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On average, humans live between 70 and 80 years, but there are slight differences depending on where you are in the world. That might seem like a decent length of time, but there are some animals that outlive humans by an astonishing amount. Down in the deepest depths of the ocean, there are even organisms called endoliths that are thought to be millions of years old!
What Factors Affect Animal Longevity?
When we think about longevity, we have to think about the maximum life span of any given species. This refers to the maximum time between birth and death which is supported by the best conditions. But this maximum life span is vastly different between animals. There are the aforementioned endoliths that can survive for millions of years, while creatures like the adult mayfly can’t make it past 24 hours. So, what’s the secret to a long life?
The size of an animal can have a significant impact on how long it will live. This has a lot to do with heart rate which, according to studies, is directly linked to metabolism; another factor that affects life expectancy. It’s been observed that bigger animals have a slower heart rate and therefore live longer. What’s more, in the wild, larger animals have a better chance of survival against things like predators, floods, and other threats.
Where an animal lives may have a surprising impact on the length of its life. In most cases, captive animals have a longer lifespan than their wild counterparts and this may have something to do with the protection they have in places like zoos. What’s more, in the wild, animals are exposed to various diseases. But even in the wild, some animals have more appropriate shelters, which give them the edge when it comes to survival.
Some animals’ sole purpose in life is to reproduce, once they’ve done this, they die. This is the case with the male honeybee, for example. Studies have shown that animals will either have a long life and not be very fertile or will live very short lives but reproduce a serious amount of offspring. This means that they have to reproduce at a much younger age, whereas longer lived animals might not reach sexual maturity until much later – the African elephant is a good example which isn’t ready to breed until between the ages of 14 and 17.
They say there’s strength in numbers and that’s certainly true in the case of animal longevity. It’s seen that animals living in social groups typically have a longer lifespan than loners. What’s interesting is that this seems to have been an evolutionary behavior that benefits the animals in terms of socialization and survival. But off the back of this, life expectancy grows as studies have shown that the positive effects of living in a group can boost life span. It’s the perfect circle!
The faster your metabolism, the more energy you use. In all animals, this means a shorter life span. It’s clear that animals with a slower metabolism live much longer. Take the tortoise, for example, its slow pace of life equals slower metabolism and therefore, it survives for decades. On the flip side, something like a shrew, that has high levels of activity and a fast metabolism, doesn’t live much longer than a couple of years! As for us humans, we have our slow metabolism to thank for our lengthy life expectancy.
Some animals are going, or have gone extinct as a result of human activity. Things like pollution, climate change, hunting, and habitat loss all play a role in certain animals’ ability to survive. But some animals are better equipped to cope with certain effects of human interference. For example, larger species like bison and bears are more resilient to the effects of climate change than small, fast reproducing animals like mice.
Oldest Living Animals
Some animals are capable of living hundreds of years, while others might not die at all! Let’s take a look at some of the longest living animals on planet earth.
1. Greenland Shark
The Greenland shark is one of the largest species of shark and is found in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. It remains something of a mystery and is a poorly studied species but what we do know is that it lives for a very long time.
The average life expectancy of the Greenland shark is over 400 years! This makes it the longest-living vertebrate on the planet. Just think that some of the Greenland sharks in our waters today would have been around at the same time as people like Mozart.
This information was discovered thanks to carbon dating. But what’s really amazing is that these slow-growing sharks don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re around the age of 150!
2. Ocean Quahog
We’ve met the oldest living vertebrate but now let’s get better acquainted with the oldest non colonial animal ever found; Ming! Ming is an ocean quahog, a type of clam, that was discovered at the age of 507 years old! However, upon opening the clam’s shell, scientists accidentally ended Ming’s long life. Moreover, they predicted that, had they not interfered, the ill-fated shellfish would have continued its healthy life.
While Ming is a record holder, the ocean quahog generally has a long life span, with individuals easily living many hundreds of years. It baffles the mind as to how they live this long, but science has an answer; it’s all down to their resistance to oxidative stress!
3. Blind Salamander
The blind salamander is a cave-dwelling aquatic species that is found around the Adriatic Sea. While they might not be much to look at, they have another trait that’s super impressive; their extreme life span.
These animals can live for up to 100 years, only reaching sexual maturity around the age of 15. Sometimes called the human fish because of the texture of the skin, the blind salamander has baffled scientists who still aren’t sure why they’re able to live as long as they do. It’s not to do with antioxidants or metabolism, so there’s a lot left to discover.
4. Galápagos Giant Tortoise
The Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis niger) is a species that has long been of interest to scientists, even the likes of Darwin himself. As you may be aware, many species of tortoise have an impressive lifespan, and the Galapagos is not different. On average, these giant reptiles live for around 177 in captivity and 150 years in the wild.
That’s fascinating enough by itself, but when you learn that these animals seemingly don’t age, they become even more interesting! Even when there are signs of aging, they are incredibly minimal.
It would appear that species with a natural ability to protect themselves from predation; like tortoises with their shells, tend to age less and have longer lifespans.
5. Aldabra Giant Tortoise
Another shelled species that’s capable of living to a ripe old age is the Aldabra giant tortoise which generally lives for at least 200 years. One specimen in India was studied and carbon dating showed that it died at the age of 255 years!
The oldest Aldabra giant tortoise alive today is called Jonathan, and he’s currently a cool 190 years old.
Weighing up to 660 lbs (300 kg), the Aldabra giant tortoise is one of only two giant tortoise species left on the planet. Scientists have recently decoded their genome which has given clues into why they have such long lives.
6. Immortal Jellyfish
If I told you that there was an animal that never dies, would you believe me? It might sound insane, but it’s true, and it’s called the immortal jellyfish.
Now, it might not be quite what you first imagine when it comes to immortality but it’s still pretty mind-blowing. Rather than reaching its adult stage and eventually dying, the immortal jellyfish, when it senses death is near, will revert back to the first stage of life (essentially a blob of cells) and then go through each of its life stages again.
It is worth noting that, despite this ability to regenerate itself, there’s still a risk of things like predation, meaning that any given individual could die.
7. Bowhead Whale
The bowhead whale is an endangered species of marine mammal that holds the record for being the longest-lived mammal. On average, these animals live for well over 200 years, with some individuals having lived for 268 years!
Bowhead whales have been a subject of interest for scientists who have been looking at their genome to discover more about these animals’ longevity. Not only are they incredibly long-lived but they also have the ability to remain free from disease for an astonishingly long time. It’s thought that this has something to do with a double gene found in bowhead whales that’s absent in other species.
8. Red Sea Urchin
It’s thought that the red sea urchin is one of the world’s oldest animals and any given individual may live for as long as 100 years and it’s not uncommon for them to live twice this amount of time. What’s really fascinating is that during this long life, red sea urchins aren’t typically affected by ill health or disease.
Found in the northeastern parts of the Pacific Ocean, the red sea urchin is a pretty unassuming creature. But when you look more closely, it’s amazing to see how these slow-growing creatures sail through life. Even at the age of 100, they’re just as easily able to reproduce as a red sea urchin that’s ten times younger.
However, these creatures are a target for fishermen and they also have a range of predators. So, while they are capable of living long lives, it doesn’t always mean that they do.
9. Deep-Water Black Coral
While they might not move around, corals are animals since they do not make their own food, like plants. And the deep-water black coral is one of the longest-living species with some specimens thought to be thousands of years old.
Growing at depths of more than 1000 feet (305 meters) below the surface of the ocean, the deep-water black coral is a slow-growing species.
Scientists have been studying a deep-water black coral in the Gulf of Mexico which they have now determined to be more than 2000 years old. However, it’s thought that there are examples of this species that have lived as long as 4265 years!
Having walked alongside dinosaurs, these reptiles are endemic to New Zealand and are known to be able to live for as long as 137 years! And it would seem that these creatures don’t wane in their ability to reproduce at any point during their long lives.
There’s one tuatara that managed to father a clutch at the grand old age of 110 years. His partner wasn’t all that far behind him, as she was 80 years old at the time. Amazingly, his carers thought he would never reproduce since he’d shown no interest. It was only after the removal of a tumor that his fatherly instincts kicked in.
But while the tuatara might have a long life, the species is incredibly endangered and is on the highest level of protection in its native country of New Zealand. Even for zoos to own one, there are strict rules that must be followed.
11. Rougheye Rockfish
Rougheye rockfish don’t start reproducing until they are around 25 years old. This is one of the reasons they have such long lives, and in many cases, individuals can live for as long as 200 years! In 2013, a fisherman caught a 41-inch (104 cm), 39 lbs (18 kg) rockfish that was thought to be the oldest fish ever caught!
But it isn’t just their long lives that make rougheye rockfish special. It’s thought that their very DNA may hold the key to longevity. Scientists have noticed their ability to repair DNA, suppress inflammation, and an ability to avoid cancer, among other things.
The macaw is a South American bird species that is brightly colored and a popular pet thanks to its intelligence and loyalty to humans. There are 17 different species of macaw but one thing that they all have in common is a long life span.
The average life of a macaw can last for up to 50 years in the wild. However, when they’re kept in captivity, macaws might easily live longer than a century! There’s one macaw, named Charlie, who managed a whopping 114 years of life.
Of course, their longevity does vary by species, with the military macaw having the longest in the wild of up to 70 years.
13. Freshwater Pearl Mussel
Being a freshwater pearl mussel comes with a lot of pressure. It’s not uncommon for these creatures to lose their lives within the first 12 months as they get washed away. However, those that survive could be in for a very long life that spans, on average between 80 and 102 years!
The oldest example of a freshwater pearl mussel was more than 280 years old. It would seem that these creatures have longer lifespans when living in colder water, with polar specimens living up to 150 years on average, while those in Spanish waters might only survive 40 years.
The geoduck has become something of a phenomenon on YouTube and TikTok in recent times. But while most people are fascinated by people chowing down on this delicacy, they don’t realize that there’s much more to these clams than meets the eye.
The geoduck can live for up to 140 years, on average, but there have been individuals found that are thought to be up to 170 years. What’s more, they’re the biggest type of clam in the world!
They’re a slow growing species but, once they start to reproduce, it’s possible for the females to produce millions of eggs. They release them into the water, and the male releases his sperm, so there’s no need for them to come together to reproduce.
15. Asian Elephant
The Asian elephant is a large land mammal that we’re all familiar with, but did you know that they’re also incredibly long-lived? Their life spans are not all that dissimilar to humans and are, on average, between 60 and 75 years. However, one individual made it to an impressive 86 years old!
The sad thing is that the life expectancy of the Asian elephant is falling, and the species has now been placed on the IUCN Red List as endangered.
Asian elephants tend to reach sexual maturity in their early teens, with females being fully ready to mate at around 15. However, it’s thought that, once they go through menopause, they still have a good life expectancy, if they manage to make it this far.
16. Deep-Sea Tubeworms
Tubeworms are sedentary worms that are found in the Atlantic Ocean and there are significant populations around the Gulf of Mexico. It’s thought that they have a life span ranging between 100 and 200 years, but some scientists think that there are individuals that make it to the 300 year mark!
Found at depths between 3,280 and 10,826 feet (1,000 and 3,300 meters), these worms are tucked away from the rest of the world, so they’ve proven to be difficult to study.
Compared to the animals that live around it in the water, tubeworms grow very slowly, and this is likely the key to their long survival. What’s more, it’s been noted that larger tubeworms have longer lifespans, and it’s not uncommon for them to reach up to 250 years old.
17. Western Gorilla
The western gorilla is one of the most endangered creatures on the planet. While it’s commonly cited that there are 95,000 left in the wild, this is far from the reality. In fact, most experts believe that there are fewer than 300 remaining.
Western gorillas are one of the closest living relatives to humans and can also lay claim to being one of the longest-lived primates. On average, a western gorilla will live for up to 40 years in the wild. Captive gorillas tend to live a little longer and may survive for up to 50 years!
Earlier we met the immortal jellyfish that can seemingly live forever, but there’s another creature that has the same ability; the hydra. This is a type of cnidaria which is in the same class as a jellyfish that lives in bodies of freshwater.
The hydra doesn’t display immortality in the same way as the immortal jellyfish but instead manages to remain youthful. These creatures have genes called FoxO genes, which allow them to continually self-regenerate, so it never ages. This means that they never experience senescence; falling apart as they get older.
But there is a limit to their supposed immortality. It’s thought that generally speaking, hydras can live for up to 1400 years!
19. Naked Mole Rat
The naked mole rat is an obscure-looking creature that spends most of its time underground. Unlike most rodents that only live for a few years, the naked mole rat has a life expectancy of up to 40 years.
That might not seem like much compared to some of the animals I have discussed in this guide, but it’s a lot for the type of creature it is. What’s more, naked mole rats are known for their resistance to cancer, and it’s thought that, by studying them, we may be able to learn more about how they could be beneficial to humans.
It’s all to do with how rapidly cells deteriorate over the course of time which is something that almost doesn’t seem to happen in the naked mole rat. Because of this, it’s also able to resist such conditions as dementia.
20. Laysan Albatross
The Laysan albatross is a type of seabird found in the area of the North Pacific. These birds have an average lifespan of between 12 and 40 years, depending on their living conditions. However, there is one specimen, lovingly known as Wisdom, that is thought to have been born in 1951.
Wisdom is a female Laysan albatross, and has been named the oldest living bird in the world. While these birds usually reach sexual maturity by the age of five, it seems that Wisdom hasn’t needed to slow down and had another chick at the age of 70! It’s thought that this was her 40th baby! And she was still doing perfectly well after the event, which took place in Hawaii.
21. Warty Oreo
No, I’m not talking about those tasty chocolate cookies; there’s also a fish called an oreo; the warty oreo. These are mid-sized, deep-water fish that can grow up to 17-inches (43 cm) and have a whopping life span of around 140 years.
It’s not until these fish get to around the age of 30 that they’re ready to reproduce. But when they are ready, the females will spawn more than 62,000 eggs per season! It’s a good job since these fish are highly sought after for food in countries like Australia.
22. Brandt’s Bat
When we think about animal longevity, we normally imagine larger creatures to live for the longest. But Brandt’s bat seems to throw all logic out of the window. These are incredibly small animals that weigh no more than 0.28 ounces (8 grams) and yet they outlive much larger creatures like horses.
In fact, Brandt’s bat can live for up to 40 years and after a lot of research, it seems that it’s all to do with its genes. It’s thought that changes in their growth hormone receptors are one of the reasons they remain small but long-lived.
However, since these bats spend most of their lives in a cave, they’re highly unlikely to be caught by predators which also adds to their ability to survive for so many years.