CALVERT COUNTY, Md. — Molly Sampson might just be the world's most adorable fossil-hunting paleontologist. Not to mention the luckiest. And the youngest.
Molly is 9 years old. On Christmas morning, she unwrapped a gift she had been hoping to receive, insulated waders. (It's not certain whether Santa had left them, or the Tooth Fairy.) Molly put them on, and joined her family for their latest fossil-hunting trip to Chesapeake Bay near Maryland's Calvert Cliffs State Park.
And there in knee-deep water, she found it. A megalodon shark tooth bigger than her hand. Maybe 15 million years old, an expert believes. From a long-extinct sea predator that could have been 50 feet long, with jaws big enough to swallow a dolphin whole.
Molly and her family took the tooth to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland. The museum's paleontology department confirmed the extraordinary find, congratulated the young fossil-hunter and posted photos on its Facebook page.
Stephen Godfrey is curator of paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum. He told CBS News that Molly's tooth belonged to Otodus megalodon, a now-extinct shark species that was perhaps the largest marine predator the world has ever known.
Molly's mother, Alicia Sampson, said this is her daughter's biggest discovery, but certainly not her first. "[Molly] has found over 400 teeth in her 9 years, ranging from teeny tiny to an inch or two - and now with this one, which is 5 inches," Sampson told CBS News.
"She has always wanted to find a 'Meg,' but for whatever reason, she spoke it into existence on Christmas morning."
Sampson wrote on Facebook, "I'm pretty sure Molly is feeling like this is the best Christmas ever... This tooth was in the water, so thanks to the waders she got the best part of her present!"