Have you ever wondered what the longest living animals are? When you look at the animals you know best, such as cats or dogs, you can see they live for around a decade or two.
Humans can live to be up to 100, if not older. However, incredibly there are some animals out there, that can live almost twice as long, in much harsher natural conditions.
In the animal kingdom, very rarely do animals reach their highest possible age, due to the volatile conditions they live in, with high death rates due to disease, predatation, lack of food, habitat destruction, weather and more.
Striving for accuracy, we’ve reviewed studies to bring you the definitive list of top 10 longest living animals on the planet.
10. Galapagos Giant Tortoise
The first animal of this list already has a lifespan that exceeds that of many common-day animals and humans alike! The Galapagos giant tortoises (Chelonoidis niger) have a lifespan of up to 100 years.
However, this is just the average maximum for this species. In captivity, they can easily live to be up to 177 years old. One Galapagos giant tortoise living in captivity, Harriet, lived to be 175 years old. 1
The geoduck (Panopea generosa) is the largest burrowing clam in the entire world. It also happens to be one of the top ten longest living animals.
The Pacific geoduck can grow to be over 2 meters long and weigh as much as 7 kilograms. On average, they can live to be around 140 years old. However, the oldest geoduck was 179 years old. 2
8. Red Sea Urchin
The red sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) is one of many types of sea urchins found in the oceans throughout the world. They’re the largest species of sea urchin, with the ability to grow to be up to 18 centimeters in diameter with 8-centimeter long spines.
On average, red sea urchins live to be around 100 years old. Although, it is not uncommon at all to find individuals that live to be around 200 years old, especially in colder waters.
In warmer waters, they may live to be only around 50 years old. However, since many individuals of the species routinely reach ages of around 200 years old, they’ve made their way onto the list of the longest living animals. 3
Believe it or not, but koi fish (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) actually have a much shorter lifespan outside of Japan than in the country. In Japan, koi can live to be around 40 to 50 years old. Outside of Japan, they face a lifespan of less than half of that at around 15 years.
While this is the average lifespans for koi fish, however, they’ve been known to live much longer. In fact, the oldest koi fish ever, Hanako, passed away on July 7, 1977. Her birth year? 1751. That makes her 226 years old at the time of her passing.
Interestingly, the age of a fish is calculated similar to how you might age a tree by counting its rings; fish have growth rings on their scales known as annuli, which can be counted. This technique was used to help determine Hanako’s true age. 4
6. Aldabra Giant Tortoise
The Galapagos giant tortoise isn’t the only tortoise species on this list! There is also the Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea). This species is native to the Aldabra atoll, which is the second largest atoll in the world. It is also one of the largest species of tortoise.
Typically, Aldabra giant tortoises reach an age around 200 years. However, one of the oldest individuals, Adwaita, is claimed to have lived to be 255 years old. While this is unverified, Calcutta zoo officials hope to carbon date his shell to determine his true age. 5
5. Bowhead Whale
The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is a type of baleen whale. It’s named for the shape of its head, and this specific species is found only in the frigid waters of Antarctica and the Arctic.
They have the largest mouth in the world, but they’re a filter feeder rather than an avid hunter of larger consumers.
Bowhead whales are the longest living mammal. Because of their habitat, it can be hard to keep up with their lifestyles, which includes their ages. However, it’s believed that they live to be over 200 years old. Scientists were able to confirm that their maximum lifespan is 268 years. 6
4. Greenland Shark
Also known as the gurry shark or grey shark, the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) is a living dinosaur! While bowhead whales may have the longest lifespan of all mammals, the Greenland shark has the longest lifespan of all verterbraes.
Greenland sharks don’t reach sexual maturity until at least around 150 years in age. The oldest specimen recorded was around 392 years old, although scientists think this could vary by around 120 years or so. This means it could be only 272 years old, or it could have been 512 years old! 7
3. Ocean Quahog
The ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) is a type of clam found in the North Atlantic Ocean. They have one of the slowest growth cycles of clam species. It can take almost 6 years for the ocean quahog to reach maturity.
Ocean quahogs are longest living non-colonial metazoan. This just means that they are multi-celled organism that doesn’t live in a colony. One individual was found to be 507 years old! 8
2. Basal Animals
Basal animals are those that are relatively primitive compared to other species. This includes animals like sponges as well as corals. These are also some of the longest living animals!
Some sponges can live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The glass sponge found in the East China sea are thought to be able to live for 11,000 years. 9
1. Immortal Jellyfish
Are you ready to meet the longest living animal? These animals are so old that they, biologically, live forever! That’s right, the immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis dohrnii) has this interesting name for a reason.
They have evolved to have special cells, which can transform as needed into different types of cells. This allows them to revert to their younger form, essentially living forever.
While this jellyfish does seem to hold the key to everlasting life, this trick is predicated on it avoiding being swallowed, crushed, or dehydrated.
It’s still more than capable of being killed, it just doesn’t seem to have a natural end to its existence. 10
So, these are the longest living animals and oldest animals on earth – that we could reliably verify.
It’s fun to put animal age into perspective and compare them against humans.
The oldest living human whose date of birth can be authenticated is Jeanne Calment, a French lady who lived to the age of 122 years and 164 days. She died on August 4, 1997.
While Jeanne’s age is incredible, she wouldn’t make the top 10 longest living list here!
Fact Sources & References
- BBC (2006), “Harriet the Tortoise dies at 175“, BBC News.
- BC Seafood Fact Sheets (2003), “Geoduck“, BC Seafood Online.
- Ebert, TA; Southon, JR (2003), “Red sea urchins can live over 100 years: confirmation with A-bomb 14carbon – Strongylocentrotus franciscanus“, Fishery Bulletin.
- Laura Barton (2007), “Will you still feed me … ?“, The Guardian.
- The Associated Press (2006), “250-Year-Old Tortoise Dies In India“, CBS News.
- “120-Year-Old Harpoon Fragment Found Lodged In Bowhead Whale“, Awesome Ocean.
- Pennisi, Elizabeth (2016), “Greenland shark may live 400 years, smashing longevity record“, Science.
- Butler, Paul; AD Wanamaker; JD Scourse; CA Richardson; DJ Reynolds (2012), “Variability of marine climate on the North Icelandic Shelf in a 1357-year proxy archive based on growth increments in the bivalve Arctica islandica“, Palaeogeography.
- Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (2012), “Glass sponge as a living climate archive“, Phys.org.
- Ulrich Technau Robert, E Steele (2011), “Evolutionary crossroads in developmental biology: Cnidaria“, ResearchGate.