What is the Longest Living Animal? How Long Can an Animal Live? 500 Years?

Here are the ten longest-living animal species on Earth, along with some fascinating differences in physiology.

Ocean Quahog

Ocean Quahogs. Credit NOAA

Ocean Quahog, a type of clam, is considered the longest-living animal species, with some reaching the incredible age of more than 500 years! These bivalve mollusks have a very slow metabolism, which means they age at a slower rate than other animals.

Another reason why ocean quahogs live so long is due to their resistance to oxidative stress, which contributes to their impressive longevity.

In most animals, oxidative stress accelerates aging due to an imbalance between the production of harmful molecules called free radicals and the animal’s ability to neutralize them. Free radicals can damage cells and impair their proper functioning. When this happens, it can lead to accelerated aging and increase the risk of developing various diseases.

Quahogs have a hard shell that helps protect them from predators and harsh environments, and they obtain nutrients by filtering microscopic algae and plankton from the water.

Greenland Shark

The Greenland Shark holds the title for the longest-living vertebrate, with a lifespan of up to 400 years. They grow very slowly, at a rate of about 1 cm per year. Their unique physiology includes living in freezing cold Arctic depths and having extremely slow metabolic rates.

Bowhead Whale

Bowhead Whales, large marine mammals in the Arctic and subarctic regions, have life spans of up to 200 years. They possess exceptional genetic adaptations and unique physiological traits, such as a remarkable capacity for tissue regeneration, which helps them maintain youthful cellular phenotypes in various organ systems.

Red Sea Urchin

Red Sea Urchins are marine invertebrates with life spans of more than 100 years. They exhibit minimal aging-related physiological decline and have slow reproduction rates, allowing them to maintain healthy populations.

Giant Tortoises

Giant Tortoises are some of the longest-living land animals, with some species living well over 100 years. Their slow metabolic rates and unique adaptations to conserve energy contribute to their long life spans.

Rougheye Rockfish

Rougheye Rockfish, found in the North Pacific Ocean, are known for their notable life spans of up to 200 years. They have a low reproductive rate and live in deep, cold waters, which help maintain their relatively stable populations.

Freshwater Pearl Mussel

Freshwater Pearl Mussels can live more than 250 years, making them one of the longest-living invertebrates. Their slow growth rate, paired with unique physiological adaptations that allow them to filter feed in clean freshwater ecosystems, contribute to their extended lifespans.

Glass Sponges

Glass Sponges, a rare type of deep-sea animal, are known to have lifespans of more than 15,000 years. They possess unique structural adaptations, such as silica-based skeletons, which enable them to survive in extreme environments and contribute to their long lifespans.

With such incredible adaptations and lifespans, these stunning creatures showcase the myriad ways nature has evolved to support long and thriving lives in various ecosystems. Discovering the secrets behind their longevity could potentially unlock new understanding about aging process in all living organisms, including humans.

Notable Individual Animals

Jonathan the Seychelles Giant Tortoise

You may be surprised to learn that Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa), is one of the longest-living animals on Earth. Born in 1832, he resides on the remote island of St. Helena, and at an impressive age of 190 years old, he’s still going strong.

Giant tortoises are known for their longevity, and Jonathan is no exception. One reason behind their extended lifespans is their slow metabolic rate. This allows them to efficiently convert their food into energy, leading to a lower need for calories to survive. Moreover, these tortoises reach sexual maturity quite late in life, which may play a role in their long life expectancy. Generally, animals that take longer to reach sexual maturity tend to live longer lives.

Methuselah the Koi Fish

Another exceptional individual is Methuselah, a koi fish who lived for an astounding 226 years. Koi fish, a type of carp, are known for their striking colors and patterns, making them popular ornamental pond fish. However, most koi fish live between 25 to 50 years, making Methuselah’s lifespan particularly remarkable.

Possible factors contributing to koi fish longevity include their ability to withstand varying water temperatures and living conditions. Koi fish are also known for entering a state of decreased metabolic activity when temperatures drop, enabling them to conserve energy and potentially live longer lives.

Both Jonathan the Seychelles giant tortoise and Methuselah the koi fish demonstrate how unique adaptations in physiology can contribute to exceptional longevity within individual animals. Their incredible life spans stand as testament to the diversity and resilience of life on Earth.

Immortality and Regeneration

In the animal kingdom, some species possess amazing abilities to regenerate lost or damaged body parts, and some are even considered biologically immortal. Let’s explore two of these fascinating creatures: Turritopsis Dohrnii and Hydra.

Turritopsis Dohrnii

Also known as the “immortal jellyfish,” Turritopsis Dohrnii is known for its extraordinary ability to revert back to its younger polyp stage after reaching maturity. This process of cellular rejuvenation allows the jellyfish to essentially reset its biological clock and avoid some of the typical aspects of aging.

  • Regeneration: When under stress or injury, Turritopsis Dohrnii can alter the state of its cells and transform them into a polyp through a process called transdifferentiation, giving it the potential to live indefinitely.
  • Stem Cells: This unique ability is supported by the presence of stem cells in its body, which can renew themselves and differentiate into specialized cell types – a major factor behind its capacity for regeneration and “immortality.”


Hydra, a small freshwater organism, also possesses remarkable regenerative powers. What sets them apart is that they do not display any signs of aging or age-related decline in their physiological functions.

  • Immortality: Hydra, unlike other organisms, do not experience a natural decline in overall function, maintaining their vigor and vitality throughout their entire lives, making them seemingly biologically immortal.
  • Stem Cells: Hydra possess an almost unlimited number of stem cells, which provide them with the ability to regenerate their bodies and maintain constant cellular turnover.
  • Polyps: The structure of Hydra, consisting of a simple polyp with tentacles, allows them to continuously regenerate and grow new body parts with ease.

So, you can see that both Turritopsis Dohrnii and Hydra showcase unique physiological traits and stem cell systems, granting them impressive regenerative abilities and potential immortality. These fascinating creatures provide valuable insights into the mysteries of aging and the possibilities of preservation in the living world.

Physiological Differences

When you dive into the world of long-lived species, you’ll notice that there are some fascinating physiological differences that enable these creatures to survive for such extended periods. From vertebrates to sponges, let’s explore how these unique adaptations contribute to their extended lifespans.

In the realm of mammals, you have creatures like the bowhead whale and the naked mole-rat. The bowhead whale has a unique adaptation in its DNA that allows for effective resistance against cancer and other age-related diseases, enabling it to live for over 200 years. On the other hand, the naked mole-rat has an exceptional resistance to hypoxia and maintains low metabolic rates, which contribute to its 30-year lifespan.

Now, let’s talk about some invertebrate species. Sponges are known for their impressive regenerative abilities, which allow them to maintain their structure and function even in harsh environments. This characteristic, along with their simple body structure, contributes to their long lifespans, sometimes exceeding 10,000 years.

When you shift your attention to the sea, there’s the immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis dohrnii). This fascinating creature has the unique ability to revert its adult medusa state back to its polyp stage when exposed to stress or injury. By doing so, it effectively starts its life cycle anew, making it seemingly immortal.

Habitats and Natural Conditions

Arctic and Sub-Arctic Species

In the cold and harsh environments of the Arctic, some exceptional animals have adapted to survive and thrive in these conditions. The Greenland shark, for example, is known to live up to 400 years, making it one of the longest living species in the animal kingdom. These sharks are capable of surviving in the frigid waters, thanks to their slow metabolism and unique physiological adaptations, such as producing anti-freeze molecules in their blood.

Another incredible animal that calls the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions home is the Ocean Quahog. These clams are capable of living for more than 500 years. Their secret to longevity lies in their ability to manage oxidative stress, which is a key factor in aging.

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are home to some truly astonishing long-lived species. Many corals live for centuries, while some plants and animals found among corals, like the red sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus), can live more than 200 years. These organisms have adapted to their environments through various physiological differences, such as slow growth rates and remarkably efficient reproductive processes.

Freshwater Environments

In freshwater environments, you’ll find some amazing creatures with long lifespans. One such organism is the Hydra, a small freshwater animal that has the ability to regenerate its entire body. Scientists believe that this unique ability contributes to its potentially indefinite lifespan, defying the usual aging process.

Another inhabitant of freshwater environments is the Tubeworm. Found near hydrothermal vents, these fascinating creatures can live for over 250 years and have adapted to their extreme habitat through temperature-tolerant protein structures and symbiotic relationships with bacteria.

Temperate Oceans

The Pacific Ocean, stretching from Australia to New Zealand, is home to a diverse range of species that can live extraordinarily long lives. In these temperate oceans, there is a strong emphasis on conserving natural habitats to protect these long-lived species from habitat destruction and pollution.

It’s your responsibility to be aware of the sensitivity of these habitats and the animals they support, as human life continues to expand and encroach upon these natural ecosystems. By understanding and appreciating the unique adaptations and longevity of these creatures, you can take steps to protect their habitats and ensure they remain an integral part of the animal kingdom for future generations.

Growth Rings and Radiocarbon Dating

When trying to estimate the lifespan of animals, especially longer-living species such as the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) and Greenland sharks, scientists often rely on the presence of growth rings in various tissues. These rings, much like the ones found in trees, can provide valuable insights into the age and life history of the animal.

Estimating Lifespan

To estimate the lifespan of these animals, they use a technique called radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating focuses on measuring the ratio of radioactive carbon isotopes, which allows scientists to determine the time elapsed since the organism was alive. In the case of Greenland sharks, they are often found in sub-arctic regions like Iceland, where the cold waters slow down their growth rates.

For both bowhead whales and Greenland sharks, the growth rings can be found in structures such as their ear bones or eye lenses. By examining these growth rings closely, you can get a rough idea of the animal’s age. However, determining the precise age can be quite challenging as not all rings are distinct and well-defined.

Radiocarbon dating comes in handy for these species with uncertain growth rings. By analyzing the isotopes present in the animal’s tissues, scientists can get a more accurate estimate of the lifespan. This method has led to discoveries of exceptional longevity in some species.

For example, recent studies on Greenland sharks used radiocarbon dating to estimate their age at a staggering 400+ years, making them the longest-living known vertebrate species. Similarly, the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) holds the record for the longest-living mammal, with evidence suggesting a potential lifespan of more than 200 years.

Remember, as you explore the fascinating world of long-living animal species, growth rings, and radiocarbon dating, these techniques are invaluable tools for researchers attempting to unravel the secrets of their unique physiology and life histories.

Longevity and Ageing Research

When it comes to longevity and ageing, scientists continue to uncover fascinating insights into the unique physiological differences among the animal kingdom. In recent years, researchers have identified gene variants that can extend the lifespan of certain species, contributing significantly to our understanding of healthy ageing.

You might be curious to learn about the 10 longest living species of animals and the factors that contribute to their impressive lifespans. While exploring the various aspects of their lives, you’ll discover that death rates, susceptibility to diseases, and genetic predispositions play crucial roles in determining their longevity.

Ageing research is entering a new era, with promising therapeutics emerging from studies on long-lived animals like the naked mole-rat. These creatures offer unique insights that are not readily available in short-lived species, shedding light on the complex relationships between body temperature, physiological decline, and longevity.

Scientists also turn to the rhesus macaque as a physiological model for human ageing research. By comparing the gene regulatory signatures of ageing across species, we can better understand the mechanisms that contribute to long life and even work towards extending health and longevity in our own ageing population.

As you delve deeper into the world of animal longevity, appreciate the incredible variety in life-history traits and the fascinating scientific advances that continue to shape our understanding of ageing. By looking at these extraordinary species, you too can be inspired by the ongoing journey to unravel the mysteries behind longevity and healthy ageing.

Least Well-Studied Species

In the diverse world of long-lived animal species, some creatures remain lesser-known due to the limitations in research and data. In this section, we will focus on two of the least well-studied species: Freshwater Pearl Mussels and Geoduck.

Freshwater Pearl Mussels

Freshwater Pearl Mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) are not only known for producing pearls but also for their impressive lifespans. Some individuals have been known to live for over 200 years! However, there is still much to learn about their physiology and how they are able to achieve such longevity.

While scientists have gathered some information about their habitat and life cycle, the detailed study of their physiological adaptations remains limited. Freshwater Pearl Mussels prefer clean and fast-flowing rivers, where they filter feed on organic matter and tiny particles. Their low competition for resources and few natural predators may contribute to their long lives. However, further investigation is needed to better understand how their unique physiology allows for such extended lifespans.


Another lesser-studied long-lived species is the Geoduck clam (Panopea generosa). Found in the waters of the Pacific Northwest, Geoduck clams can live for more than 150 years. Like the Freshwater Pearl Mussel, researchers are still unraveling the mysteries of their physiology.

The Geoduck’s habitat, deep in the ocean, is partly responsible for its long life, providing a stable environment and protection from many predators. Moreover, as filter feeders, these clams feed on plankton, which allows them to accumulate energy without having to exert much effort. Though their slow growth rate and simple lifestyle may contribute to their longevity, more research would illuminate the exact physiological factors that contribute to their remarkable lifespans.

As you can see, even among the longest living species, there’s still much to learn about the biology and adaptations that allow these animals to live for such extended periods. By studying these fascinating creatures, scientists can gain insights into not only their unique physiology but also their conservation and the overall understanding of the natural world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What species have the longest lifespans on Earth?

Some of the longest-living species on Earth include the Greenland shark, which can live up to 500 years, and the ocean quahog, a type of clam that can live for more than 500 years. Other long-lived species include the bowhead whale, tortoises, and some species of fish like the orange roughy.

Which animals can live for centuries?

Several animals are known to live for centuries, such as the Greenland shark, the ocean quahog, and the bowhead whale. Some tortoises, like the Aldabra giant tortoise and the Galapagos giant tortoise, can live for more than 100 years. Certain trees, like the bristlecone pine, also have lifespans spanning centuries.

What are the key differences in physiology for long-lived animals?

Longer-lived animals often have unique physiological adaptations that help them live longer. These may include slow metabolic rates, resistance to diseases, and the ability to repair damaged cells more effectively. Some of these animals also have unique ways of reproducing, such as the ocean quahog, which can produce offspring throughout its long life.

Which long-living animals have unique adaptations?

Greenland sharks, for example, have a very slow metabolism, which likely contributes to their long lifespan. Tortoises, on the other hand, have a slow heart rate and a robust immune system that helps protect them from diseases. The ocean quahog has the ability to produce a unique type of protein that contributes to their longevity.

Do any mammals rank in the top 10 longest living species?

Yes, the bowhead whale is a mammal that ranks among the top 10 longest-living species. These whales can live for more than 200 years, thanks to their slow metabolic rate and ability to store large amounts of energy.

How does captivity affect the lifespan of the longest living animals?

In some cases, captivity can have a positive impact on an animal’s lifespan, as it provides a stable environment, food, and protection from predators. In other cases, captivity can have negative effects on an animal’s lifespan, as stress from confinement and lack of stimulation may lead to a shorter life. Each species has its own unique needs, and the effect of captivity will vary depending on the species and the quality of care provided.