The Longest Living Animals On Earth — Two Might Be Immortal!
Sure, we humans live a lot longer than most of other animals on Earth. But what if the secrets to immortality have already been unlocked by an unassuming creature of the deeps? Read on to find out the longest living animals and which ones might be immortal.
28. American lobster – 100 years
While memes touted the lobster as immortal, scientists aren’t saying that. Lobsters do live quite a long time — possibly up to 100 years — and some think they have negligible senescence, but they do die. However, for the American lobster, the cold waters off the East Coast slow its metabolism, giving it a longer lifespan than its warm-water cousins.
Lobsters do grow continuously until they die, shedding exoskeletons as they go, but this shedding process does pose a fatal risk to the lobster each time. At a certain point, the lobster can’t muster the energy to shed its exoskeleton anymore and this creates an opportunity for disease to kill the animal.
27. Olm salamander – 102 years
Like a tiny, blind dragon, the olm salamander can probably live to around 102 years (or more) in the wild. Underwater, with no eyesight, olms use their other heightened senses to hunt insects, snails, and crabs. They make their home across the sea from Italy, in the caves along the Adriatic Sea. As far as scientists can tell, olms don’t age.
Like the axolotl, a Mexican amphibian, adult olms display neoteny. This means they keep juvenile features (like their frilly gills) as adults. On top of this continuous baby face, their cells don’t deteriorate with time, like most animal cells do when aging. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why.
26. White sturgeon – 104 years
White sturgeon are huge weirdos: they don’t have scales like other fish, but bony plates instead; their skeletons are made of cartilage (like a shark) rather than bone; and they are long-lived animals, reaching ages of around 104. On top of that, white sturgeon don’t have any teeth and their taste buds are outside of their mouths.
Sturgeon are currently farmed for their eggs, which are well known as caviar. In the 1800s, white sturgeon were overfished until 1917 when California banned catching them. While they’ve also suffered through habitat destruction, their population has grown and they’re doing just fine now.
25. Redbanded rockfish – 106 years
From San Diego to Alaska, these candy-striped centenarians live in rocky crevices underwater. They’re most often found about 500 to 1,150 ft deep. As far as we know, these fish can live to be 106 years old. But how do scientists know the age of a fish?
Well, fish scales have rings like a tree, so you can count the marks to figure out the age of the fish. Since they grow faster in warmer weather, fish scales exhibit a seasonal pattern. For the most part, scientists view this under a microscope to count the growth zones. However, scales aren’t used to age all species of fish.
24. Blue whale – 110 years
With a tongue the weight of an elephant and a heart the weight of a car, the blue whale is the largest animal to ever live on Earth (that we know of). They can be up to 100 feet long and weigh over 200 tons. On average, they live about 80 to 90 years, but scientists believe they can live to 110 years old.
Amazingly, these huge creatures live off tiny crustaceans called krill. When feeding, a blue whale will take a huge mouthful of water and then use its tongue to force the water back out, through its baleen. All the krill is left behind and swallowed. Baleen is their substitute for teeth — water filters through it, but krill can’t get past the small spaces.
23. Sablefish – 114 years
Often called black cod in the culinary world, sablefish are a fairly nondescript long-lived fish. Scientists believe they can live to be around 114 years old. They’re found in the Pacific Ocean, reproducing in deep water and then swimming toward the surface about two weeks after hatching.
Generally, sablefish is a good pick for seafood because they’re managed responsibly. For the most part, sablefish fishing is sustainable and has minimal impact on their habitat. This is not the case with many fisheries, which can have a tremendous negative effect on ecosystems. In the past, the sablefish population wasn’t doing well, but it seems to have recovered.
22. Fin whale – 114 years
Whales are some of the longest-lived animals on Earth, with many species able to reach their 90s. The fin whale, named after the little fin on its back, is estimated to have a lifespan of 114 years. This makes it the second longest-lived whale. It’s also the second-largest whale, so it’s quite the silver medalist.
In the mid-1900s, people killed thousands of these whales for their oil, bone, and fat. Since then, whaling has been mostly outlawed and boat collisions have become the fin whale’s biggest threat. While fin whales are listed as vulnerable to extinction, their numbers are increasing.
21. Shortspine thornyhead and the tiger and rasphead rockfishes – 115, 116, and 118 years
Like whales, rockfish are another group that has several very long-lived members. The shortspine thornyhead is a kind of rockfish that has an estimated lifespan of 115 years, while the rasphead and tiger rockfish can live to 118 and 116, respectively. Two other rockfish species rank even higher than these three.
Rockfish are fairly slow growing: Some species only start reproducing at age 25 or so. And as the females grow older, they can have more, healthier young. But this slow growth makes them especially susceptible to overfishing. However, some species, like the shortspine thornyhead, have healthy populations and make for a good seafood choice.
20. Beluga sturgeon – 118 years
While beluga sturgeon can live long lives of about 118 years, they may not be living for much longer. These fish are critically endangered and have gone extinct in much of their Eastern European home. They’ve been overfished for their meat and caviar. Their spawning grounds have been destroyed by dams and they’re frequently caught accidentally, as bycatch.
This isn’t just a problem for beluga sturgeon: 85 percent of all sturgeon species are at risk of extinction. This makes them the most threatened group that’s been assessed. Many of them are critically endangered and four species may already be extinct.
19. European pond turtle – 120 years
Scientists think this freshwater turtle can live as long as 120 years because one reportedly lived in a botanical garden in Southern France for that timespan. While that hasn’t been verified, scientists think it’s plausible. However, while it seems they can live very long, it’s tough for hatchling European pond turtles to even reach maturity.
Predators and the elements threaten the young turtles, taking many before they grow old. On average, they only live about 12 years in the wild. Many kinds of animals eat their eggs and hatchlings, including herons, raccoons, bears, hermit crabs, crocodiles, ghost crabs, rats, and more.
18. Humans – 122 years
You may have guessed that humans rank amongst the longest living animals on Earth, since we outlive most of our pets. And while the lifespan of many animals on this list have been estimated, there are gerontologists who actually verify the ages of very very old people.
The oldest verified person to ever live was Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died at age 122 in 1997. She was born in 1875, before the Eiffel tower was built or the telephone was patented. At the end of her days, she was very nearly blind and deaf. But overall she was a healthy person — she rode a bicycle until she was 100!
17. Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise – 127 years
In captivity, the spur-thighed tortoise has lived as long as 127 years. One might have even lived as long as 200 years or more. Since there are so many turtles on this list, do you ever wonder about the difference between turtles and tortoises? Well, tortoises are part of the testudine group, which are all technically considered turtles.
Simply put, tortoises are turtles that live on land. You can tell by looking at their feet, which are specialized for land: they don’t have any webbing and look like little elephant feet. The Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise lives around the Mediterranean Sea and is also called the common tortoise.
16. Eastern box turtle – 138 years
Typically, Eastern box turtles live 30 or 40 years, but one was reported to have lived 138 years in the wild. One contributor to that longevity may be their shell’s ability to regenerate. One Eastern box turtle’s shell was badly burned, yet still completely regrew.
Eastern box turtles appear to have negligible senescence, which means they don’t seem to age at all. Humans and most other animals are more likely to die as they get older, but animals with negligible senescence generally don’t. On top of that, box turtles don’t seem to have decreased reproductive capabilities as they get older.
15. Warty oreo – 140 years
These deep-sea fish are much creepier in person. They’re dark with huge eyes and scientists estimate they can live to be about 140 years old. From South America to Australia, these fish swim along the ocean floor. They eat crustaceans, fish, or squid, depending on their size.
Warty oreos grow slowly and live in deep waters. Their eggs, however, float to the surface. As youngins, they live up top until metamorphosizing around age four and swimming to adult life in the deeps. While the warty oreo’s name may bring to mind a particularly unappetizing Oreo flavor, the name actually comes from the family name Oreosomatidae, which means “mountain body” in Greek.
14. Orange roughy – 149 years
Looking a little like a flayed person, orange roughy are estimated to have a lifespan of about 149 years. They reach sexual maturity around age 20, maybe as high as 30, and slowly grow throughout their lives. Due to this, they’re very vulnerable to overfishing.
It’s hard for a slow growing species to recover after a significant portion of their population is killed. Since it takes two or more decades for an orange roughy to reach sexual maturity, they can’t simply bounce back and start having babies right after a trawl net takes most of them. As such, there are no sustainable options for orange roughy seafood.
13. Lake sturgeon – 152 years
Lake sturgeon live in the Great Lakes and other freshwater systems in North America, where they can grow old to around 152 years. While the one pictured below is a baby, lake sturgeon can grow to over six feet long. They were a staple in Native American diet and culture, but newcomers considered them a nuisance.
Commercial fishermen used to stack sturgeon on the lake shores, letting them rot. That is until people tried eating their eggs and decided it was good and fancy (now known as caviar). After that, lake sturgeon were heavily fished. People have since stopped fishing them (mostly) but the fish have nearly disappeared from the Mississippi River. In the Great Lakes, they’re recovering.
12. Shortraker rockfish – 157 years
Rockfish continue to amaze us with their longevity and the shortraker rockfish is no disappointment. It can live for about 157 years, but maybe as much as 175 years. When determining the lifespan of a species, scientists take a statistical look at the ages of individuals. Using a graph, they can estimate the maximum age for the species.
However, this is an estimate. For the most part, though, we only know how old an animal can be when we find the oldest animal. For all we know, there is a couple of 250-year-old shortraker rockfish in the ocean somewhere. Though that may be statistically unlikely.
11. Galápagos tortoise – 177 years
The Galápagos Islands got their name from the giant tortoises roaming their grasses: galápago meant tortoise in old Spanish. Most of these tortoise species are now endangered. While the Galápagos are known for their wildness, there are actually permanent human settlements on them.
These tortoises, which can live at least as long as 152 years but possibly to 177 or more, were hunted for food and oil in the 1800s and 1900s. Now, introduced species like goats and rats are eating the tortoises’ food supply and their eggs. Even iconic species like the Galápagos tortoise are not safe from humans.
10. Aldabra tortoise – 180 years
Across the world from the Galápagos Islands lives the Aldabra tortoise and the Seychelles giant tortoise. They’re also really freaking old. The most well known are Adwaita and Jonathan. Adwaita reportedly lived to be over 200 years old, while Jonathan is still alive at a reported 187 years old.
Neither of these ages has been independently confirmed, but there is a photo of Jonathan from 1886. While many of the previous animals only sometimes reach age 100, these tortoises frequently celebrate their centennials and beyond. On top of that, Aldabra tortoises are quite sociable and can be very friendly with people.
9. Red sea urchin – 200 years
While people once thought red sea urchins lived to be only 15 years old, they’ve since realized they can possibly live to be 200. In fact, they appear to not age: they’re just as peachy at 100 as they are at 10, possibly being even more successful in reproducing at later ages.
Scientists have found that red sea urchins grow pretty consistently, so they can use the animal’s size to estimate its age. But while they can grow very old, they have to survive their youth first. Many red sea urchins die before they reach their first birthday, so that’s why the ocean isn’t overrun with them.
8. Rougheye rockfish – 205 years
Finally, the last rockfish on this list: the rougheye rockfish. As far as scientists know, it can live to be 205 years old. It’s sometimes confused with its cousin the shortraker rockfish, but it’s a bit pinker and can have dark patches, compared to the shortraker’s bright orange coloration.
These old fish live along the West Coast of the US and across the ocean to Japan and Russia. Past where the light has already faded into dark, rougheye rockfish live among caves and crevices on the sea floor. They munch on shrimp, crab, and other fish. But be careful which rougheyes you munch on, because they aren’t all sustainably caught.
7. Bowhead whale – 211 years
And the award for longest-lived mammal goes to… the bowhead whale! Scientists found one whale that they estimated was 211 years old. That’s nearly as old as the United States of America. Also, they have the largest mouth of any animal, which can be nearly 25 feet long. That’s almost half of the animal’s body length.
To deal with the freezing cold of their Arctic home, Bowhead whales have a 1.6-foot thick blubber layer. Using their huge skulls, they can break through seven inches worth of ice. But why do they live so long? Scientists think mutations in their DNA protect them from cancer and aging.
6. Koi fish – 226 years?
While most koi fish live a maximum of 50 years, one (named Hanako) apparently lived for 226 years. Scientists of the Laboratory of Animal Science at Nagoya Women’s College counted the rings on its scales to figure out its age. However, many people are still doubtful that Hanako actually lived to be 226 years old.
Generally, how long a koi fish lives is directly impacted by how well it’s taken care of. Koi tend to live longer in Japan compared to elsewhere. But still, they rarely live longer than 50 years. So, many people doubt that Hanako’s scale rings were accurately counted.
5. Greenland shark – 392 years
The Greenland shark is the oldest vertebrate on Earth. Scientists found that Greenland sharks can live to at least 272 years, but estimated that the oldest animal they’ve found was nearly 400. It could have been as old as 512 years since the experiment had some room for error, but 392 is more likely.
Greenland sharks are a bit of a mystery. They swim at a relaxed 0.7 mph in Arctic waters and can grow to be at least 21 feet long (though most don’t). Scientists think they reach maturity around age 150. This is concerning, considering people heavily fished Greenland sharks in the 1800s for their oil. Sharks born in the 1860s would only now be mothers for the first time.
4. Ocean quahog clam – 507 years
In 2006, scientists collected some clams to learn more about climate change and serendipitously they found one of the clams to be a whopping 507 years old. They named it Ming since it had been alive when the Ming Dynasty ruled China (and also when Leonardo da Vinci was working on the Mona Lisa).
But this ocean quahog clam looked just like a regular clam, so the chances are pretty good that there are even older ones still in the ocean. And since these clams are commonly used to make clam chowder, it’s certainly possible that someone’s eaten a 500-year-old-clam. It’s almost like eating a living fossil.
3. Sponges – 11,000 years
Several of the animals on this list have been reported as “the world’s oldest animal,” but people frequently forget sponges are indeed animals. And they blow every other contender out of the water. Sponges can be thousands of years old. Scientists estimated one individual to be 11,000 years old and another is estimated at 15,000 years old.
Sponges are the simplest of animals. They don’t have eyes or ears or most of the things you’d associate with an animal. So what makes an animal an animal? It must at some point be a blastula. This is a developmental phase in which the embryo is a hollow ball of cells.
2. Hydra – immortal?
Hydras may be tiny (less than half an inch long) but they make up for it by continually regenerating their cells. A hydra is not a huge multiheaded dragon, but rather a small tentacled marine tube. They show no signs of aging and most of their cells are stem cells, which can differentiate to become any cell type.
We humans only have stem cells during the very beginning of our embryonic development. “I do believe that an individual hydra can live forever under the right circumstances,” biologist Daniel Martinez told Live Science. However, they die in the wild from predation, disease, and water contamination. But the hydra isn’t the only animal scientists believe could be immortal…
1. The immortal jellyfish
Whenever the going gets tough, the immortal jellyfish can Benjamin Button itself and make all its cells younger. It goes back to being a small blob, it’s first life stage. Muscle cells may become nerve cells, sperm, or eggs. Then, the jellyfish can mature again and create hundreds of clones of itself.
This can happen if it’s starving or injured, but other threats can definitively kill it. This de-aging was believed to be impossible, but the little immortals proved scientists wrong. And they aren’t rare or anything, they’re all over the ocean. But they are tiny — smaller than a fingernail.
Honorable mention: Yangtze sturgeon (and Atlantic sturgeon) – 100 years
On the eastern side of China, in the Yangtze River, this sturgeon is barely hanging on. It may be able to live to 100 years old, but that hasn’t saved it from becoming critically endangered. Between overfishing, river damming, and pollution, this sturgeon hasn’t had a moment to catch its underwater breath.
While it’s sometimes called a living fossil, the Yangtze sturgeon is on its way to becoming a normal, dead fossil. As far as scientists can tell, these fish haven’t bred in the wild since the 1990s. One study simulated the river’s conditions, showing the fish can breed, but that doesn’t say what’s actually going on beneath the surface of the Yangtze River.
Honorable mention: Pacific ocean perch – 100 years
“Oh, another fish,” you’re probably thinking. Well, yes, that’s true. And the Pacific ocean perch’s secret is that it’s actually a rockfish, too! But unlike the countless sturgeon on this list, the Pacific ocean perch is actually not endangered. If you were looking for a sustainable seafood choice, this one’s pretty good.
Reading about the Pacific ocean perch is like a breath of fresh air compared to the Yangtze and Atlantic sturgeons, which are both critically endangered. The Pacific ocean perch is not being overfished despite their slow growth (they only start reproducing around 10 years old) and its population is above target levels!
Honorable mention: Black, spiky, and smooth oreos – 100 years
The black, smooth, and spiky oreos perhaps sound a bit more appetizing than the warty oreo. Still, you’re probably not going to find these in the cookie aisle. They’re part of the Oreosomatidae family; all have these big ol’ eyes and roundish dark bodies with few bones.
Around Australia and New Zealand, people fish for some of these oreos species. According to the Australian government’s website, they have a “light, delicate flavor” but tough skin. They get to about 30 years old before they can actually reproduce, but then a female could produce an estimated 62,000 eggs in one season.
Honorable mention: Humpback whale – 95 years
Humpback whales are much beloved. They sing in every ocean on Earth; their tunes travel as many as six miles to other listening humpback whales. Calves can “whisper” to their mothers, using a voice that can only be heard within 330 feet. It’s a defense mechanism to keep predators from hearing the baby.
These whales are about the size of a school bus when fully grown, but that doesn’t stop them from doing fantastic acrobatics. They like to jump out of the water in an act called breaching. Scientists aren’t sure why they do this. It could be to clean pests off their skin or it could be just for fun.
Honorable mention: Orca – 90 years
While a humpback whale calf is whispering to its mother, a pod of killer whales is hunting for it. Unluckily for the humpback whales, orcas hunt with echolocation by bouncing sounds off of objects. In fact, they’ll eat all kinds of meat: fish, penguins, seals, and even seabirds to name a few.
Orcas are protective of their young, as well. They have strong maternal bonds and they’re the only other species (that we know of) with comparable grandmother dynamics. Like us humans, female orcas go through menopause and live after they can no longer reproduce. Scientists believe this (in both humans and orcas) happens because grandmothers then help raise their grandchildren.
Honorable mention: Tuatara – 90 years
It looks like a lizard. It feels like a lizard. But, it’s not a lizard. It’s a tuatara. All it’s closest relatives went extinct 60 million years ago, but it’s still here in New Zealand. Its name comes from the Maori word for “peaks on the back.”
Tuatara stop growing once they’re around 30 years old and can live to be as old as 90 (probably more). Scientists think their long lifespan may be due to their slow metabolism and comparatively low body temperature. They also reproduce slowly, once every two to five years, and can grow their tails back!
Honorable mention: Atlantic halibut – 90 years
The largest Atlantic halibut ever recorded was 615 pounds! These are the largest flounders in the world, but when they hatch, they’re only half an inch long. An Atlantic halibut’s eyes are positioned on one side of its body, making it look really quite alien in nature.
However, their eyes are on different sides when they first hatch and then one migrates as the fish grows. You might be quite surprised by the Atlantic halibut’s diet: Mostly they eat other fish, but they sometimes eat lobsters, clams, and even seabirds. One halibut can make 2 million eggs in one season! Despite that, they are endangered.
Honorable mention: Quillback rockfish – 90 years
This rockfish stands out from its brethren due to the spiky fin cresting its back. With the fancy adornment, the fish almost looks like a fantasy creature from an Aquaman movie. But in reality, quillback rockfish are just chilling next to reefs and around rocks in the Pacific Ocean.
It seems that the oldest recorded quillback rockfish was only 32 years old, but some scientists believe they can live for around 90 years. If you’re looking to eat a quillback rockfish, you should know their fisheries are neither terrible for the environment nor completely sustainable. Perhaps eat something else if you can.
Honorable mention: European eel – 88 years
In the wild, European eels don’t live for 88 years. Actually, scientists believe they die after reproducing for the first time. However, when in captivity and prevented from reproducing, one European eel lived for about 88 years. Scientists believe they live around three to 20 years in the wild.
These eels are actually critically endangered. They face all kinds of threats from the development of their habitat and oil drilling to invasive species, pollution, and climate change. However, the threats against this species are not fully understood and are thus difficult to combat. Plus, these eels are still harvested as food.