As medical science progresses, us humans, as a race, find ourselves living longer and longer lives.
But while we have medicine and the all the benefits of modern living to help us expand our lifespans, there are still several species of wild animals that outdo us, living for almost impossibly long periods, despite being susceptible to the pressures of sickness and predation.
Who are these animals? How long to they live, and which one lives the longest?
Most importantly – are there immortal animals living in the world today? And could they help us become immortal one day, too?
30. African Bush Elephants (70 or More)
The first animal on our list is the African bush elephant, which, in addition to its long lifespan, is also a record breaker in another field; it is the largest and heaviest land animal living today.
The African bush elephant reaches a shoulder height of 13 feet – nearly 4 meters – and a weight of around 11 tons.
But it’s not just size and weight that make African bush elephants impressive; these intelligent, social animals can reach the age of 70 – and sometimes even more.
What’s surprising is that, unlike many other animals, bush elephants’ lifespans are significantly longer in the wild than they are in captivity.At 70, the oldest living African Bush Elephant had probably lived through the entirety of the cold war.
29. Sablefish (90+ years)
Sablefish, also known as “black cod” by chefs and restauranteurs, can be found in the Pacific Ocean, where they reproduce in the deep before swimming up to the surface as small fry. Upon maturation, they return to the deep, where they are found at staggering depths of 300 to 2,700 m (980 to 8,860 ft). They are very long-lived fish, with some individuals even surpassing 90 years in age.
Sablefish are considered a delicacy worldwide – a fact which has contributed to their overfishing over the years, although happily, in recent years, thanks to responsible fisheries management, their population is doing much better.In 1998, a Sablefish of 94 years of age was recorded. When it was born, Theodore Roosevelt was elected president for the second time. The US has had 17 presidents during its lifetime!
28. American Lobsters (Past a 100 years)
You might have heard that American lobsters are immortal – but that’s not exactly true. While scientists think that lobsters have negligible senescence – that is, detrimental symptoms that come with aging – they do have a limited lifespan. Still, that lifespan is quite impressive, with some specimens having reached over a hundred years.
It is believed that this is made possible thanks to both the cold Atlantic waters in which they live, which slow down their metabolisms, as well as due to the fact that they are capable of shedding their exoskeletons as they grow.So, an American Lobster that had been living for a 100 years was born the same year as Eva Gabor and Primo Levi.
27. Olm Salamanders (Past a 100 years)
The olm salamander is an animal strewn in legend. Living in underground rivers and streams beneath the mountains of Central and Southeastern Europe, the olms were believed to be dragon-spawn for centuries, as specimens of the blind animals were washed out from under the mountains during floods.
Olms display many characteristics which differentiate them from other salamanders, including the frilly gills which they retain from their larval developmental stages, their extremely underdeveloped eyes – and their very long age. It is estimated that olm can live past a hundred years – an impressive age for anyone, but especially for salamanders, which usually don’t make it past 15.The oldest living Olm Salamandra could have been alive during the roaring 1920s.
26. White Sturgeons (104 years)
White sturgeons, native to the North American West Coast, are, much like their European cousins, prized for their roe, which is processed and turned into expensive caviar.
But caviar is by far one of the least interesting thing about these amazing fish.
Sturgeons, which live in lakes and estuaries along the coast, are scaleless, their bodies covered by smooth, bony plates instead. Their actual bones, however, are, much like those of sharks’, made of cartilage. Sturgeons can grow up to 20 feet (over 6 meters) in length, and 816 kilograms (1,799 lb.) in weight.
The oldest reported age of a white sturgeon in 104 years, although scientists believe they can actually grow older than that.The oldest white sturgeon alive had lived through WWI.
25. Redbanded Rockfish (106 years)
The redbanded rockfish, also known by more colorful names such as “bandit,” “canary” and “convict” thanks to its striped skin, can be found in deep waters off the West Coast of North America, from Alaska and all the way down to San Diego.
Because the species is found in very different waters, the time it takes redbanded rockfish to mature differs depending on the temperature of its surroundings. While bandits can reach maturity at the age of 3 in warm California waters, up in Alaska they may only reach maturity at the age of 19. This slowed-down aging process makes them a very long-lived fish, and specimens have been reported to reach an age of 106 years.If the oldest Redbanded Rockfish is now 107 years old, it was born the same year the Titanic had sunk. Being from a different area than where the famous ship had found its end, although it’s impossible, we still kind of imagine that maybe this old fish remembers that historic moment.
24. Blue Whales (110 years)
Blue whales are the largest animals to ever inhabit this planet – at least, the largest that we know of.
Everything about blue whales is staggering, from their car-sized heart, to their amazing length (nearly twice as long as the Hollywood sign!) to their colossal tongue, which weighs as much as an adult elephant – so it seems fitting that their age would be staggeringly long as well; blue whales can live up to 110 years in the wild.Blue whales that are living as long as 110 years have lived through both World Wars.
23. Shortspine Thornyhead (115 years)
There are many fish in the sea, but it seems that the rockfish family is exceptional in its long lifespan.
Out of the rockfish family, the shortspine thornyhead is one of the longest-living species, reaching 115 years in some documented cases.
This long life comes with a price; rockfish are fairly slow growing. Some only reach maturity at the age of 25 – which means that if they are overfished, their population can radically plummet, and only bounce back after a quarter of a century, if not more. Luckily, the shortspine population is doing just fine.An old Shortspine Thornyhead could have lived through 19 US presidents!
22. Beluga Sturgeon (118 years)
With their unique snout and massive bodies, beluga sturgeons are one of the most iconic fish species in the world. Often associated with wealth and luxury, beluga sturgeons are the animals responsible for the creation of one of the most expensive foods on earth: beluga caviar.
The reason for caviar’s excessive price is directly tied to the fish’s long lifespan; sturgeons take years to mature, and then many years more before they are ready to lay their eggs. The only way to harvest their roe is by cutting them open, and so, each sturgeon needs to be given time to grow. Considering some reach ages of 118 years, that’s a very long-term investment!A very old Beluga Sturgeon may have been born in 1901, the same year Queen Victoria had died.
21. Fin Whales (Nearly 120 Years)
Fin whales, thus named after the small dorsal fin on their back, are the second-largest whale species on the planet – but in terms of longevity, they’ve outdone their larger cousins, the blue whales, by reaching ages of nearly 120 years.
Once nearly hunted to extinction for their oil, bones and fat, in recent years fin whale numbers are increasing, and it seems as if the species is making a comeback.
Still, despite their extremely long age, they are only the second longest living whale species on the planet. The honor of first place is reserved to another species on this list.The oldest living fin whale may have lived through 3 centuries – from 1899 to today.
20. European Pond Turtles (120 years)
Turtles and tortoises are known for their exceptionally long lives, but when we discuss that attribute of these amazing animals, we usually bring up giant land tortoises or leatherback sea turtles as an example.
But even the humble European pond turtle can get some major mileage out of its little shell.While most European pond turtles rarely reach maturity, let alone make it past 15, there have been cases reported of pond turtles in captivity making it up to as much as 120 years.
19. Humans (122 years)
It’s easy to forget, but us humans are actually a remarkably long-lived species. Case in point: we outlive most of our pets.There are a variety of reasons for humans’ remarkably long lives; a combination of medicine – which gives us the ability to actively heal wounds and diseases, which, even when they don’t kill other animals, take a toll on their body – as well as a highly organized social structure in which the elderly are taken care of, has made us live increasingly longer. Today, human lifespans continue to grow – but no one has yet managed to surpass the age of the French Jeanne Calment, who was born in 1875 (shortly after the the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871) and died at the unbelievable age of 122 back in 1997 (the year Princess Diana had died in a tragic car accident).
18. Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoises (127 years)
As we move through this list, you’ll find that it contains quite a few turtles and tortoises. You might be wondering what the difference between the two is – but from an evolutionary standpoint, there really isn’t one. Both turtles and tortoises belong to the same “family,” and are known by evolutionary biologists as testudines.
Simply put, the only difference between turtles and tortoises is their habitat; while turtles are amphibious, spending most of their time in water, tortoises spend the entirety of their lives on land. The entire genus is extremely long lived, and even its most modest and “common” members, like the Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise, reach ages as high as 127 years.The oldest living Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise might have been born in 1892 – when General Electric came into existence.
17. Eastern Box Turtles (138 years)
Eastern box turtles, native to the eastern United States, are a subspecies of the common box turtle – but an extremely long lived one.
Eastern box turtles have negligible senescence, which means that as they grow older, they don’t experience the effects of aging; rather they just grow bigger.
Typically, eastern box turtles live for around 30 or 40 years – but one individual was reported to have reached the staggering age of 138 in the wild. One factor which may contribute to these turtle’s longevity is the fact that they are able to regenerate their shells – so even after sustaining serious injury, they can keep on going.The oldest living eastern box turtle may have been born in the year Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell formed the Oriental Telephone Company.
16. Watery Oreo (140 years)
Don’t be fooled by the watery oreo’s name; it may live in water but it is anything but a soggy cookie.
Watery oreos live on the ocean floor, originating from South America all the way to Australia, eating crustaceans, fish, squid and anything else that they can catch.
Thanks to the icy water of the ocean’s depths, watery oreos have a very slow metabolism, which allows them to reach ages as high as 140 years.
As for their name – it actually has very little to do with the popular cookie. Rather, it originates in the name of their evolutionary family, oreosomatidae, which means “mountain body” in Greek.How long is 140 years? 140 years ago, Thomas Edison demonstrated incandescent lighting to the public for the first time.
15. Orange Roughies (149 years)
The orange roughy, also known as the red rought, slimehead and deep-sea perch, can be found in the deep, cold waters of the Western Pacific Ocean, eastern Atlantic Ocean, the Indo-Pacific (off the coasts of New Zealand and Australia) and in the eastern Pacific off the coast of Chile.
Despite their huge range, orange roughies are extremely susceptible to overfishing, due to the long time it takes them to mature. Roughies can only begin mating when they turn 20 to 30 years of age. On the upside, they have been known to live up to 149 years!This means that the oldest living orange roughy may have lived through the reign of Napoleon III!
14. Lake Sturgeons (152 years)
Like their river and estuary-dwelling cousins, lake sturgeons – native to the Great Lakes and other freshwater systems in North America – are extremely long-lived.
Capable of growing to the age of 152 years, these freshwater giants can reach a length of over six feet.
Although they were a major staple in the diets of Native Americans living in proximity to them, it was only when European settlers arrived that the lake sturgeon came under threat of extinction. Today, the species is recovering, and its numbers have grown back substantially.The longest living Lake Sturgeons today may have lived during the first performance of Johann Strauss II’s waltz “The Blue Danube,” in 1867.
13. Shortraker Rockfish (157 years)
The shortraker rockfish, like its other rockfish cousins, is an exceptionally long-lived species. Scientists know that shortrakers are capable of living for at least 157 years, but estimates put their maximal age somewhere around 175.
The estimates of age are based on concentric rings found in the fish’s earbones – much like counting rings on a tree trunk – but this method isn’t always reliable.
In 2013 a fisherman by the name of Henry Liebman caught a specimen off the coast of Alaska, which was, at first, estimated to be 200 years old. Further research, however, showed the fish to be merely 64.A very old Shortraker Rockfish living today could have lived during the American Civil War.
12. Galápagos Tortoises (170 years)
The Galápagos tortoise is famous for its role in helping Charles Darwin realize that animals evolved through natural selection. While many believe that these giant tortoises are named after the islands they inhabit – the Galápagos islands – the truth is that it’s the other way around. “Galápagos” means “tortoise” in old Spanish.
Galápagos tortoises live to astounding ages, continuing to grow in size as they do so. The oldest Galápagos tortoise, Harriet, a specimen kept in Australia Zoo, was estimated to be over 170 years old before she died in 2006.It was born before 1836, during Charles Darwin’s travels to Australia)!
11. Aldabra Tortoises (187 years)
Far from the Galápagos islands, on the other side of the world, in the distant Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, another species of giant tortoise can be found; the Aldabra tortoise.
Known to be friendly and social with humans, these gentle giants stick around for centuries.
The two most famous turtles of this species, Adwaita and Jonathan, have been around since the 1880s.
Adwaita, who died on March 22, 2006, was believed to be over 200 years old, while Jonathan, who is still alive today, is at least 187.
Jonathan was born in 1832 – when Andrew Jackson was president!
10. Red Sea Urchins (150 to 200 years)
If you ever go diving in the Red Sea, you’ll see a wide array of fish and ocean life – but the one animal you’ll probably see most is the Red Sea urchin.
Ubiquitous throughout the sea’s beaches and coral reefs, it was once believed that these urchins don’t pass the age of 20 – but since then, scientists have discovered they can just as easily be anywhere between 150 to 200 years old.The oldest living Red Sea Urchin may have been born the same year as Queen Victoria, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and George Eliot.
9. Rougheye Rockfish (200 years)
The rougheye rockfish is the last rockfish on this list – and fittingly, the one species that reachest the greatest age of all the rockfish we have discussed so far.
Very similar to its cousin, the shortraker rockfish, the rougheye can be distinguished from its younger relative by its darker skin coloration.What truly makes this fish exceptional, however, is the age that it can reach: some specimens have been known to live for over 200 years.
8. Bowhead Whales (211 years)
While both the blue whale and the fin whale live for staggeringly long periods of time, the title of longest-living mammal goes to a smaller relative of theirs; the bowhead whale.
Bowheads have been estimated to live for as long as 211 years!
That’s not the only “longest” title these magnificent animals hold; they are also famed for their long mouths – 25 feet in length, which is nearly half the length of their entire body.
Bowheads can be found in the freezing waters of the arctic, where they use their huge, thick skulls to break through the thick ice sheets when they need to surface in order to breathe.The oldest Bowhead Whale living today may have been alive during the Napoleonic Wars.
7. Koi Fish (226 years)
While most of the animals we’ve discussed here so far have been somewhat exotic, one species which is reputed to be exceptionally long-living is the common Koi.
Traditionally grown in pools as “ornamental” animals, koi usually reach a maximal age of 30. It’s known, however, that the better they’re taken care of, the longer they live, and in Japan, where koi are much loved, they can reach ages upwards of 50.
One koi, however – named Hanko – has apparently lived for 226 years, at least according to a study of its scales conducted by Scientists at the Laboratory of Animal Science at Nagoya Women’s College.While their study has been thorough, this age is such a huge outlier that many doubt Hanko truly lived that long. If it did, it was born few mere years after the French revolution.
6. Lamellibrachia Tube Worms (250 years)
Lamellibrachia tube worms are probably the closest we’ll ever get to studying alien life. Living in one of the world’s most hostile environments – the deep-sea cold seeps – lamellibrachia don’t rely on a food chain with photosynthesis at its base. Rather, these worms use a process called chemosynthesis to produce their own food, through a mutualistic relationship with special bacteria that live in their gut.
Lamellibrachia are both huge and extremely long-lived. Reaching lengths of over 3 meters (10 feet), these quiet underwater giants can reach ages upwards of 250 years.The oldest living Lamellibrachia Tube Worm was around when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Cassation in D major, K. 100/62a and Te Deum in C premiered.
5. Greenland Sharks (400 years)
Greenland sharks are what biologists like to call “living fossils” – in more ways than one.
Greenland sharks have remained virtually unchanged for millions of years – partly because of their unique lifecycle.
These giants live to ages of up to 400 years, and only begin to reproduce at around 150.
This means that it takes them much longer to evolve, as the time between generations is huge.The oldest living Greenland shark was maybe born in a 1619, the year in which the first African slaves were brought to North America.
4. Ocean Quahog Clams (507 years)
In 2006, researchers collected clams in an effort to learn about changing ecosystems – and among the animals they took out of the ocean, they discovered a quahog that was 507 years old.
Naming it “Ming,” after the Ming Dynasty which ruled China when this clam was conceived, the clam was an invaluable way to learn more about the species and the ecosystem it lived in.
Bear in mind, though – Ming looked just like any other regular clam – so it’s not unreasonable to believe there are some much older individuals out there!The oldest living Ocean Quahog Clam was born before the Christian reformation!
3. Sponges (15,000 years)
While so far we’ve discussed animals reaching ages that span centuries, one type of animal can actually live far, far longer.
The humble sponge – one of the simplest multi-celled organisms out there – can actually reach ages of over 11,000 years.And this is no outlier; out of the many specimens scientists have examined, many sponges proved to be millennia old, with one of the oldest specimens discovered estimated as being conceived over 15,000 years ago (which is basically the end of Last Ice Age).
2. Hydras (Immortal)
Hydras are tiny animals – less than half an inch long – but they are able to make up for their small size with the fact that they continually regenerate their cells, seemingly – forever.
Hydras actually show no signs of aging whatsoever, and the majority of cells in their bodies are stem cells – which are usually unaffected by age.
For this reason, some scientists, like biologist Daniel Martinez, think hydras may actually be immortal.”I do believe that an individual hydra can live forever under the right circumstances,” he told Live Science in an interview.
1. The Immortal Jellyfish (Immortal)
Have you ever watched the film Benjamin Button and wished you could age backwards?
Well, while us humans may never be able to do that, it’s not a biological impossibility, as one animal proves.
The immortal jellyfish is so called because it is able to degenerate itself from a complex organism to a single “fertilized” cell, and then grow back from that egg, like the legendary phoenix, into a fully-grown organism once again.These jellyfish have stunned scientists when this ability was discovered, and today are important in furthering research into biological aging in humans as well.