List of longest-living organisms

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This is a list of the longest-living biological organisms: the individual(s) (or in some instances, clones) of a species with the longest natural maximum lifespans. For a given species, such a designation may include:

  1. The oldest known individual(s) that are currently alive, with verified ages.
  2. Verified individual record holders, such as the longest-lived human, Jeanne Louise Calment, or the longest-lived domestic cat, Creme Puff.

The definition of "longest-living" used in this article considers only the observed or estimated length of an individual organism's natural lifespan – that is, the duration of time between its birth or conception, or the earliest emergence of its identity as an individual organism, and its death – and does not consider other conceivable interpretations of "longest-living", such as the length of time between the earliest appearance of a species in the fossil record and the present (the historical "age" of the species as a whole), the time between a species' first speciation and its extinction (the phylogenetic "lifespan" of the species), or the range of possible lifespans of a species' individuals. This list includes long-lived organisms that are currently still alive as well as those that are dead.

Determining the length of an organism's natural lifespan is complicated by many problems of definition and interpretation, as well as by practical difficulties in reliably measuring age, particularly for extremely old organisms and for those that reproduce by asexual cloning. In many cases, the ages listed below are estimates based on observed present-day growth rates, which may differ significantly from the growth rates experienced thousands of years ago. Identifying the longest-living organisms also depends on defining what constitutes an "individual" organism, which can be problematic, since many asexual organisms and clonal colonies defy one or both of the traditional colloquial definitions of individuality (having a distinct genotype and having an independent, physically separate body). Additionally, some organisms maintain the capability to reproduce through very long periods of metabolic dormancy, during which they may not be considered "alive" by certain definitions but nonetheless can resume normal metabolism afterward; it is unclear whether the dormant periods should be counted as part of the organism's lifespan.

Biological immortality[edit]

If the mortality rate of a species does not increase after maturity, the species does not age and is said to be biologically immortal. There are numerous plants and animals for which the mortality rate has been observed to actually decrease with age, for all or part of the life cycle.[1] Hydra species were observed for four years without any increase in mortality rate.[2] If the mortality rate remains constant, the rate determines the mean lifespan. The lifespan may be long or short, though the species technically does not "age".

Individuals of other species have been observed to regress to a larval state and regrow into adults multiple times. The hydrozoan species Turritopsis dohrnii (formerly Turritopsis nutricula) is capable of cycling from a mature adult stage to an immature polyp stage and back again. This means no natural limit to its lifespan is known.[3] However, no single specimen has been observed for any extended period, and estimating the age of a specimen is not possible by any known means. At least one other hydrozoan (Laodicea undulata[4]) and one scyphozoan (Aurelia sp.1[5]) can also revert from a medusa stage into a polyp stage.

Similarly, the larvae of skin beetles undergo a degree of "reversed development" when starved, and later grow back to the previously attained level of maturity. This cycle can be repeated many times.[6]

Revived into activity after stasis[edit]

If the definition of lifespan does not exclude time spent in metabolically inactive states, many organisms may be said to have lifespans that are millions of years in length. Various claims have been made about reviving bacterial spores to active metabolism after millions of years of dormancy. Spores preserved in amber have been revived after 40 million years,[7] and spores from salt deposits in New Mexico have been revived after 250 million years, making these bacteria by far the longest-living organisms ever recorded.[8] In a related find, a scientist was able to coax 34,000-year-old salt-captured bacteria to reproduce. These results were subsequently duplicated independently.[9]

This Judean date palm sprouted from a 2,000-year-old seed

In July 2018, scientists from four Russian institutions collaborating with Princeton University reported that they had analyzed about 300 prehistoric nematode worms recovered from permafrost above the Arctic Circle in Sakha Republic, and that after being thawed, two of the nematodes revived and began moving and eating. One found in a Pleistocene squirrel burrow in the Duvanny Yar outcrop on the Kolyma River was believed to be about 32,000 years old, while the other, recovered in 2015 near the Alazeya River, was dated at approximately 30,000-40,000 years old. These nematodes were believed to be the oldest living multicellular animals on Earth.[10][11]

Like bacterial spores, plant seeds are often capable of germinating after very long periods of metabolic inactivity. A seed from the previously extinct Judean date palm was revived and managed to sprout after nearly 2,000 years. Named "Methuselah", it is currently growing at Kibbutz Keturah, Israel.[12] Similarly, Silene stenophylla was grown from fruit found in an ancient squirrel's cache. The germinated plants bore viable seeds. The fruit was dated at 31,800 ± 300 years old.[13] In 1994, a seed from a sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), dated at roughly 1,300 ± 270 years old, was successfully germinated.[14][15]

During the 1990s, Raul Cano, a microbiologist at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, US, reported reviving yeast trapped in amber for 25 million years, although doubts were raised as to its antiquity.[16][17][citation needed] Cano founded a brewery[18] and crafted an "amber ale" with a 45-million-year-old variant of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.[19]

List of longest-living organisms[edit]

Microorganisms[edit]

Some endoliths have extremely long lives. In August 2013, researchers reported evidence of endoliths in the ocean floor, perhaps millions of years old, with a generation time of 10,000 years.[20] These are slowly metabolizing and not in a dormant state. Some Actinobacteria found in Siberia are estimated to be half a million years old.[21][22][23]

The discovered microorganisms.

In July 2020, marine biologists reported that aerobic microorganisms (mainly), in "quasi-suspended animation", were found in organically-poor sediments, up to 101.5 million years old, 68.9 metres (226 feet) below the seafloor in the South Pacific Gyre (SPG) ("the deadest spot in the ocean"), and could be the longest-living life forms ever found.[24][25]

Clonal plant and fungal colonies[edit]

Pando is a clonal colony of quaking aspens that is several thousand years old

As with all long-lived plant and fungal species, no individual part of a clonal colony is alive (in the sense of active metabolism) for more than a very small fraction of the life of the entire colony. Some clonal colonies may be fully connected via their root systems, while most are not actually interconnected but are nonetheless genetically identical clones which populated an area through vegetative reproduction. Ages for clonal colonies are estimates, often based on current growth rates.[26]

  • A huge colony of the sea grass Posidonia oceanica in the Mediterranean Sea near Ibiza, Spain, is estimated to be between 12,000 and 200,000 years old. The maximum age is theoretical, as the region it now occupies was above water at some point between 10,000 and 80,000 years ago.[27][28][29]
  • The sole surviving clonal colony of Lomatia tasmanica in Tasmania is estimated to be at least 43,600 years old.[30]
  • The Jurupa Oak colony in Riverside County, California, United States, is estimated to be at least 13,000 years old. Other estimates place it at 5,000 to 30,000 years old.[31]
  • Eucalyptus recurva clones in Australia have been claimed to be 13,000 years old.[32]
  • A box huckleberry bush in Perry County, Pennsylvania, United States, is thought to be around 13,000 years old.[33]
  • King Clone is an individual creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) in the Mojave Desert of southern California, United States, estimated at 11,700 years old.[34] Another creosote bush has been said to be 12,150 years old, but this is as yet unconfirmed.
  • A Huon pine colony on Mount Read, Tasmania, is estimated at 10,000 years old, with individual specimens living over 3,000 years.[35]
  • Old Tjikko, a Norway spruce tree in the county of Dalarna, Sweden, is living on top of roots that have been radiocarbon-dated to 9,550 years old. The tree is part of a clonal colony that was established at the end of the last ice age. Discovered by Professor Leif Kullman of Umeå University, Old Tjikko is small, only 5 m (16 ft) in height.[36][37][38][39]
  • Pando is a clonal colony of Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen) trees in south-central Utah, United States, that is estimated to be several thousand years old, possibly as much as 14,000 years.[40] Unlike many other clonal "colonies", the above-ground trunks of these trees remain connected to each other by a single massive subterranean root system.
  • "Humongous Fungus", an individual of the clonal subterranean fungal species Armillaria solidipes in Oregon's Malheur National Forest, is thought to be between 2,000 and 8,500 years old.[41][42] Apart from its extreme age, it is also thought to be the world's largest organism by area, at 2,384 acres (965 hectares).

Individual plant specimens[edit]

The Llangernyw Yew may be the oldest tree in Europe

Aquatic animals[edit]

Giant barrel sponges can live more than 2,000 years.
  • The giant barrel sponge Xestospongia muta is one of the longest-lived animals, with the largest specimens in the Caribbean estimated to be in excess of 2,300 years old.[58]
  • The black coral Antipatharia in the Gulf of Mexico may live more than 2,000 years.[59]
  • The Antarctic sponge Cinachyra antarctica has an extremely slow growth rate in the low temperatures of the Southern Ocean. One specimen has been estimated to be 1,550 years old.[60]
  • A specimen, "Ming" of the Icelandic cyprine Arctica islandica (also known as an ocean quahog), a mollusk, was found to have lived 507 years.[61] Another specimen had a recorded lifespan of 374 years.[62]
  • The tubeworm Escarpia laminata that lives in deep sea cold seeps regularly reaches the age of between 100–200 years, with some individuals determined to be more than 300 years old. It is possible some may live for over 1,000 years.[63][64]
  • Greenland shark had been estimated to live to about 200 years, but a study published in 2016 found that a 5.02 m (16.5 ft) specimen was 392 ± 120 years old, resulting in a minimum age of 272 and a maximum of 512.[65][66] That makes the Greenland shark the longest-lived vertebrate.[67]
  • The maximum life-span of the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) may be 210–250 years.[68][69][70]
  • Some have claimed koi fish can live more than 200 years, for example Hanako, which some claim died at an age of 226 years on July 7, 1977, but this age estimate is based on a scale estimate,[71][72] is inadequate, and is not scientifically accepted.[73]
  • Some confirmed sources estimate bowhead whales to have lived at least to 211 years of age, making them the oldest mammals.[74]
  • Rougheye rockfish can reach an age of 205 years.[75]
  • Specimens of the Red Sea urchin Strongylocentrotus franciscanus have been found to be over 200 years old.[76]
  • Many sub-families of the marine fish Oreosomatidae, including the Allocyttus, Neocyttus, and Pseudocyttus (collectively referred to as the Oreos) have been reported to live up to 170 years, based on otolith-increment estimates and radiometric dating[77][78][79]
  • The deepsea hydrocarbon seep tubeworm Lamellibrachia luymesi (Annelida, Polychaeta) lives for more than 170 years.[80]
  • Geoduck, a species of saltwater clam native to the Puget Sound, have been known to live more than 160 years.[81][82]
  • A Swedish man claimed that a European eel named Åle was 155 years old when it died in 2014. If correct, it would have been the world's oldest, having been hatched in 1859.[83]
  • Orange roughy, also known as deep sea perch, can live up to 149 years.[84]
  • George the lobster was estimated to be about 140 years old by PETA in January 2009.[85]
  • In 2012, a sturgeon estimated to be 125 years old was caught in a river in Wisconsin.[86]
  • Tardigrades, capable of cryptobiosis, have been shown to survive nearly 120 years in a dry state.[87]
  • The Bigmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus), a freshwater fish in the Family Catostomidae, has a maximum longevity of at least 112 years based on otolith annulus counts and bomb radiocarbon dating.[88]
  • A killer whale of the "Southern Resident Community" identified as J2 or Granny was estimated by some researchers to have been approximately 105 years old at her death in 2017; however, other dating methods estimated her age as 65–80.[89][90]
  • A goldfish named Tish lived for 43 years after being won at a fairground in 1956.[91]

Humans[edit]

  >80
  77.5–80
  75–77.5
  72.5–75
  70–72.5
  67.5–70
  65–67.5
  60–65
  55–60
  50–55
Life expectancy by region in 2015
  • Jeanne Calment, a French woman, lived to the age of 122 years, 164 days, making her the oldest fully documented human who has ever lived. She died on August 4, 1997.[92]
  • Jiroemon Kimura (†116 years, 54 days) was the oldest verified man and died on 12 June 2013.
  • The oldest known person alive today is Kane Tanaka at 117 years, 305 days (born 2 January 1903).[93]

These are single examples; for a broader view, see life expectancy (includes humans).

Other terrestrial and pagophilic animals[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Rachel Sussman (2014). The Oldest Living Things in the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226057507.

References[edit]

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