There's no shortage of lengthy lifespans in the animal kingdom, with many species putting humans to shame. While we can only survive for so long, many animals have seen centuries of life. Some specimens have even discovered the fountain of youth, stopping the aging process entirely. Exploring the oldest-living species will provide perspective on just how fast time flies. Unbeknownst to you, that fish you're wrangling could be the same one your great-great-grandfather first laid eyes on.
Tuatara are closely related to their dinosaur ancestors, and they're the only remaining members of the Sphenondontia class that stalked the earth over 200 million years ago. They've been through a lot in their time, too, surviving several mass extinctions while retaining the same form they possessed in the Triassic period. Officially classified as living fossils, they continue growing until they're 40 years old and can live long past 100.
Living in the sea at depths of 4,000 to 7,000 feet, Greenland sharks maintain their reign of terror for a minimum of 272 years (don't worry, they're not a threat to humans.) Using radiocarbon dating, scientists have discovered individuals living up to 392 years old, and they estimate that these sharks can make it to their 500th birthday. Today, they're the longest-living vertebrae on the planet, but global warming has made its impact, moving the species to the "near-threatened list" in its Arctic homeland
As the longest living mammal in the world, bowhead whales can survive over 200 years in the Arctic waters of the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Australia's national science agency, CSIRO, predicts a maximum lifespan of 268 years, and in 2007, an individual caught off the Alaskan coast contained a harpoon head dating back to the 1880s! With thousands more cells than most mammals, bowheads have a robust resistance to aging, cancer, and disease, a major factor in their lengthy lifespans.
Tortoises are known for far more than their slow stride; they're one of the longest living vertebrates on the planet, with an average lifespan of 177 years. Jonathan, a Seychelles tortoise, made the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living land animal, thriving for an unprecedented 187 years. Other famous specimens include Harriet, a 176-year-old tortoise who called the Australia Zoo home. Timothy, who lived to 165, was the mascot aboard British Royal Navy ships before retiring in 1892, becoming the U.K.'s oldest resident upon her death in 2004.
While individual specimens vary widely in age, the oldest known koi fish lived to be over 200 years old. The average koi fish lives to 70 years, but that range can be far-reaching. This ornamental species thrives worldwide, and environmental factors contribute to this lengthy lifespan, including long winters, clean water, and quality food, both in nature and within captivity.
Inhabiting the coldest, most remote parts of the ocean, the Escarpia laminata species of tubeworm lives for over 300 years at depths of approximately 3,000 to 10,000 feet. These tenacious invertebrates thrive on the Gulf of Mexico's ocean floor thanks to a lack of natural predators, and scientists believe that some specimens might live over 1,000 years!
Residing in the North Atlantic Ocean, these saltwater clams live for 200 years. Thanks to age marks on the quahog's valves, lifespan is easy to calculate, making this species an easy study for scientists. Many live long past that 200-year mark, however. In 2006, one specimen off the coast of Iceland was discovered that had lived for half a millennium — 507 years, to be precise. Born in 1499, it has seen centuries of history.
Corals are made from living material called polyps — the exoskeletons of invertebrates that accumulate in the ocean over time. Reproduction is a rapid process, as polyps multiply and replace themselves with genetically identical copies, causing corals to enlarge with each passing cycle. Each copy is its own organism, so corals are composed of multiple specimens instead of just one. Since multiple organisms impact their lifespan, corals can easily live hundreds of years. Black coral, however, can survive much longer. Specimens have been discovered that were nearly 4,300 years old!
With multiple animals incorporated into every colony, sponges live even longer than corals — thousands of years is the norm, and many survive the ocean's depths for millennia. According to a 2012 study, one species called Monorhaphis chuni had been alive for 11,000 years. Imagine: the same sponges we see today have thrived since the early Middle Ages. With so many specimens awaiting further study, researchers believe that other species can survive even longer.
The fountain of youth is no mystery to Turritopsis dohrnii, also known as immortal jellyfish. Natives of the Mediterranean Ocean, they evolve from mature adults to immature polyps and back again, making their life cycle both unique and never-ending. If a specimen is struggling as an adult, such as becoming injured or starving, they can simply revert to their polyp state and become a jellyfish again later. Since there's no limit to their lifespan and the species keeps moving through that same cycle, these skilled survivalists are the one known species on earth that can live forever — unless underwater predators halt the process, of course.
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