Would you believe me if I told you that the bowhead whale could reach 200 years of age or that an immortal jellyfish lives in our oceans? The longest-living animals on earth are nature’s marvels, each specially adapted to survive the world’s toughest environments. From the land to the sea, some of these creatures can go without food for a year or regenerate their cells to stay young. We investigate which animals have the longest lifespans, and why spectacular species, such as tortoises and clams, have made our list.
1. African Elephant (50+ years)
In the animal kingdom, elephants are known for their immense size and unmatched memory, but they are also some of the oldest living land animals. The African elephant has a lifespan of 50 to 70 years in the bush. In captivity, they can surpass 80 years of age, but the oldest known elephant lived to just over 100 years of age. To survive the harsh African landscape, elephants use their tusks to remove bark from trees as food. Their trunks are adapted to grab food from tall trees, and they can sniff out water over 10-mile distances.
2. Tuatara (60+ years)
The tuatarais considered prehistoric with its spiny head, scaly skin, and large eyes. They aren’t related to any of today’s lizard species but are part of an ancient order of reptiles, dating back over 200 million years. These spiny animals are from New Zealand and have a 60-year average lifespan but can live to 100 years. In fact, the oldest tuatara reached the ripe old age of 113 years. The longevity of these reptiles is linked to their ability to conserve energy, and they are most active in cooler temperatures.
3. Giant Tortoise (100+ years)
A tortoise is the only land animal to reach over 100 years of age, with some pet tortoises living to 120 years old. What is more fascinating is the age that the giant tortoise can reach. The enormous reptiles are found on the Galapagos Island, growing to a size of 900 lbs. They can live longer than 150 years of age, but one of these large tortoises lived for 190 years. He was called Jonathan and was believed to have hatched in 1831. Giant tortoises can live for so long in the wild because they can survive on little to no food or water for 10-12 months.
4. Rougheye Rockfish (200+ years)
The rougheye rockfish lives in the Pacific Ocean, growing to an impressive length of around 38 inches. It lives beyond 200 years of age, with the oldest recorded fish at 205 years. In a study involving the longevity of the rougheye rockfish, researchers found that these fish can fix their damaged DNA. Their remarkable adaptation prevents this species from developing diseases such as cancer, and it helps them live much longer lives. The deep, cold water that these fish live in appears to help with their very slow rate of aging by reducing metabolic activity.
5. Bowhead Whale (200+ years)
Bowhead whales may not be the biggest whales, but they are the oldest. These mammals have an astonishing 200-year lifespan. Scientists believe that the secret to their longevity is their unique ability to repair DNA, reducing the rate of aging. These 60-foot whales belong to the Baleen family of whales and are recognized as the oldest mammals in the world. They are among a handful of large whale species that can live in the frigid Arctic waters because they are insulated by a foot of blubber. Bowheads have raised blowholes and powerful bodies to break through the ice when they need to breathe at the water's surface. Sadly, these gigantic whales were the target of commercial hunting practices, and today they are listed as endangered.
6. Greenland Shark (270+ years)
One of the reasons that the Greenland shark can surpass 270 years of age is its environment. Researchers estimate that some of these sharks can live for well over half a century. These peaceful vertebrates live in the Arctic Ocean, where cold temperatures significantly reduce their metabolism. Their metabolism is so slow that they grow by approximately 0.4 inches every year and enter reproductive age at 100 years old. Greenland sharks grow to 20 feet in length and conserve much of their energy by moving slowly through ocean depths of more than 3000 feet.
7. Ocean Quahog (400+ years)
You wouldn’t think much of a clam making our list of the 8 longest living animals, but the ocean quahog deserves a special mention. The large mollusk lives deep in the North Atlantic, and much like the Greenland shark, the freezing water and low oxygen levels slow their growth. Ocean quahogs can live between 200 and 400 years, but the oldest clam, which was over 500 years old, was found in the Iceland Sea. Nicknamed Ming, the age of this clam was determined by the number of annual rings on its shell.
8. Immortal Jellyfish (Infinite)
The Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish, commonly called the “immortal jellyfish,” wins the category for the longest-living animal on earth! These jellyfish have an astonishing lifecycle in which they can reduce themselves to polyps in challenging conditions and regrow into adults. This biological phenomenon is a survival strategy, as the jellyfish will turn into a “baby jellyfish” stage if it is injured or can't find food. The immortal jellyfish can regenerate itself multiple times, which means that it avoids aging. They are, however, a food source for many fish and are unable to continue their infinite lifecycle.