The animal kingdom sees so many examples of ridiculously long lifespans, and yet we are unaware that they exists. Yes, we eat some of them too, and yes tortoises come last on this list!
Some animals live up to 100 years, and some are… immortal? Surprisingly, it’s not just slow-moving tortoises that have long lifespans. There is a whole range of animals from clams to birds that can live longer than the normal human lifespan. Most exhibit a property called biological senescence- a process of cell regeneration that virtually nullifies the effects of ageing. They can, of course, die from illnesses, predation and other factors; but old age takes a long time to act on these hardy creatures.
1. Ocean Quahog (200-500 years)
This clam tops the list as it has one of the longest lifespans recorded of any marine non-vertebrate (excluding the immortal ones). It is a species of edible clam found in the North Atlantic Ocean. The ocean quahog is one of the longest-lived marine organisms with a normal life span of at least 200-300 years.
Fact: The oldest ocean quahog, whose nickname is ‘Ming’, was pulled off the coast of Iceland and when its annual growth rings were counted, it was 507 years old!
2. The Immortal Jellyfish (immortal)
This jellyfish, the Turritopsis dohrnii, literally says “not today” to death, repeatedly, forever. This jellyfish can transform back into its sexually immature state after becoming sexually mature and reproducing. This means it can literally reverse age itself and then grow again- and then reverse age again, and grow again, and on and on virtually… forever?
Fact: It can also regress into its ‘polyp’ (sexually immature) state when it is starved, injured, or the temperature or salinity changes. If something goes wrong in its adult life, it just turns back into a kid and starts again- an extremely unfair ability that everyone is jealous of.
3. Greenland Shark (300-500 years)
These large Northern Atlantic sharks have the longest lifespan of all vertebrates, living up to 500 years. They reach sexual maturity only after 150 years- a pretty long childhood to have. One of the oldest individual sharks studied was found to be potentially 512 years old!
Fact: These sharks are adapted to live at extreme depths and thus contain trimethylamine N-oxide in their flesh, making their meat toxic to consume. However, in Iceland, the meat is treated and the toxicity levels are reduced, and this shark is consumed as a delicacy.
4. Bowhead Whale (>200 years)
These huge marine mammals are considered to be the longest-living mammals. Their lifespan was not generally assumed to be very long, until one specimen of the whale was found, in 2007, with a harpoon embedded in its blubber that was manufactured in the 1880s. This caused scientists to study in depth bowhead whale longevity and discovered that they normally live to over 200 years!
Fact: Bowhead whales have the largest mouth and jaw of any animal currently existing! It is one-third of its body length!
5. Hyacinth Macaw (30-70 years)
Hyacinth macaws or blue macaws get a special mention, as the only bird on this list. Their longevity, however, depends on if they are in the wild or living as pets. In the wild their lifespan is considerably shorter, averaging at 30 years, but as pets, they can live for up to 60-70 years.
Fact: Charlie, a famous blue macaw living in Surrey, England, has broken all the rules of its species and is currently alive at 117 years old!
6. Red Sea Urchin (200 years)
This spiny, underwater member of the Echinoidea family, is not only a very popular delicacy, but has many individuals reaching up to 200 years of age, and still being in good bodily condition.
Fact: Researchers assumed that red sea urchins lived for 7-12 years, however as age-determination techniques advanced, they discovered that they were completely wrong and that these are some of the longest-lived creatures currently existing.
7. Rougheye Rockfish (200 years)
Like other related species of rockfish, the rougheye rockfish has a relatively long lifespan. One particularly large one that was caught by a sport fisherman was aged, and discovered to be at least 200 years old!
Fact: These fish are called “rougheye” because they have small spines on their lower eyelid.
8. Galapagos Tortoise (80-150 years)
Finally, everyone’s favourite- the old Galapagos Tortoise. While being famous for a long lifespan, these tortoises are actually quite mediocre on this list! However, these tortoises exhibit biological senescence by growing really slowly, and thus maintaining their longevity.
Fact: Galapagos tortoises can live without food and water for up to a year!
So yes, there are many, many animals that live longer (and thus more meaningful?) lives than us. We even eat some of them. Imagine eating a creature 100 years older than you! Some of them have even seen all our wars, our eras, and lived through it all. Until now of course. Climate change spares no one.