A human born on Earth in 2016 can expect to live to be about 72. There are many animals that live much longer than humans do. What animal lives the longest?

The answer to that question is a little complicated.

Long-lived animals

There is a species of jellyfish, Turritopsis nutricula, that can revert to its polyp stage and mature again when injured or stressed. By this mechanism, the so-called ‘immortal jellyfish’ can evade death. T. nutricula may have no biological lifespan. Because of their virtual immortality, they are becoming an increasingly invasive species. The species is also known for surviving long-distance journeys in ship ballasts.

The award for the longest living organism that can die goes to various species of sponges. They can live to be at least a few thousand years old. One Monorhapsis chuni (a deep-sea sponge) specimen was found to date back more than 11,000 years.

Another marine animal that usually lives a long time is the quahog clam. The average lifespan of a quahog is 225 years. Although that amount pales in comparison to the lifespan of a sponge, it still exceeds that of a human!

The longest-lived vertebrate is the Greenland shark, which can live to be 200 years old or more. Greenland sharks do not reach maturity until the age of 100.

And the longest living marine mammal is the bowhead whale. Named for their large heads, bowhead whales live in the Arctic ocean all through the year.

Bowhead whales have been known to live more than 200 years. In addition to getting to be very old, bowhead whales have the largest mouth of any animal. It measures around 25 feet long, meaning it takes up more than a third of the average bowhead whale length of 65 feet.

Moving onto land animals, a few different giant tortoises can live in excess of 200 years. A Seychelles giant tortoise named Jonathan is at least 187 years old as of 2020. Another Aldabra giant tortoise, Adwaita, died in 2006 at around the age of 250. 

The bird species which typically lives the longest is the kakapo, a critically endangered New Zealand native and the only flightless parrot. Their average lifespan is 60.

Among insects, termite queens have the longest lifespans, and have been known to survive for more than 50 years. The death of a termite queen comes only after they live a life of laying one egg every three seconds – which translates to almost 11 million eggs a year. By the time they die, termite queens are up to 100 times larger than any other termite in the mound and can be longer than an index finger.

The oldest human allegedly lived to be 122 (although that claim is disputed), and there are many centenarians across the world, making humans the longest-lived land mammal. 

African elephants are the next leading land mammal when it comes to long lifespans. In the wild, African elephants live to be more than 60 years old. Interestingly, wild elephants live considerably longer than their counterparts in zoos – by a factor of three. A 2008 study found that the average lifespan of African elephants in European zoos was 17 years. In the wild, that number jumped to 56 years.

Lifespans of other lifeforms

How long do other non-animal organisms live? Far longer than animals do, that’s for sure.

A sample of Actinobacteria from Siberian permafrost was dated at around 500 million years old

Many endolithic species, or those that live inside a rock, coral, or shell, have long lifespans. In 2013, an endolith found on the ocean floor was estimated to have been alive for millions of years, with a generation (reproduction) time of 10,000 years.

A giant colony of Posidonia oceanica seagrass in the Mediterranean is likely between 10,000 and 200,000 years old. Colonial organisms are made up of many individual parts, none of which are alive very long but some of which always exist.

An underground fungus known as Armillaria solidipes also grows in colonies. The largest A. solidipes colony is in Oregon, is at least 2,000 years old and may be 9,000 years old. The colony is also the largest known living organism of any kind – it goes on for more than 2,300 acres.

The longest-lived individual plant in the world is a bristlecone pine that stands in the White Mountains of California. Its confirmed age is over 5,000 years.

Some life on Earth has been around for a longer amount of years than you can count to! How long does your favorite animal or plant live? Find out and ask your friends to do the same. That way you can all learn a few new facts!

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