The average human lives around 80-something years, slightly longer in some nations and slightly fewer years in others. Unless you’re in Swaziland, where the life expectancy is around 32 years. But that’s another tale for another day.
We humans like to think of ourselves as the apex, the top of the heap, the best and brightest and the species that will always leave the longest-lasting impact on our world.
But in a lot of cases, that’s just not true. After all, within 20 years, Chernobyl and Mother Nature had begun to erase all existence of humans.
Here’s a look at animals that routinely live longer than people, or at least give us a run for our collective money.
The albatross is a rather interesting bird. They look like common seagulls but have a much bigger wingspan — up to 11 feet!— and are known to stay in flight for hours at a time, gliding on those massive wings without a single flap. Some species of albatross have been recorded as living 50 years or more, unless they spend long amounts of time on the ocean’s surface.
That leaves them susceptible to becoming the snack of an aquatic predator. These birds are hardly ever spotted on solid land unless it’s breeding time. They gather in large groups on remote islands to produce more baby flying machines. Much like other birds, albatross pairs produce a single egg per mating cycle and both parents take turns caring for the egg. The hatchlings are ready to fly within less than a year and then leave their island, not returning for years until they’re ready to mate.
The lowly geoduck would never be voted “most attractive” in the animal world yearbook. Geoducks are weird looking salt water clams and make up the largest biomass of aquatic life in Puget Sound in Seattle. Pronounced “gooey-duck,” they can grow shells up to 10” long and weigh up to 10 pounds.
Geoducks live a long time, too, with an average lifespan of up to an astonishing 150 years, based on scientific research of their shells, which contain rings and markings like trees to denote their age. It takes about 10 years for the average geoduck to reach full size.
They also kind of look like a penis, with a beige muscle protruding from an off-white to yellowish shell, based on the water in which they live. These critters are enjoyed like clams, something only found and eaten (and not giggled at) in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and are said to be sweet like a clam as well, with a little bit of a crunch.
Red Sea Urchin
Found in the West Coast waters from Alaska to Baja California, red sea urchins are formidable little balls of spiky spines. Their domed bodies have flat bottoms, consisting of a 10-plate exoskeleton covered in those threatening-looking needles.
Their mouths are on the bottom of their bodies, level with the sea floor, and are called Aristotle’s Lantern, named for the famed Greek philosopher who first noted and described it. The largest of all sea urchins, they grow to between 5-7 inches (127 mm to 180 cm), with spines measuring up to 3 inches (8 cm).
And they grow for as long as they live, which can be up to a staggering 200 years. That largely depends on where they live, of course: Urchins in Southern California have a life expectancy in the 50 year range, while ones found near British Columbia were alive well into their first century.
(Source: Red Sea Urchin)
Koi aren’t just lovely ornamental fish that looks super awesome shimmering in the sun. Originally from China where they were bred to be things of beauty, they’ve been a food source in Japan, where the most popular breed to keep as a kind of pet is the Kohaku, the red and white variety.
While it might not be recommended, koi can be trained to eat out of the hands, or mouths, of their caretakers. Genetically, koi are delicate creatures that need relatively deep, shady ponds to be able to survive without getting sunburned. But if they have a comfortable, large-enough habitat with plenty of shade and food, they can grow up to 3’ long and live a long life, with one koi living to the ripe old age of 226. Granted, if the fish eggs aren’t immediately separated out of the pond after fertilization, adult koi will eat them, making their lifespan somewhat less remarkable. A more average lifespan is 30-40 years.
(Source: All About Koi: Fish Facts)
There’s no easing into this one: Bowhead whales can live more than 200 years. WOW! It’s not due to having a pampered, luxurious life. Bowhead whales are named for the shape of their head, which they’ve evolved to use to break through really thick ice, measuring up to 23” (60 cm). Their heads are so important to their existence, the head alone makes up about a third of their total body length, which can reach up to 59’ (18 m), weighing up to 100 tons.
It’s no surprise, then, that these whales can eat up to two tons of zooplankton daily to keep up their body mass. Still, they’re very agile creatures, able to leap completely up out of the water. Imagine being near that splash when it happens! They also have the thickest layer of blubber of all sea mammals, growing up to 19” (50 cm) thick to help insulate them against the Arctic cold.
(Source: 10 Fun Facts about Bowhead Whales)
Never offer to make a birthday cake for the Greenland shark. First off, the cake would disintegrate in the water, which is also so cold it wouldn’t be enjoyable. But these massive creatures, growing as long as 21 feet (6.5 meters) and weighing up to 2,100 pounds (1,000 kg), can live for up to 400 years. There aren’t enough candles in the store to light that cake! Unlike the geoduck or the tortoise, scientists study the Greenland shark’s eyes to determine its age.
The tissue in the creature’s eye is metabolically inactive, with new tissue layers added every year. Radiocarbon dating of 28 female sharks found in the north Atlantic determined they were between 334 and 390 years old. It would appear that just shy of 400 years is the average lifespan. Imagine what those eyes would’ve seen had they surfaced more!
(Source: 9 Facts about Greenland Sharks)
These mollusks have two wing-shaped, dark-colored shells that keep their body safe and sound. It also keeps them at an appropriate temperature in very chilly water. Like other animals, its age can be determined by rings in its outer shell. But imagine the surprise of some unlucky fishermen who pulled up and instantly froze one of these clams, only to find later it was still alive at the time of its harvest and had lived to the insanely old age of 507 years. In honor of its age, scientists have called this quahog “Ming,” because it would have been alive during the Ming Dynasty in China. What a life! As a whole, this species, along with the Greenland shark, has one of the longest lifespans of any organism on earth. It takes them 20 years to be of a size that would make them attractive to harvesters, hiding away until then by burying themselves deep in the ocean floor.
This isn’t Sponge Bob or the kitchen sink variety, but sponges are fascinating creatures. An animal without a central nervous system or brain but capable of providing a safe home for other animals in its nooks and crannies. Depending on the species, sea sponges can grow to about 10 feet wide, if not bigger, and there are fossilized samples dating back more than a billion years. But for present-day sponges, most species of sponges have a lifespan of up to 200 years, especially among those that live in deep water environments. Blasting past all of these is the Monorhaphis chuni, a particular species of sponge, which can make two record-breaking claims: it has giant glass-like spicules that reach more than 10 feet (3 meters) in length, one of which was dated to be between 11,000 years old, give or take 3,000 years.
Eels are slippery critters and, if asked, most people would think of either sushi or nifty aquarium pets when asked what they thought of them. But eels are much more than that. Swimming up the New Zealand waterways for the past 23 million years, give or take a few centuries, a longevity that could be due in part to their secretive, slightly anti-social manner. They take between 15 and 25 years to reach maturity, though some might take as long as 80 years, before they return to their home waters to breed and die. The longfin eel is one of the biggest in the world can only be found in the waters within New Zealand, though they are known to be climbers, which is sort of creepy. Some eels are capable of climbing a waterfall up to 20 meters tall. The longer the eel, the older it is, with long ones typical more than 60 years old.
In addition to sounding like it should be leading a thrash metal band, the rougheye rockfish is among the longest-living fish in the sea. Some are believed to reach into their 200s and keep on swimming. The first, with a distinct red color and rather large eyes, was first found in the Aleutian Islands. They grow to about 32 inches (80 cm) in length and are covered with a series of up to 10 spines along the lower rim of their eyes, further establishing their rock cred. This species is found in waters from San Diego across to the Bering Sea and all the way over to Japan, often as deep as 1,485 feet (450 meters) below the surface.
(Source: Rougheye Rockfish)
Let’s tell you a story about the lake sturgeon. Among the oldest creatures consistently living in the Great Lakes, sturgeons come close to the shores in the early summer to spawn but spend most of their lives in the deeper fresh water, eating small spineless creatures like snails, clams and leeches. That’s surprising, considering they’re also among the biggest fish in the lakes, up to 6 ½ feet (2 meters) long and weighing up to 200 pounds (90 kg). Unless they meet some fisherman looking to have a great story to tell, lake sturgeon can live for quite a long time: males have an average life expectancy of about 55 years, while the females triple that length, living up to 150 years.
(Source: Lake Sturgeon)
There must be something about having cooler blood and slower metabolisms that help animals live longer. Take the orange roughy, a class of fish that averages about 3.5 pounds and is collected from depths up to 700 fathoms. That’s a cold, pressurized environment to be sure. These fish, native to New Zealand and other areas, can live up to 50 years, which makes them a slow population to regrow when factored in that mating takes places only every few years. Maybe the orange roughy should’ve kept its original name: slimehead. That’s not attractive for pets or dinner! The fish, which has bright orange scales all along its body, in addition to spiky fins and a bony head, no longer suffers from poor branding.
(Source: Orange Roughy)
Yes, another fish. It’s gotta be the cold water! Most species live up to about 10 years, but one shortraker rockfish caught off the coast of Alaska in 2013 was believed to be more than 200 years old. Even among the older shortraker rockfish, which can regularly live into their early 100s, this was a granddaddy. The previous record holder was closer to 175 years old. That fish also was considerably smaller, about 32.5 inches long, compared with the 39-pound, 41-incher caught by a Seattle resident on vacation. Another fun fact: A fish’s age is determined by studying its ear bones.
While not penguins, these birds like to hang out in similar chilly climates. Thick-billed murres are much better swimmers than fliers but, once they get going, they can fly up to 75 miles an hour. In the water, though, watch out: they can dive to 330 feet under the surface, making them one of the deepest diving species. The birds have an average lifespan of about 25-30 years, which is not too shabby at all for birds. You can find thick-billed murres on coasts from Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and Russia, but they prefer to spend their winters as many do, in northern Europe and in the Pacific Ocean toward Japan.
(Source: Thick-Billed Murre)
Naked Mole Rat
First thing’s first: Naked mole rats are not naked; they’re not moles; they’re not rats. That being said, with a lifespan of up to 30 years, they’re the longest-living rodent, more closely related to guinea pigs than fuzzy moles or creepy rats. They’re really interesting critters that can use their sharpest front teeth as chopsticks if needed; they also appear to be immune or at least resistant to cancer, as the disease has never been found in a naked mole rat. In an interesting twist, the leader of the naked mole rat world is a queen, but she wasn’t just given the role – she fought others to earn it. She presides over a colony that can house up to 300 individuals and spread across several football fields in length.
(Source: 14 Fun Facts About Naked Mole Rats)
It’s a popular misconception that lobsters don’t age. A few summers back, a popular meme was a photo of a lobster calling itself immortal. Sadly, that’s not true. For the lucky ones who avoid nets and traps, who aren’t consumed at a young age by other lobsters and don’t get sick, a long lobster life will last around 50 years.
Lobsters that old weigh about 2 pounds (907 grams), but the heaviest one ever caught tipped the scales at 44 pounds (20 kg). A lobster’s age, when caught by fishermen, is estimated by measuring chemicals and materials that settle in over time, like fatty deposits in their eyes or pigments in their brains. For what it’s worth, it’s also a popular misconception that lobsters scream as they’re being boiled. That’s just air escaping their shells.
(Source: 10 Weird Facts about Lobsters)
Did you have to dissect a flatworm in high school? If so, it was likely preserved in formaldehyde, because live planarian flatworms will regenerate if they’re cut. Slice it in half and soon there will be two. Cut it into smaller pieces and each one will grow into a full worm in time. As a result, in theory, these worms could live forever. In labs, most live about 15 years, tops, but a study from the University of Nottingham found that planarian flatworms outsmart the typical aging process and could, it seems, live forever. These worms can reproduce either through fertilization or, commonly, they reproduce asexually through a process called fission, in which a worm constricts its own body until it splits in two.