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Animals That Outlive People

Clams, Jellyfish, Hydras & Tortoises

Animals That Outlive People

The Skinny:

People think they are pretty hot stuff, kind of like BMOE (big man on Earth) when it comes to the world’s other inhabitants. In many ways, they’re right for better or worse. But when it comes to longevity, people take a back seat to quite a few animals, a couple of which can actually claim a kind of immortality. Sure, globally the average life span of a person is set at 74 years—and almost 80 in the U.S. And yes, Jeanne Calmet, a French woman, did live for 122 years and 164 days to claim the title of the “oldest verified woman.” But these numbers fall way short on some other long-living animals. Read on.

The Slate:


Not every jellyfish, of course, but the Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish is the planet’s only known immortal species, reproducing asexually and reverting to a polyp stage. This squishy fellow is capable of basic learning, although memories aren’t passed on, so they don’t even know that they’re doomed to live forever.


These creatures are named after the mythological monster that regrew severed heads. As inch-long freshwater hydrozoan relatives of corals, sea anemones and jellyfish, they are also potentially immortal having the ability to regenerate any tissues, including their heads—hence the name. They have solitary but active sex lives and reproduce asexually by vegetative budding and as hermaphrodites.

Sponges and Corals

These guys are not immoral, but they have really long-life spans, especially compared to people. Though lacking a brain and central nervous system and living in immobile underwater colonies, they’re technically animals. Monorhaphis chuni sponges, for example, are found more than 2,000 meters under the sea and have reached 11,000 years of age. Red corals aren’t bad either when it comes to longevity, living at depths of 15 to 300 meters and living up to 500 years.

Ocean Quahogs

Clams may not have exciting lives, but this North American East Coast hard clam has a natural lifespan of 225 years. Age, by the way, is determined by counting the annual growth rings on their shells. One lucky clam nicknamed Ming was clocked in at 507 years before being frozen by researchers from Bangor University.

Greenland Sharks

This is not your standard shark. As may be given away by its name, these cold-water apex predators are the longest-living vertebrates. They take their time in several ways, living for 250 to 500 years, taking 150 years to reach sexual maturity and birthing live litters of pups after a gestation period of eight to 18 years.

Red Sea Urchins

Radiocarbon dating shows that these spiny echinoderms from North America’s Pacific coast can live for over 200 years with no signs of aging. Not only that, but 100-year-olds are as healthy and likely to reproduce as are younger ones. Their longevity secret appears to lie in their ability to regenerate both internal and external organs.

Bowhead Whales

These whales claim the title of longest-living mammal, hanging around for more than 200 years. As plankton-eating mammals, they roam the Arctic and sub-Arctic oceans and enjoy their long lifespans due to a duplicated PCNA gene that influences cellular growth and helps repair damaged DNA.


All tortoises are not the same, but members of the Testudine family typically live from 80 to 150 years. The family also boasts the oldest living land animal: Jonathan, an approximately 190-year-old Seychelles giant tortoise that was brought to St. Helena in 1882. He was fully mature—at least 50 years old—when he arrived on the island.

African Elephants

These elephants on average don’t outlive people but they come pretty close. The African bush elephant and the smaller African forest elephant are the largest living land animals. They are highly intelligent, self-aware and have an average lifespan of 70 years.


Parrots have a reputation for longevity and macaws, the colorful, long-tailed New World parrots, are likely to live longest. They average 70 years in captivity. Not surprisingly, there are celebrities just as Charlie the Curser reputedly does a lot better. This highly vocal female blue-and-yellow macaw once belonged to Winston Churchill, who supposedly taught her to curse Adolf Hitler. Her birth records are a little unclear. She is either 125 years old or 117.

Eyes Up:

What’s your favorite long-living animal? Let us know at info@wellwellusa.com.


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