Immortality seems like a pretty bad deal, outliving all your loved ones and then eventually finding yourself alone floating through space as the heat death of the universe finally takes you or something. But hey, living for a long time might be fun, but really only if you get to have fun in that time. We’re not sure if animals in the wild are concerned with having fun or not, but we are sure some of them live for a really long time. But what animal lives for the longest amount of time?
There are animals that don’t biologically age. They’re called Hydras, and have found a solution to dying by doing what the mythical beast does. Members of the Hydra genus don’t have brains or muscles, their bodies are really simple–which allows them to multiply just like the multi-headed dragon. Split one of these in half and eventually you’ll get two of them.
The process by which hydras don’t age is pretty simple, their genes don’t degrade anywhere near as fast as ours do (if at all).
Some animals just de-age like the Turritopsis dohrnii. It’s also known as the immortal jellyfish. Even lobsters never die by aging the same way other animals do. But the catch is that none of these animals actually live a long time. While they can’t die by getting old, the average lifespan of a lobster (in the wild) caps out around 50 years. That’s because they eventually get eaten, or can’t molt out of their shells properly. The immortal jellyfish rarely gets to flex its immortal prowess–most of them are eaten or get sick before they get to de-age.
So while these theoretically immortal animals can live forever, they don’t in practice. Thus, they cannot answer the question of “what animal lives the longest?”
Further Reading: Are There Animals That Don’t Age? Do We Want That?
Giant tortoises live for a really long time, with the Galápagos tortoise pushing 177 years of age in captivity and still getting into their 100s in the wild. You might know these guys because they’re also the largest tortoise species around right now, the largest getting over 880 pounds (400 kg).
The oldest giant tortoise right now in captivity, but he’s not a Galápagos tortoise. He’s a tortoise from the Seychelles islands and is a member of the aptly named Seychelles giant tortoise. His name is Jonathan, and he’s like 190 years old. Jonathan succeeded Harriet, a Galápagos tortoise who lived to 176.
Of the giant tortoises, the oldest on record died in 2006 with an estimated age of 255. He was named Adwaita and was an Aldabra giant tortoise.
The bowhead whale boasts an average lifespan of over 200 years, which is pretty impressive for an animal that is complicated enough to have a brain and muscles. They also don’t get cancer. We once found a bowhead whale in 2007 with the head of an explosive in its head manufactured in the late 1800s just hanging out before it died. Currently, the maximum lifespan of the bowhead whale is estimated to be around 268 years.
Anyway, bowhead whales are also the longest living mammals. They’re the only baleen whales endemic to Arctic waters and they’re known for their big heads, which they use to break ice.
Talk about an icebreaker.
The Greenland Shark
The Greenland shark might be known for its absurdly long life, but it’s also known for living really deep underwater. They live in the Arctic waters, around 2,000 meters down. You know, where it’s like pitch black. That’s probably a really good thing for the Greenland shark, since there’s a crustacean that attaches itself to their eyes and renders them functionally blind. Don’t really need eyes that far down, though.
Greenland sharks age really slowly, and take up to 150 years to reach sexual maturity. That should tell you something about how old they get, which is somewhere between 250 and 500 years in the wild. Studying them is quite difficult owing to the “living absurdly deep underwater” thing.
They’re not actually made of glass, but the more technical “hexactinellid sponge” doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.
Glass sponges are believed to be the longest-lived animals, and live somewhere between 450-900 meters below sea level. Their lifespan is estimated to push 15,000 years, a number lowered from 23,000 (or even 40,000) years due to changes in sea levels over time.
Speaking of old things, see if you know a random assortment of old and new things here.