Longest-Living Animals in the World
Thankfully, humans have the ability to live a long time. (The record-breaking Jeanne Louise Calment, a French woman, lived to be 122 years old!) But many animals live much, much longer.
Here, we take a look at the world's longest-living animals — ending with a creature that (seriously!) essentially never dies.
Weighing up to 33 pounds and touting a 10-foot wingspan, Andean condors are among the largest birds in the world that can take to the sky.
These magnificent vultures prefer living in the mountains or near the ocean — places where they can catch a great breeze. Even though they must survive as scavengers, they live an average of 50 years in the wild (and up to 80 in captivity!).
However, they reproduce slowly, with mates typically only having one offspring per year.
Though widely known for their ability to mimic humans, macaws have many other interesting features as well, including large beaks powerful enough to crack nuts, the ability to grip and examine food with their toes, and a tendency to mate for life. Moreover, they can live for several decades.
Hyacinth macaws are not only the largest macaws, but the largest parrots, period, with a wingspan of over 4 feet. They use their loud squawks, which echo through rainforests in Central and South America, to identify one another and mark their territory.
Highly intelligent and playful, macaws make great pets, but many species are endangered or have become extinct due to illegal pet trades.
Known as killer whales (but killer dolphins is more accurate), orcas are among the world’s smartest and most powerful predators, so it’s no wonder they have an average life expectancy of 50 to 80 years. (One female even lived to an astounding 103 years!)
Sadly, orcas that are taken into captivity experience a much shorter lifespan, with some dying as young as 12 years old. Highly social, they prefer to travel in pods, and each group has a distinctive dialect that its members can recognize from several miles away.
Orcas love to sink their four-inch teeth into seals, fish, squid and, yes, even other whales.
Have you ever heard a humpback sing? If you did, you were hearing a male. Only they can croon, and their stylings can be heard from as far as 20 miles away.
Humpbacks are also known for their globetrotting tendencies. You’ll see them all around the world in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They’re also acrobatic animals who love to breach and slap their tails around.
While the life expectancy for this majestic mammal is generally 80 years, the oldest recorded humpback made it to age 95.
Europeans love to eat these eels in a variety of ways; they’re smoked in Holland, jellied in London and fried in Italy. As a result, they're more endangered than polar bears and blue whales.
Found in freshwater rivers and in the Mediterranean, these snake-like creatures can grow to be 80 centimeters in length, and take about 15 years to fully mature. In their early years, they are transparent and known as “glass eels.”
If they’re able to avoid being eaten, these eels regularly live to be over 80, and the oldest European eel survived to the impressive age of 88.
Blue whales are famous for their extraordinary size: They can be up to 100 feet long and weigh over 400,000 pounds, and their tongues alone carry the same weight as an elephant.
And yet, astoundingly, the largest animal on the planet lives off one of the world’s smallest. Blue whales love krill, consuming around 9,000 pounds of the tiny crustaceans every day.
This diet, it would seem, is a successful one: Blue whales live an average of 80 to 90 years, though scientists speculate they can survive up to 110 years.
The fin whale is a perennial runner-up: It’s the second-largest mammal in the world and has the second-longest lifespan of all whales. It can grow to become 80 feet long and 80 tons in weight, while living to be nearly a hundred years on average.
Alternatively known as “razorbacks,” fin whales uniquely possess different-colored bottom jaws — one’s white, the other's black. Unfortunately, they're also one of the most impacted by commercial whaling, with nearly 750,000 killed in the Southern Hemisphere between 1904 and 1979.
Don’t call this New Zealand native a lizard. Though it resembles one, the tuatara is actually the only surviving member of the Rhynchocephalia reptile order, whose lineage goes back to the dinosaurs.
With an average lifespan of 60 years, but the ability to live a century or more, tuataras have a slow metabolism and are late bloomers who mature at around 30 years of age. Unlike reptiles, they can tolerate low temperatures and hibernate in the winter.
They prefer to be loners, but sometimes collaborate with seabirds to find shelter — then eat the birds’ eggs when they’re not looking. Talk about a bad house guest!
Things that live in the water tend to make it past their centennial birthday, and the white sturgeon is no exception. But it’s unlike its fellow fish in a key way: It has bony plates instead of scales.
Other fun facts about this unusual fish? It doesn’t have any teeth, and its taste buds are actually located outside of its mouth. (Weird!)
Though white sturgeons can survive more than 100 years, they often don't make it that long because they're harvested for their eggs, which produce one of the most well-known versions of caviar.
It’s hard to imagine a tiny, cave-dwelling creature living a long, healthy life, but the olm salamander can survive for over 100 years.
This bizarre-looking creature swims with ease while hunting for insects and snails. Though blind, the olm has a variety of heightened senses, including the ability to detect electricity.
Perhaps the secret to this salamander’s long success lies in its Peter Pan-like inability to grow up. The olm maintains juvenile features such as frilly gills no matter how old it gets.
Maine’s most famous residents (sorry Stephen King!) are also among its longest-living. American lobsters can survive 100 years or more, thanks in part to their ability to regenerate their claws, legs and antennae, and to their residence in chilly waters that help slow their metabolism.
Meanwhile, eating American lobsters may actually be good for your metabolism. Skip the butter and you’re looking at 28 grams of protein per cup and only 96 calories per 3.5 ounces. Lobsters make for such a healthy diet that they’re even known to dine on one another!
Though these tasty crustaceans are pricey in places, they were considered “poor people food” in colonial times and were often used as fertilizer and fishing bait.
Remember how Charles Darwin decreed that evolution is about the “survival of the fittest?” One of his inspirations was the giant tortoise, which he spent quite a bit of time around while conducting research in the Galapagos Islands. Giant tortoises on these islands can live well over a century.
The most famous of these gorgeous reptiles was Lonesome George, a male Pinta Island tortoise who was the last known of his species. Though George died in 2014 at the age of 102, he captured the public’s heart and became a symbol of the importance of environmental conversation throughout the Galapagos and around the world.
A popular menu item in high-end seafood restaurants, sablefish are also known as black cod. But don't be fooled; they’re not actually cod. Some argue that a better nickname would be “butterfish” because of their buttery flavor and high-fat content.
Sablefish have fur-like scales and dark gray-black bodies, and like to dwell in waters as deep as 8,860 feet. Found in the Pacific Ocean, they are known for being prolific migrators, with some traveling almost 2,000 miles over six years.
Living to be up to 114 years old, they have plenty of time to make their epic trips.
Amazingly, members of the rockfish family regularly surpass a century in age.
The second-longest-living rockfish, the shortracker, has a misnomer of a name: It is actually one of the largest rockfish species in the world, growing to be up to 48 inches in length and more than 50 pounds in weight. It lives, on average, to be 120 years old, and can survive even longer. In 2013, a man fishing off the coast of Alaska caught a shortracker rockfish estimated to be more than two centuries old.
The longest-living rockfish, the rougheye, is even more impressive, boasting an average lifespan of 140 years old.
Though the Galapagos tortoise is perhaps better known, in another part of the world, the Seychelles’ Aldabra tortoise tends to survive even longer, often making it past age 150.
Sometimes, these tortoises even outlive the scientists studying them. Take Jonathan, for example. At 187 years old, he’s the oldest living land animal in the world.
Jonathan, who now resides in St. Helena, is mostly blind, but enjoys a high quality of life and likes to take things slow. His libido, however, hasn’t missed a beat; he still enjoys wooing his longtime mate, Frederica, who he has been mating with since 1991.
Red sea urchins were once believed to live 10-15 years, but recent studies show they can make it to 200 years old.
These small, spiny creatures are mostly found in the shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean along the west coast of North America. Interestingly, those found in California are believed to live around 50 years, while the British Columbia residents regularly make it to their bicentennial.
Speaking of age: Red sea urchins don’t really show signs of it. One-hundred-year-olds can look just like 10-year-olds and are still capable of breeding, sometimes doing a better job than their younger counterparts.
At nearly 12 centimeters, these are also the largest of all sea urchins.
Scientists believe these long-living mammals can reach over 200 years of age, and the oldest bowhead survived for 211 years.
How did experts come up with this number? They found ivory and stone harpoon bits buried in the whale and realized these haven’t been used since the 1880s. That may sound like it was easy enough to determine, but it took a lot of excavation, as bowheads have a massive amount of blubber — 19 inches of it to be exact, the most of any sea mammal.
In case it wasn’t obvious, these arctic dwellers get their name from the shape of their head, which makes up on-third of their total length and can break through up to 23 inches of sea ice.
Bowheads have an average length of 50 to 60 feet and can weigh over 220,000 pounds.
These large clams are often used for chowder, a rather ignoble fate for such an impressive creature. Ocean quahogs regularly surpass 200 years of age, and one of the oldest was believed to be over 500 years old.
Scientists affectionately named that long-lasting clam “Ming” because it would have been alive when the famous Chinese dynasty was in power. Unfortunately, researchers clammed up during their studies and accidentally killed their subject.
No, we’re not talking about the cookies — Oreo fish are part of a genus named Oreosoma. Like the cookie, though, they do come in a variety of packages, including black, smooth, spikey and warty.
Oreos are known for having humongous doe-eyes, which take up more than half their heads and come in handy for navigating the murky waters of South America and Australia. Oreos begin their lives in shallow water (when adults lay their eggs, they actually float to the surface), but as they get older they prefer to swim along the ocean floor.
Scientists estimate that the longest-living of the species, the warty oreo, can make it to between 140 and 210 years old.
If there’s one word that describes tubeworms, it’s “resilient.” (Okay, maybe creepy also fits the bill.)
Remarkably, these tiny creatures who live at the bottom of the ocean can withstand intense pressure and extreme temperatures, from arctic cold to volcanic heat. Their soft body is surrounded by an outer tube called chitin, which is also found in the shells of lobsters and crabs.
Though classified as animals, they have plant-like features, like the ability to anchor themselves to the ground. They don’t have mouths, so they use a retractable plume to get nutrients from the water.
Considering their extremely long lifespan, this feeding strategy seems to work just fine.
The great white might be the world’s most famous shark, but did you know the Greenland shark is the longest-living vertebrate on earth?
These Arctic apexes live at least as long as 400 years. One of the reasons for their long life is a very slow growth rate (an average of one centimeter per year), which also means they mature late and don’t start mating until around 150 years old.
Mysterious and elusive, Greenland sharks grow to between 14 and 21 feet long and will eat just about everything, including reindeer and polar bears. But you’ll want to avoid dining on their meat, which is highly toxic and may cause you to get severely ill or, according to natives of Greenland, appear “shark drunk.” (But might we also recommend “shark tanked"?)
If sea sponges were to launch a PR campaign, their slogan might be “we are not plants!”
While they don’t have eyes, ears, mouths, hearts or brains, sponges are multicellular, lack cell walls and have the ability to produce sperm cells — all characteristics of animals.
There are over 6,000 species of them, all of which are found in saltwater, and they can measure up to 11 feet. And yes, you’ve read that right — some massive species of them are estimated to live for more than 2,300 years.
Sponges cleverly use their holes to filter water and store nutrients. Their bodies consist of multiple layers held together by a jelly-like substance called mesohyl, and they can regenerate if broken apart.
Though humans have used sponges to bathe, clean and medicate (they’re an excellent source of iodine), most other sea creatures leave them be.
The immortal jellyfish inspires comparisons to Benjamin Button for its unique ability to age in reverse.
When stressed or injured, these brilliant blobs regenerate and start life over again, transforming cells from one type to another. For example, muscle cells can become nerve cells or even sperm or eggs.
Though death isn’t entirely out of the question (they won’t regenerate if, say, swallowed by a fish), these fingernail-sized creatures live a fascinating life...and then another one...and then another one.