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6 of the World’s Longest-Lived Animals

Adelaide Zoo's oldest resident, 83-year old the Greater Flamingo, affectionately known as 'Greater'.
Greater, the 83-year-old flamingo that lived at Australia’s Adelaide Zoo. Photograph by Nicole Miller/Adelaide Zoo/EPA

 

The world’s oldest flamingo flew to that great big aviary in the sky last week. Greater, as it was known, was the most famous flamingo in Australia’s Adelaide Zoo when it was put to sleep at age 83.

The bird was suffering from severe arthritis and was nearly blind; zookeepers decided that putting Greater down was the most humane thing they could do.

Most of us are impressed when our pets live merely into the low double digits. But there are creatures out there that put in some serious time on Earth, especially compared with us humans. Some sea sponges last more than 1,500 years. (See also “How Old Is That Lion? A Guide to Aging Animals.”)

Herewith, six of the most famously long-lived individual animals:

1. Dynastic Clam

You may have heard of Ming, the deep-sea clam named after the Chinese dynasty during which it was born. When it died in 2006, it was believed to be the oldest living animal ever recorded.

This ocean quahog, scientifically known as Arctica islandica, lived for 507 years and came to an inglorious end.

In 2006, scientists accidentally killed the clam when they dredged it up off the coast of Iceland and froze it, along with many others, for transport back to the lab for climate change research.

There may be older specimens out there hiding in the mud, but Ming was the lucky one that won postmortem fame.

2. Great-Great-Grand Whale

A bowhead whale was 130 years old when it died in 2007. Eskimos harvested the whale that year during a subsistence hunt monitored by the International Whaling Commission.

Scientists were able to estimate its age because the animal had carried a harpoon point in its neck for more than a hundred years. Experts dated the weapon to a New England factory active around 1880.

Scientists believe bowhead whales have the capacity to live about 200 years in part due to their slow metabolism—an adaptation to an icy-cold but food-rich Arctic environment.

3. Golden Oldie Fish

It might just be legend, but a koi goldfish named Hanako that passed on in 1977 was said to be the ripe old age of 226. Fish scales can be read like tree rings, which is how the estimate would have come about.

These ornamental pets are prized in Asia, and the highest-quality koi can cost thousands of dollars. Normally the fish live about 47 years.

4. Bird Named Wisdom

An albatross named Wisdom may be the oldest mom in the bird world. In 2012, at the age of 62, she hatched a new chick, possibly her 35th, and she’s still going strong in the Midway Atoll Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific.

Other avian elders include an 82-year-old Siberian white crane, captive parrots that can live into their 80s, and flamingos. Don’t forget flamingos!

5. Slow and Steady

Giant tortoises are famously long-lived: Thomas, the oldest ever known in Britain, died last year at age 130 after a rat bite on its leg got infected.

But there have been older known tortoises.

Tu’i Malila of Tonga Island passed away at 188, while Adwaita in India was at least 150—possibly as old as 250—when he died in 2006. The Galápagos tortoise Harriet, known as “Darwin’s tortoise,” survived to around age 176. She passed away in 2006 at the Australia Zoo in Queensland.

6. Immortal Jellies

Although I can’t point to an old individual named Gus or Penelope (both great handles for marine creatures, no?), it would be a shame to leave out the species Turritopsis dohrnii, a jellyfish discovered in the Mediterranean in the 1880s that never truly dies.

Instead, this jellyfish recycles itself, “aging” backward from adult stage to an immature polyp stage over and over again. Hanging out with T. dohrnii may just be the closest we humans ever come to immortality. (See more pictures of aging beasts.)

Follow Jennifer S. Holland on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Stvn
    Abu dhabi
    October 14, 4:52 am

    I have heard & source is indian vedic knowledge : the longer the animal lives the slower (lower) is the rate of breath i.e number of breathing cycle per minute .

  2. JC KITE
    Texas
    October 7, 1:21 pm

    Just think humans were meant to live forever but Adam & eve ruined it so the bible says and they chose to listen to Satan using a snake as a puppet and mouth piece (he’s a spirit creature)who told them they would not die but become like God “just saying” it’s a simple explanation the creator owes us nothing more even a child can read the Genesis account no fancy words

  3. JC KITE
    Texas
    October 7, 1:17 pm

    Just think humans were meant to forever but Adam & eve ruined it so the bible says and they chose to listen to Satan using a snake as a puppet and mouth piece (he’s a spirit creature)who told them they would not die but become like God “just saying” it’s a simple explanation the creator owes us nothing more even a child can read the Genesis account no fancy words

  4. Frans
    Namibia
    October 6, 5:18 am

    Sheez, And I thought the oldest living animal was my mother-in-law!

  5. Cuc
    US
    September 18, 11:33 pm

    Oops, better late than never to rectify some data. As if the age of the Siberian Actinobacteria is kind of arbitrary less than immortal, it seems their age is in fact between 400,000 and 600,000 years. My apology for any discomfort this may cause :-)

  6. Cuc
    US
    September 18, 11:26 pm

    Except for 6, which I never heard of, the other animals are really not as old as some other creatures. Nevertheless, if the attention is directed to “animals” (that is they are not plants), we may include certain types of bacteria. Thanks to Rachel Sussman, we know about the “stromatolites”, bound cyanobacteria of 2000-3000 years old and then there are the Siberian Actinobacteria found in permafrost and estimated a whopping 200,000 – 300,000 years of age!

    See http://www.ted.com/talks/rachel_sussman_the_world_s_oldest_living_things?language=en#t-772212 for her talk and
    http://ideas.ted.com/2014/05/29/gallery-the-oldest-living-things-in-the-world/ for a gallery of some of the animals she talks about.

  7. Jovana
    South Africa
    August 5, 3:40 pm

    Love this article. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Charmaine Pompey
    Islington, London
    July 30, 6:04 pm

    What a G8T Article never realised that some creatures could live so long, thanks 4 the amazing Info.

  9. Katlego Monamodi
    South Africa
    May 28, 2:55 pm

    It is Amazing how these animals can live that long, they even outlive humans at average. I wish to have a biological explanation, one involving words like “Metabolism”, “Metabolic rate” and “Body Size”

  10. Jennifer Holland
    May 7, 9:50 am

    I have read stories about a number of very old tortoises out there from different parts of the world–including that one in Nigeria. I have no doubt they are some of the most elderly animals around.

  11. Michael
    Ibadan Nigeria
    May 7, 6:19 am

    Have you checked the Tortoise in Ogbomoso , Oyo State , Nigeria?

  12. Tanmay Sharma
    India
    April 23, 3:55 am

    Interesting piece of article. Wonder how could they live for so long?

  13. Shantanu Chowdhury
    India,kolkata
    April 19, 6:06 am

    Sir/Madam,

    I want to work in your channel.. i like traveling in the forest.
    my no is +91 9903787938

  14. seth heinz
    United States
    April 17, 11:06 am

    cool

  15. Jennifer Holland
    Washington DC
    March 27, 10:15 am

    From the article author: Good comment about the coral–that’s true! USGS was able to confirm the age of black coral living in Mexico as over 2,000 years old. Amazing stuff. It’s not even very big, just VERY slow growing. Thanks for the additional example!

  16. Darren
    Langkawi, Malaysia
    March 27, 8:03 am

    I heard recently that some black coral in Hawaii was dated to some 4,500yrs… can anyone substantiate that?

  17. Agbo Francis
    Ghana
    March 23, 11:40 am

    Please,I want to know about the (Gigantosaurus)

  18. Myrna White
    Rio Rancho, New Mexico 87144
    March 21, 2:34 am

    I am caring for a female toy poodle who is 22 years old. She is blind from cataracts and deaf. She is crippled with arthritis but knows what to do when you set her outside, and eats when you set her by her food. She has good controlof her bodily functions. As long as she doesn’t seem to be in severe pain, I will continue to care for her.

  19. mukul
    India
    March 20, 7:54 am

    omg awesome

  20. shehuteejan
    United Kingdom
    February 19, 4:03 pm

    There still exist a living tortoise of over 300 years in OGBOMOSO, OYO STATE OF NIGERIA.

  21. albertus faasen
    Cape Town , Western Province , South Africa
    February 19, 3:47 pm

    I just love all the info. Thanks . This is really just testing to see
    whether i am getting it right . My dream is to have one of my photos published wherever possible .

  22. Scotty.licious
    London
    February 8, 4:39 pm

    Makes me think that there is probably older clams than Ming out there, maybe she was in the wrong place at the wrong time but possibly there are clams older than her out there.

  23. matana
    calgary
    February 8, 11:47 am

    I think my dog was one of the oldest dogs ever she was 14 and she passed away last year in 2013

  24. Dee Feldman
    St. Augustine Florida
    February 7, 9:31 am

    WOW! ! AMAZING THEY LIVE THAT LONG!!!

  25. Jennifer S. Holland
    February 7, 9:14 am

    So glad you enjoyed it! The ‘immortal jellyfish” is fascinating!

  26. Joseph
    February 6, 8:35 pm

    I enjoyed this article very much, Jennifer Holland. It’s a coincidence that I’m learning about Cnidarians in Zoology now, and this girl in my class brought up this “Immortal Jellyfish” today in class. My teacher was unsure but knew what she was referring too.