30 Animals with Unbelievable Lifespans
The average human lifespan is around 79 years, though some members of our species have celebrated their 100th—and even 122nd—birthdays. But while these triple-digit lifespans are anomalies for us, some animals are so over-the-hill that hitting ten decades is the norm.
From deep-sea divers to critters that wing through the sky, these 30 animals won’t be searching for the Fountain of Youth anytime soon. Read on to discover just how long these unbelievable lifespans stretch.
African Elephant | 70 Years
First on our list is the unforgettable African elephant—one of the few mammals featured here. While this pachyderm’s average lifespan is pretty similar to that of humans, it may be slightly more impressive because African elephants are the largest land animals on the planet.
To stay healthy and energized for seven decades, the African elephant eats about 300 pounds of food each day. But these creatures do much more than chow down.
In fact, thanks to their intelligence and highly complex brains, elephants have a lot in common with humans. They engage in acts of art-making and cooperation, and exhibit self-awareness, a sense of humor, and altruism. In fact, when a member of their herd does finally pass away, elephants are known to grieve, just like us.
Macaw | 80 Years
This well-known member of the parrot family hails from the rainforests of Central and South America. Due to their playful nature—and their ability to mimic human speech—macaws are popular pets. This means they’re often hunted, but, if left to their own devices, macaws can live up to 80 years.
And they don’t waste a single day. Like other birds, macaws mate for life, but instead of just breeding with their partners they also share food and help one another stay groomed and healthy.
As intelligent, social birds, macaws often flock together in groups of up to 30. That’s right: 30 birds that stick around for about eight decades. That makes for a lot of candles to blow out each year.
Pink Cockatoo | 83 Years
Surprisingly, these colorful birds aren’t native to rainforests, unlike our friends the macaws. Instead, the pink cockatoo—or Major Mitchell’s cockatoo—calls the arid outback of Australia its home. But the most famous pink cockatoo left Sydney’s Taronga Zoo behind for the exciting clime of Illinois.
The cockatoo in question was named Cookie. His home-away-from-downunder? Brookfield Zoo, just outside of Chicago. When the zoo opened in 1934, the cockatoo became one of its first residents. Since then, Cookie celebrated his birthday at Brookfield Zoo every June, though he retired from exhibit life in 2009. (Being on display was a stressful gig in his old age.)
Cookie passed away in August of 2016, at the ripe old age of 83, and was recognized by the Guinness World Records as the oldest living parrot in the world.
Kakapo | 95 Years
The kakapo is another example of A) an animal with a pretty hefty lifespan, and B) another parrot. All of this really makes us think Polly’s cracker obsession was the key to longevity. (Forget apples.) But what really makes this New Zealand-based bird unique? It can’t fly.
This rotund bird makes up for being flightless with its climbing expertise. Better yet, it’s known to “parachute” out of tall trees by leaping and then spreading its wings. Despite these cool workarounds, the kakapo’s inability to fly left it defenseless when European colonizers introduced non-native predators, such as cats and ferrets, to New Zealand.
Sadly, there are only 142 living adult kakapo left. An unfortunate fungal disease in April of 2019 led to 20% of this small population being carried by helicopter to veterinary hospitals all over New Zealand.
Crocodile | 100 Years
Modern crocodiles have been alive and kicking for a solid 80 million years, which explains their vaguely prehistoric look. While most crocs, such as those native to the Nile River, live just 45 years, a few can outlast even the longest-living humans. At 110-years-old, Australia’s Cassius is one of the oldest crocs on record.
Measuring in at 18 feet in length and a whopping 2,200 pounds, this saltwater crocodile also nabbed the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest crocodile in captivity in 2011. He was displaced just a year later by Lolong, a 20-foot croc from the Philippines. After Lolong’s death in 2013, Cassius regained the top spot and has been spending his days as a record-holder in Queensland’s Marineland Crocodile Park.
Despite his old age, the croc is a fighter. With the tip of his snout and tail both missing, this rough-and-tumble croc was named after Cassius Clay—better known as boxer Muhammad Ali.
Olm Salamander | 102 Years
The olm is a blind salamander that lives to be over a century old. This aquatic cave-dweller’s eyes actually stop developing as it grows, until those eyes are covered in a layer of skin. Instead of depending on sight to hunt snails and other prey, this dragon lookalike uses heightened senses of smell and hearing to navigate the world.
What could make the olm even more unique? Glad you asked. Allegedly, it has several other “super senses,” including the ability to sense electric and magnetic fields.
Having lived relatively untouched in the caves of Croatia and Slovenia for upwards of 20 million years, olms still puzzle scientists. Unlike other salamanders, their lifespan is just so darn impressive. Stranger still, they’re small creatures, and they don’t have particularly special metabolisms, or antioxidant abilities. In layman’s terms, they don’t have an obvious predisposition to live longer.
In his famous On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin himself wondered if it was simply the olm’s isolated life that made for a longer lifespan.
New Zealand Long-finned Eel | 106 Years
Native to New Zealand, this eel exhibits several unique behaviors, many of which tie into its unusually long lifespan. These eels generally live out their lives in freshwater locales, including streams and lakes in inland Australia and New Zealand. But they enjoy a dip in saltwater, too.
At the end of their lives, the eels migrate to a particular swathe of the Pacific Ocean, near the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga. More importantly, the long-finned eel breeds at the end of its long life—meaning, these creatures travel hundreds of miles to become parents at the ripe old age of 100-and-something.
Since they breed infrequently—and since they call it quits after doing so—it’s difficult to maintain a robust eel population. Though they’ve long been an important traditional food source for Māori people, it’s the commercial overfishing that has threatened this creature.
Blue Whale | 110 Years
Larger than any land animal known to man, it is commonly thought that blue whales are the largest creatures to ever exist on Earth. One of these massive mammals weighs between 200,000 and 300,000 pounds. To put that in perspective for you, a blue whale’s heart weighs as much as your Lyft driver’s Prius.
Though the average lifespan of a blue whale is estimated to be between 80 and 90 years, many live to be well over 100. In order to determine an individual whale’s age, scientists have found a way to treat them a bit like trees. But instead of counting the rings of a tree stump, they count the layers of a whale’s wax-like earplugs.
Using this technique, scientists discovered a blue whale that lived to be 110 years old. With few natural predators—and a protected status dating back to 1966—it’s possible more and more blue whales will hit this 11-decade mark.
Beluga Sturgeon | 118 Years
As the crotchety-sounding name might imply, sturgeons are a pretty old group of fish. It’s estimated that they’ve been around for 200 million years. So they’ve had quite some time to perfect this whole life thing. One of the largest predatory fish in the world, the beluga sturgeon has very few natural predators of its own, which may contribute to its average lifespan of 118 years.
However, over the last century, people have dramatically reduced the beluga sturgeon population. Fishermen commonly seek out their roe, or eggs. Beluga sturgeon caviar is some of the most sought-after in the world. A large female sturgeon can carry several hundred pounds of caviar—and those eggs sell for about $3,500 per pound.
Overfishing and hunting has led to some biological changes as well. While beluga sturgeon in the 1800s often weighed in at upwards of 2,500 pounds, those caught today more commonly weigh just a couple hundred pounds.
European Pond Turtle | 120 Years
Most European pond turtles live around 60 years, but certain individuals have reached ages that are double that figure. Though these turtles seem like hearty, built-to-last animals, they actually encounter quite a few obstacles. In particular, hatchlings have it the worst: they’re vulnerable without fully-formed shells and they need very favorable weather conditions in order to survive.
Roads have also caused a huge problem for these creatures. While streets may connect our human habitats, they splice up the turtle’s natural habitat. This fragmentation is particularly harmful while the animal is nesting.
Luckily, the turtles’ long lifespan helps balance out the yearly loss of hatchlings. In a sense, the European pond turtle’s longevity is a form of resilience—and a way to adapt to the naturally occurring struggles the species faces.
Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise | 125 Years
The Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise, or Greek tortoise, has a very high average lifespan. Most specimens live at least 125 years, if not longer. One unverified report claims one of these robust creatures lived a whopping 200 years. One thing remains certain: these tortoises won’t need to trek up Mt. Olympus to sip on ambrosia and extend their lives anytime soon.
Though Greek tortoises prefer to be left alone, they have a fairly mellow temperament, which makes them a popular pet. This popularity has led to an illegal turtle trade, particularly in Spain and Morocco. But, unless you plan to name your tortoise in your will, you may want to think twice before taking in this long-living pet.
Eastern Box Turtle | 138 Years
Box turtles of all sorts live in North America—in states ranging from Maine to Florida and Texas—as well as on the Yucatan peninsula. Even though this creature isn’t a tortoise, it is largely a terrestrial turtle, preferring to live close to—rather than in—the water. Though many box turtles only live a few decades due to a plethora of natural predators and their propensity for getting struck down by cars and farming equipment, those in captivity have reached ages well over 100.
In fact, the box turtle is so beloved—and, maybe, inspiring?—that it’s been dubbed the “State Reptile” of North Carolina. The state’s Secretary of State commented on the turtle’s…encouraging examples, saying, “The turtle watches undisturbed as countless generations of faster ‘hares’ run by to quick oblivion, and is thus a model of patience for mankind, and a symbol of our State’s unrelenting pursuit of great and lofty goals.”
Personally, we’d prefer following in the footsteps of these turtles, but to each their own.
Pacific Geoduck | 140 Years
Known as the mud duck or king clam, the geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”) is certainly a strange-looking mollusk. To make matters worse, these suckers burrow into the mud and sand. And those siphons, or necks (or whatever they are) can grow to three feet in length.
None of this makes the geoduck sound like a delectable choice, but, evidently, harvesting them has grown into a $80-million industry. In 2006, geoducks harvested from the Puget Sound were sold at $4 per pound; in 2019, that price reached a whopping $15 per pound.
Though they’re in high demand, geoducks aren’t endangered. These clams are actually very productive, with each female producing about 5 billion eggs during its lifetime. And, with an average lifespan of 140 years, geoduck can just keep reproducing, outpacing the rate at which they’re caught.
The oldest geoduck on record celebrated an impressive 168th birthday.
American Lobster | 140 Years
From fertilizer to cheap prison food to New England’s finest delicacy, these crustaceans have experienced a lot of change over the years. Even as adults, lobsters shed their shells, continually growing. The longer they live, the stronger their shells become. While most lobsters live to be a couple pounds and up to 50 years old, a few have proven that lobsters can be more resilient—when they aren’t being netted.
In 2009, a fisherman in Maine caught a lobster that weighed in at 20 pounds—and was an estimated 140 years old. In 1977, an even larger lobster was captured, according to Guinness World Records. Though weight correlates to age, the age of this other 44-pound lobster is unclear. One thing remained certain: the record-shattering lobster in question was capable of snapping a human arm with his powerful claws.
Biologist Simon Watt notes that “…unlike humans, [lobsters] don’t die as a result of their own metabolisms—there doesn’t seem to be a built-in life expectancy in their cells.”
Warty Oreo | 140 Years
Apple pie, birthday cake, red velvet, fudge-covered, peanut butter, and…warty. No, the warty oreo is not Nabisco’s latest trial flavor for milk’s favorite cookie. (Thank the Keeblers.) It’s just a very ugly, unfortunately-named, old fish. Though most oreos live for 140 years or so, some have reportedly lasted 200 years out on the continental slopes.
With compressed bodies, rows of wart-like scales on their stomachs, and large eyes, these fish are truly a strange sight to behold. Like their cookie counterparts, these creatures are edible—though we’d recommend baking or poaching, as opposed to dunking into milk.
Female oreos release roughly 62,000 eggs per spawning season, so we don’t have to worry about a shortage of these fish anytime soon.
Orange Roughy | 149 Years
Yet another big-eyed fish with a mildly repulsive name, the orange roughy (or slimehead…) is another animal that’s figured out the secret to longevity. Native to waters in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indo-Pacific, the roughy tries its best to tough out deep-trawl fisheries. However, this slow-growing and late to mature fish is very susceptible to overfishing.
Living nearly 150 years on average, the orange roughy’s most extraordinary trait is its lifespan. How do researcher’s figure a roughy’s age? Thanks to radiometric dating, scientists can trace isotopes found in the fish’s “ear bone,” much like counting growth rings.
While both radiometric dating and the more low-tech counting have yielded similar results (lifespans ranging from 125 to 156 years), many still believe these methods have underestimated the age of older roughys.
Tuatara | 150 Years
If you search “tuatara,” one of the most popular related searches is “Does the tuatara have a third eye?” Kind of a wild thing to stumble upon. But it’s true. This dinosaur-looking lizard has a third eye on the top of its head. Called the parietal eye, it has all the makings you’d expect, from reina to cornea, but it isn’t used for vision. In fact, scales grow over the parietal eye as the hatchling ages.
Called a “living fossil” due to its ancient lineage, this New Zealand native is also just a fossil in general. Though researchers believe the average tuatara lives for 60 years, it has become clear that they can live to well over 100. Some have even rung in 200 years.
One 111-year-old tuatara, Henry, bred with an 80-year-old tuatara, Mildred, in 2008. Though Henry and Mildred may be some of the animal kingdom’s oldest parents, they’re also rather important. As of now, only 50,000 tuataras remain, so any hatchling is more than welcome.
Lake Sturgeon | 152 Years
In 1953, a lake sturgeon was caught by scientists in Canada, who later thought the individual to be a spectacular 152 years old. Despite their names, lake sturgeon are found in the Hudson Bay, the Mississippi River, and other bodies of water, in addition to the Great Lakes. Known as North America’s largest fish (most measure 7 feet long), these freshwater creatures are facing a drastic population drop.
Although lake sturgeon were initially fed to livestock or used as fertilizer, fishermen in the 1800s eventually realized the fish’s value. Not only did its caviar become prized, but it was used for isinglass and eaten as a specialty catch in restaurants. In a single year, 5 million pounds of lake sturgeon were caught in Lake Erie alone.
Pair this overfishing with the fact that each individual only breeds every few years—and one thing is clear. The road to recovery isn’t an easy one.
Galápagos Tortoise | 170 Years
Weighing in at a maximum of 919 pounds, the Galápagos tortoise is known for its giant stature. Today, the tortoises live on two remote archipelagos: the Galápagos, near Ecuador, and Aldabra Island atoll, part of the Seychelles. (More on the Aldabra tortoises in a minute.) The Galápagos tortoises are especially well known for their starring role in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. With lifespans in the wild of over 100 years, these long-living vertebrates still have much to teach researchers.
Terri Irwin’s Australia Zoo in Queensland, which was made popular thanks to her late husband’s series The Crocodile Hunter, was fortunate enough to be home to a Galápagos tortoise for many years. This tortoise, Harriet, was thought to be the oldest of her kind. Harriet reportedly reached the age of 170 or so before her death in 2006.
Despite her age, the slow-moving Harriet had plenty of adoring fans.
Aldabra Tortoise | 180 Years
And we’re back—this time with the Aldabra tortoises, who call one of the Seychelles northeast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean their home. The tortoise is by far the largest animal on the Aldabra Island atoll, making its ecological niche similar to that of an elephant. Yes, really. And these two animals have more than just their gray, wrinkled skin in common.
Much like elephants, Aldabra tortoises are the biggest vegetarians around. They’ll eat the bulk of and area’s vegetation, kicking over trees and tearing apart shrubs (though very, very slowly…) in order to get that next yummy leaf.
As mentioned above, the Aldabra tortoises, like their Galápagos brethren, are some of the longest-living animals on the planet. One tortoise, Adwaita, arrived at the Calcutta Zoo in 1875, where he lived until 2006. Upon his death, Adwaita was reportedly 255 years old, making his birth year 1750.
These days, Jonathan the tortoise is considered the oldest living of his kind at a spry 187 years old.
Red Sea Urchin | 200 Years
Sea urchins are spiny, sphere-like animals—yes, animals—that live in all of Earth’s oceans. Over 900 species of urchins populate the seabed, feeding on algae and regrowing their broken spines. A truly exciting existence! Especially for the red sea urchin, which gets to capitalize on this lowkey existence for a reported 200 years.
That’s right. A red sea urchin that was born the same day as poet Walt Whitman could still be alive, and reproducing, today. In the past, researchers believed that the average red sea urchin only lived 7 to 15 years, but in 2009 new studies showed that these urchins had lifespans that far surpassed those of most other animals.
“No animal lives forever, but these red sea urchins appear to be practically immortal,” said Thomas Ebert, a marine zoologist at Oregon State University, upon this discovery. “The evidence suggests that a 100-year-old red sea urchin is just as apt to live another year, or reproduce, as a 10-year-old sea urchin.”
Rougheye Rockfish | 200 Years
Like all with it coastal residents, rougheye rockfish dine on shrimp and the occasional crab. Unlike other seaside locals, however, they’re named after the spines that ring their eyes. Despite this apt name, rougheye rockfish are more commonly known as “snapper,” a much more marketable—and potentially palatable—name.
Often found near the seafloor or inside deep sea caves and crevices, these fish have more than just a habitat in common with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. No, rougheye rockfish aren’t tempted by the One Ring—they’re just able to live for a really long time. Given, they don’t necessarily match up to Gollum’s impressive 589-year run, but they can live for upwards of 200 years.
Bowhead Whale | 211 Years
The bowhead whale spends all of its life in the Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. Because of that, it has some pretty unique features, including a triangular skull capable of busting through ice. Inuit hunters have attested that bowheads have broken through ice 24-inches thick. That’s a lot—triangular skull or not.
Bowheads are also considered the longest-living mammal on the planet, with most living over 200 years. In 2007, a bowhead whale was spotted off the coast of Alaska. Lodged in the poor whale was a harpoon, dating back to the late 1880s or early 1890s. When it died, the animal was thought to be well over 100 years old, motivating scientists to look into the bowhead’s longevity a bit more.
The oldest specimen? An estimated 211 years old. Scientists have identified a few potential genetic reasons for this longevity. First, bowheads contain a gene that helps repair DNA and ward off cancer, and, like other animals on the list, it has a lower metabolic rate.
Koi Fish | 226 Years
Originally brought to Japan as a food source, the majestic koi fish are actually relatives of the common carp. Koi are closely associated with Japan’s national identity and a symbol of good fortune, patience, and prosperity. All over the world, these fish are prized for their beauty. Through some accidents—and some purposeful decisions—they live in the wild on every continent except Antarctica.
But this has led to some less-than-stellar results. In most places that aren’t someone’s backyard pond, koi fish are considered invasive species and pests. How could these colorful characters ever fall into that category? Well, they love moving around and stir up the water so much that it ruins things for aquatic plants and animals that normally drink from the now-turbid water sources.
Whether they’re pests or pets, one thing is for certain—koi fish live an exceptionally long time. One koi named Hanako was born in 1791 and lived until 1977, making it 226 years old.
Lamellibrachia Luymesi Tube Worms | 250 Years
Lamellibrachia luymesi isn’t exactly latin for “large sedentary worm,” but we wouldn’t question that translation if you said it with confidence. After all, that’s what these off-white tube worms with showgirl plumes are—unmoving worms. Honestly, it’s easy to forget they’re animals, not plants.
Much like plants, they help balance levels of carbon dioxide and stabilize the water’s pH levels. These animals live in deepsea “cold seeps,” where hydrocarbons (oil, methane, and all that good stuff) escape from. Thanks to a symbiotic partnership with bacteria, these tube worms can stay put and gather all the nutrients they need to survive. And not just survive, but thrive.
Growing to a length of two meters or more, these creatures can live for 250 years. In part, their longevity can be attributed to the fact that they’re so slow-growing, unlike other tube worms that set up camp near thermal vents.
“Ming the Clam,” Ocean Quahog | 507 Years
For quite awhile, many believed Ming the clam was the world’s oldest living animal. And then calamity struck. Well, sort of. In order to find out this mollusk’s precise age, researchers at Bangor University had to pry it open. Yup, in order to determine if Ming was the oldest living animal, researchers had to kill the clam.
Named after the Ming Dynasty, which was in power when the clam was born, Ming was originally thought to be a little over 400, but scientists later landed on an even loftier 507 years old. Similar to counting the rings of a tree, scientists counted the growth rings on this Icelandic-born quahog’s shell. Because of Ming’s age, his growth rings were clustered together, making it difficult to decipher his exact lifespan.
Even though Ming is gone, scientists have determined that many others like this quahog live on. Of the discovering, Paul Butler from Bangor University noted, “Thousands of ocean quahogs are caught commercially every year, so it is entirely likely that some fishermen may have caught quahogs that are as old as or even older than the one we caught.”
Greenland Shark | 514 Years
As their name suggests, Greenland sharks generally live in the northern Atlantic Ocean and Arctic Ocean. These are some of the largest sharks around, measuring anywhere between 15 feet to 24 feet in length, and weighing anywhere between 880 and 3,100 pounds. Greenland sharks are also known for having the longest lifespans of all vertebrates—that is, animals with a backbone.
It was previously determined that Greenland sharks had lifespans that clocked in at over 300 years. And that’s already impressive. However, in August of 2019 researchers found a massive Greenland shark in the North Atlantic. Based on its size, scientists have suggested the shark was born in the early 1500s.
This shark lived through King Henry VIII’s revolving door of wives, the first performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the Titanic ramming into that iceberg. (In fact, the shark was probably nearby for that last one.) In short, this specimen is around 514 years old.
Sea Sponge, Monorhaphis Chuni | 11,000 Years
The Monorhaphis chuni has a lot of other latin phrases attached to it, but, in more digestible terms, it’s part of a family of deep-sea sponges called “glass sponges.” Made of silica spicules (think long, thin icicle-like strands), these glass sponges look more like Dale Chihuly sculptures than animals. The particular type of glass sponge in question, m. chuni, forms giant spicules up to 10 feet in length.
The spicules allow the sponge to feed more easily, because, as you may have forgotten, these are animals. You probably haven’t spotted too many of these creatures though. Not only are they uncommon, but they’re generally found in the ocean’s depths, between 1,500 and 3,000 feet down. (Hence why it’s so hard to nab a picture of this particular glass sponge.)
Researchers believe that the sponge with that 10-foot spicule is an estimated 11,000 years old. Give or take. But even if you’re taking a couple thousand years, it still earns a spot near the very top of our list.
Hydra | Immortal; Doesn’t Age
Like the many-headed serpent Hercules fought in Greek mythology, this little creature is also many-armed. Or tentacled. Like jellyfish and reef-dwelling creatures, the hydra is an animal—even though it looks plant-like at first glance. But biologists are so interested in them due to their regenerative abilities.
A hydra is composed of two main structures, the foot and the head. If it’s cut in half, each half will regenerate. (Just like in mythology! Except it’s not a Greek hero slicing off serpent heads.) What if it’s not sliced neatly, but into several segments? No worries. It’ll regrow however many foot and head segments each piece needs to become a whole.
Because of this regenerative ability, the hydra doesn’t really age. And it doesn’t seem to die, either. For now, the hydra is classified as immortal.
“Immortal Jellyfish,” Turritopsis Dohrnii | Immortal; Rebirths Itself
I’m sure you’re wondering what animal could possibly upstage an immortal, regenerative hydra? Well, a second seemingly immortal animal exists on this planet and is even nicknamed the “immortal jellyfish.” Why does this creature, the Turritopsis dohrnii, claim the top spot? Let’s just say it takes this whole game of life to a new level.
Jellyfish start out as larvae-like creatures, and then settle down and become polyp colonies. (Polyps look almost like little hydras, attached to the seafloor.) These polyps then branch off and bud into free-swimming jellyfish, like the bell-shaped ones pictured here.
If the fully mature jellyfish is stressed, wounded, or sick, it can simply revert to its polyp stage. That’s the secret to immortality—starting over. Scientists believe this process of rebirth can go on indefinitely, so while the t. dohrnii could be killed by a predator or disease, it’s biologically immortal.
With no maximum lifespan, a disregard for the aging process, and the ability to just hit restart, the immortal jellyfish nabs our top spot.