Meet the Animal That Lives for 11,000 Years

We live an average of 71 years—a drop in the bucket compared with some other life-spans.

Humans these days live pretty long lives: The average global life expectancy of someone born in 2015 is 71.4 years.

That’s not bad compared with some adult female mayflies, which live for under five minutes—just long enough to mate and lay eggs. Talk about speed dating.

We did some digging and found some animals who are really getting the use out of their senior discount cards.

The Old Clam and the Sea

The sea harbors many a Methuselah.

Take sponges, for example. “People often forget sponges are animals”—and some of them very long-lived animals at that, Marah J. Hardt, author of Sex in the Sea: Our Intimate Connection With Sex-Changing Fish, Romantic Lobsters, Kinky Squid, and Other Salty Erotica of the Deep, says via email.

Estimates of sponge longevity vary quite a bit, but are often in the thousands of years. One study in the journal Aging Research Reviews notes a deep-sea sponge from the species Monorhaphis chuni lived to be 11,000 years old. 

Yes, a sponge is an animal—and it has a remarkable life-span. [PHOTOGRAPH BY JAD DAVENPORT, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

Ming, a quahog clam, died at the age of 507 when researchers tried to dredge the bivalve up from Icelandic waters. The quahog’s life-span is usually about 225 years. 

Some deep-sea fish, like the orange roughy, live to be 175 years old, according to the book Sexuality in Fishes.

As far as mammals go, bowhead whales seem to have the most candles on their cake—over 200. It makes sense, since the marine mammals live in chilly waters, says Don Moore, director of the Oregon Zoo in Portland.

NG Live!: Catching a 200-Year-Old Whale When hypothermia stands in the way of Paul Nicklen's dream of photographing a 50-foot bowhead whale, sometimes a little push is all that is needed.

A cold environment causes a low body temperature, which in turn means slow metabolism—and thus less damage to tissues, Moore says.

Incidentally, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the bowhead also has the largest mouth of any animal. No comment.

Long-Lived Landlubbers

Currently the world's oldest known land animal is Jonathan, an 183-year-old Aldabra giant tortoise that lives on the grounds of the governor’s mansion in St. Helena, an island off West Africa. 

Giant tortoises take shelter beneath vegetation on Aldabra, part of the Seychelles Islands. [PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM PESCHAK, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

John Klicka, curator of birds at the Burke Museum in Seattle, says the oldest known wild bird is a 65-year-old Laysan albatross named Wisdom, which has shattered scientists' belief that her species lives to 40. Not only that, Wisdom is still giving birth to and raising healthy chicks.

Big birds like albatrosses tend to live longer, so they mature later and breed less frequently, Klicka says, whereas small birds “are lucky to live five years in the wild." That means they must mature quickly and “produce as many clutches as possible” during breeding season.

The kakapo, a critically endangered parrot native to New Zealand, lives up to 60 years. There are a little more than a hundred kakapos left on Earth.

They're also the only flightless parrots in the world. Here's hoping their population, at least, can soar again.

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