 million years, and throughout those years, they have been top predators in Earth’s ever-changing seas. Yet, 23 million years ago, the biggest shark (and the biggest and most powerful predator in vertebrate history) appeared in the ancient seas, feasting upon whales, dolphins, pinnipeds, among other sea creatures.

Based on the size of Megalodon’s teeth, scientists believe that could attain lengths of 59 feet (18 meters). That’s more than twice the size of the biggest great white sharks! Luckily for us, these massive marine megasharks went extinct 2.6 million years ago.


Megalania (Varanus priscus) skull. Photo by Steven G. Johnson.

In ancient Australia, a gigantic 23 foot (7 meter) lizard attacked equally gigantic marsupials.

Known as Megalania or Varanus priscus, this lizard was a monitor lizard, which includes the infamous Komodo dragon of today. Like modern monitor lizards, Megalania was probably venomous, and the first Aboriginal settlers to arrive in Australia may have encountered them before they went extinct 50,000 years ago.


Smilodon fatalis. Render by Daniel Reed.

Today, big cats such as lions and tigers are revered and feared, and in places where they exist, they are apex predators. However, 10,000 years ago, a sabre-toothed cat known as Smilodon roamed the Americas, and it had a pair of sharp fangs far larger than any modern cat.

Additionally, with some Smilodon species weighing up to 880 pounds (400 kilograms), these cats are believed to be the largest felids that ever existed.


Dimetrodon. Illustration by Dmitry Bogdanov.

While the sea scorpions prowled the Permian seas, Dimetrodon prowled the Permian terrain and was one of the top predators of its time.

Despite resembling a dinosaur, Dimetrodon actually lived and died before the dinosaurs even appeared. On top of that, this reptilian carnivore was related to mammals.


Kronosaurus hunt. Illustration by Dmitry Bogdanov.

Pliosaurs were short-necked plesiosaurs with huge teeth and jaws.

They terrorized Jurassic and Cretaceous seas alongside the terrestrial dinosaurs, and few animals were off the menu. Fish, sharks, icthyosaurs, dinosaurs, and other plesiosaurs were all fair game.


Tylosaurus pembinensis. Illustration by Dmitry Bogdanov.

When the pliosaurs went extinct in the middle Cretaceous, they left a void in the late Cretaceous marine ecosystems.

However, that void did not remain empty for long. Mosasaurs became the dominant predators in Cretaceous seas up until the extinction of the dinosaurs. The largest mosasaurs may have reached 56 feet (17 meters) in length, and they ate anything they could fit in their enormous jaws.

Carnivorous Dinosaurs

Spinosaurus. Illustration by Durbed.

Naturally, the deadliest and most famous of all of Earth’s predators were the dinosaurs, which ruled the planet up until the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event 66 million years ago.

Carnivorous dinosaurs were among the largest of all terrestrial predators, especially Spinosaurs, which could attain a length of 50 feet (15 meters)! That’s more than twice the size of today’s largest terrestrial predator, the saltwater crocodile.


Titanoboa eating a crocodile. Photo by Ryan Somma.

After the extinction of the dinosaurs, another huge reptile gained foothold: titanoboa. Growing to lengths of 42 feet (12.8 meters), titanoboa was the largest snake that ever lived.

Scientists previously considered it an apex predator of its era, but later findings revealed that it was primarily piscivorous (fish-eating). Nevertheless, we wouldn’t want to test this theory to find out.

Terror Birds

Kelenken. Illustration by Michael B.H.

Alongside titanboa, another group of devastating predators rose up in the wake of the dinosaurs’ extinction. These animals, the Phorusrhacids, were also known as “terror birds”, and they were not too far removed from their dinosaur relatives.

These birds were flightless and carnivorous, and they had curved beaks designed for tearing flesh. They existed for 60 million years and only recently went extinct 1.8 million years ago.


Andrewsarchus. Public Domain.

41 million years ago, a mammal known as Andrewsarchus stalked the Eocene landscape. Based on the size of its skull, Andrewsarchus is believed to have been the largest terrestrial mammalian carnivore on Earth.

Despite its wolf-like appearance, Andrewsarchus was actually closely related to hippos and whales.


Image: Wikimedia Commons

During the Cambrian Era, the oceans were teeming with wildlife although the land remained a rocky and barren landscape. This time period served as a crucial moment in Earth’s evolution and witnessed the deadly invertebrate known as Anomalocaris, the largest predator on the planet.

Its rounded mouth boasted razor-sharp rows of plated teeth and its long segmented body resembled no animal alive today.