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Top Ten Longest Living Animals - Safari Ltd®

Top Ten Longest Living Animals

Animal lifespans can vary wildly. The mayfly, quite famously, lives for about 24 hours, fitting its whole lifespan into a single day. Other animals like hummingbirds can live for around 3 to 5 years, while larger mammals like wolves live around a dozen years.

Then, there are those animals that just don’t know when to quit, and keep on kicking for a hundred years or more. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the longest living animals, who might have been born around the time of your great grandparents!


10. Elephants

It’s said that elephants never forget. Well, elephants have a lot to remember, seeing as how they can live quite long lives. African elephants can live up to 70 or even 80 years!

The largest land mammals living today, African elephants are complex creatures. They form tight family bonds, and have been observed grieving loss, expressing joy, and experiencing all kinds of emotions that many people typically think of as uniquely human.


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African Elephant


Despite their ability to live a long time, elephants face many threats on their journey to old age. Though they have few natural predators due to their large size and formidable tusks, they still have to contend with habitat loss, illegal poaching, and other problems caused by humans.


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Asian Elephant


Asian elephants have a somewhat shorter average lifespan in the wild. However, there are several cases of Asian elephants in captivity living to well over 80 years of age.


9. Parrots

There are nearly 400 species of parrot, and these colorful and comical birds have a wide range of average lifespan, depending on the species. However, many can live quite commonly to 60 years or so in the wild. And some of the larger species can live much, much longer than that.

Blue and gold macaws can live up to 70 years if they stay happy and healthy, and one famous macaw named Charlie, rumored to have been owned by Winston Churchill, is believed to have been hatched in 1899 and was reported to be still alive as recently as 2014! However, there is no actual proof of exactly when Charlie was born, though she is certainly a very old bird.


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Blue and Gold Macaw


That’s not the case for Poncho, a green-winged macaw with enough documentation to be officially named the oldest parrot in the world by the Guinness Book of Records. Poncho was featured in a number of movies and films during her lifetime, before she “retired” in 2000. In 2015 she celebrated her 90th birthday!


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Green-winged Macaw


Cockatoos are also quite long-lived. A Cockatoo named Cookie lived to be 83 years old, but that’s practically a spring chicken compared to the talkative Cockatoo named “Cocky Bennett”. When he passed away way back in 1916, he was nearly 120 years old!


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Sulfur-crested Cockatoo


It’s important to remember, if you’re ever thinking of getting a parrot as a pet…it may well be a life-long commitment!


8. Koi Fish

When you think of animals that live a long time, fish may not be the first thing to come to mind. But koi fish can actually live quite a long time, all things considered. They can live to about 40 years old, on average.


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Tancho Koi Fish


But one legendary koi named Hanako was decidedly not average. Hanako was passed down through several owners in her long life, and in 1966, some of her scales were examined to see if her age could be determined. She was, at this time, reportedly over two feet long and weighed more than 15 pounds. According to the analysis, Hanako was over 200 years old!

As remarkable as this story may sound, as with many tales of long-lived animals, its authenticity is difficult to prove. Though scales are a common way to determine the age of a fish, it is known to be unreliable and cannot always be trusted. Still, the story of Hanako lives on, though the fish herself is said to have passed away in 1977.


7. Lobsters

Like koi fish, lobsters can live quite frequently to 40 years or more. However, some lobsters can far exceed this and live well over 100 years! One particularly large lobster named George was said to be 140 years old (he also weighed 20 pounds)!


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Maine Lobster


It can be difficult to determine the exact age of a lobster, but it is known that lobsters don’t tend to “age” the way we normally think of organisms growing older. Typically, as an animal grows older, it becomes slower, weaker, and less fertile. With lobsters, this isn’t the case – they keep on truckin’ no matter how old they get.

It’s thought that an enzyme called “telomerase” may be responsible, which helps to repair DNA. Most vertebrates (animals with backbones) lose telomerase as they get older. But not lobsters! They continue to produce telomerase well into adulthood, which may be they key that helps them stay youthful into their ripe old age.


6. Tuatara

The tuatara of New Zealand may look like a lizard, but it’s actually a unique species of reptile that’s the only living member of its family. Tuatara have many unique features that set them apart from other animals and reptiles, one of which is its long lifespan.

longest living animals - henry the tuatara

Henry the Tuatara (Image: Wikimedia Commons)


Tuataras may live to be over 100 years old. One particular tuatara named Henry, who lived at the Southland Museum in New Zealand, became a father at the ripe old age of 111, when his 80 year old mate gave birth to 11 babies!


5. Sturgeons

Sturgeons are huge, primitive fish that take a long time to mature, and some species can reach sizes of over 20 feet. With their shovel-shaped noses and large, bony scales, it’s no surprise that these strange-looking fish have been around since the Cretaceous Period, swimming in seas and rivers around the same time that giant dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex walked the earth.

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Lake Sturgeon


While most sturgeons live to a respectable 50 or 60 years of age, some specimens are known to reach ages of over 150 years. The oldest lake sturgeon ever recorded was 152 years of age!


4. Tortoises

It’s well known that tortoises are some of the champs in the old age arena. This is especially true of the giant tortoises, such as the Seychelles giant tortoise, the Aldabra giant tortoise, and the Galapagos tortoise. These shelled reptiles are huge, slow-moving, and extremely long-lived.


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Giant Tortoise


Giant tortoises frequently live to be over 100 years old, but some go well beyond that. Harriet, a Galapagos tortoise, lived to be 175 years before passing away in 2006. A Seychelles giant tortoise named Jonathan is thought to be the current oldest living tortoise, at around 190 years.


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Giant Tortoise


But Harriet and Jonathan are practically babies compared to Adwaita. Adwaita was an Aldabra giant tortoise who passed away in 2006, at the ripe old age of a whopping 255 years old! That means he was born around the year 1750. Adwaita was older than the invention of the automobile by over 100 years! He was born before the founding of the United States by about 25 years. Adwaita is considered to be the longest-living land animal ever known.


3. Rougheye Rockfish

The rougheye rockfish may not look like anything special. It’s an orange-colored fish that grows to about 3 feet in length and lives in the North Pacific Ocean. But this unassuming fish has a secret – the key to an extremely long life!

longest living animals - rougheye rockfish

Rougheye Rockfish (Image: Wikimedia Commons)


These fish live in deep waters, almost 1,500 feet below the surface, where it can get extremely cold. Down in these depths, there are rougheye rockfish that were alive when James Madison was president, over 200 years ago! These resilient fish are known to live a staggering 205 years.


2. Bowhead Whales

Bowhead whales are definitely the largest animals on this list, in addition to being some of the longest living. These massive Arctic whales can grow to 60 feet long!

They can also live to be over 200 years old, according to scientists. In 2007, a bowhead whale was found with a piece of harpoon still stuck in it. The harpoon was used by whalers who would have hunted these massive marine beasts in the late 1800s. That means this whale would have been around 130 years old.


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Bowhead Whale


With this newfound info, scientists began to try and determine the ages of other bowhead whale specimens, and found that many were living over 150 years, and one was estimated to be around 211! It’s thought that their maximum age may be over 250 years. This makes bowhead whales the longest living mammal in the world.

Though bowhead whale populations declined substantially due to commercial whaling, the practice is now largely ended, meaning bowheads can bounce back and live long, healthy lives once more.


1. Greenland Sharks

Now, we come to the animal that blows all the other oldsters out of the water. Considered to be the longest living vertebrate species alive today, the Greenland shark takes the old age crown.

How long can these sharks live? No one is absolutely sure, but estimates range from 250 years at the low end, to over 500 years at the high end.

longest living animals - greenland shark

Greenland Shark (Image: Wikimedia Commons)


How do scientists figure out how old these sharks are? Previously, they used to determine age by size. It’s known that these sharks grow very slowly, less than a centimeter a year. They can reach over 6 meters (20 feet) in size, and scientists could get an estimate based on overall size and the known rate of growth.

But more recently, scientists who study these sharks have been able to use carbon dating to get a more accurate age estimate. There are proteins in the shark's eyes that are present from birth, and don’t decay with old age. Scientists are able to carbon date these proteins to get a more accurate picture of how old these sharks can really get.

While this type of dating can only give a range of years, even the low end of that range is impressive. One large shark that was dated was estimated to be at least 272 years old...AT LEAST.

How do these sharks stick around so long? It’s possible that a slow metabolism helps. These sharks are very slow moving, and as previously mentioned, their growth rate is very slow. All this slowness may have a slowing effect on their aging. It also has a slowing effect on their maturity – Greenland sharks aren’t ready to mate until they reach over 100 years of age.

Because of this slow maturity, it’s more important than ever to ensure that these cold water sharks are protected, so that they can grow old and make more sharks. They are the top predator in their environment, meaning that if there were fewer adult Greenland sharks prowling the Arctic seas, the entire Arctic ecosystem could suffer.

Lessons for Humans From the Longest Living Animals

After looking at all these long-living animals, what can we learn? What’s the magical recipe to keep on truckin’ for 100, 200 or possibly 500 years?

There are lots of factors that seem to be related to a long life. Large size is one, and so is a cold weather environment. In the case of the lobster, telomerase sure doesn’t seem to hurt.

But the biggest feature that seems to go hand in hand with living the longest? Taking it slow! Whether it’s the lumbering land tortoise, the slow-maturing sturgeon, or the glacially-paced growth of the Greenland shark, it seems that the most long-living animals have figured out that the key to longevity is not rushing things. Maybe we could all learn a little something from these ancient animals?

Threats to Longevity

Although these animals have extremely long lifespans, there are always threats outside of old age. Here are a few examples: 

  1. Harvestation - One animal not mentioned above, the Ocean Quahog is a clam known to live up to 500 years; however, due to harvesting of these creatures, there’s potential they could live longer. 
  2. Predators - Surviving old age doesn’t make these animals immune to predators. 
  3. Pet Trading - Many animals like the macaw are removed from their habitats for trading and ownership.

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