- Many animals can live much longer than their average life expectancies.
- Cockatoos and tortoises have been known to live for 100 years or more, while Greenland sharks can live upwards of 400 years.
- There’s even an “immortal” species of jellyfish.
- We’ve rounded up some of the world’s oldest animals.
While humans outlive many other animals, some species put the average human lifespan (about 72 years, according to the World Health Organisation) to shame. Giant tortoises, for example, can live more than 100 years, while bowhead whales can reach 200 years of age.
Plus, certain individual animals have blown past the life expectancy of their species, gaining notoriety for the feat.
Here are 12 of the world’s oldest animals, ranked by age.
The oldest female gorilla living today is thought to be 61.
Western lowland gorillas are a subspecies native to the Congo Basin, and they are the most widespread of all the subspecies of gorilla. Their lifespan in the wild ranges from 30 to 40 years. In captivity, they can live into their 50s and beyond.
Until her death at age 60 in 2017, Colo, a western lowland gorilla at the Columbus Zoo, was the world’s oldest zoo-born gorilla. Colo’s name, an abbreviation of Columbus, Ohio, was chosen in a contest.
Today, two female gorillas are thought to share the title: Fatou at the Berlin Zoo in Germany and Trudy at the Little Rock, Arkansas Zoo are both estimated to be 61. Ozzy, a male gorilla at the Atlanta, Georgia Zoo is thought to be the oldest male at about 58.
The longest-living albatross is at least 68 years old.
Albatrosses, whose wings can stretch 11 feet, are able to live 50 years or more. The longest-living albatross in the US – and one of the world’s oldest known wild birds overall – is a Laysan albatross named Wisdom.
Believed to be at least 68 years old, Wisdom has far surpassed her species’ typical lifespan of 12-40 years. She has made the news several times for continuing to lay eggs well into her old age. Wisdom returns annually to a nest site at Midway Atoll in the North Pacific Ocean.
Ambika at the National Zoo in Washington, DC is thoght to be 71 years old, likely making her the oldest living elephant.
Asian elephants can typically live into their mid-50s. However, a few have made it into their 80s. Lin Wang, an Asian elephant at Taipei Zoo in Taiwan, lived to be 86. At the time of his death in 2003, he held the Guinness World Record for being the oldest elephant in captivity.
Dakshayani, an elephant at the Chengalloor Mahadeva Temple in Kerala, India also had a long life. Given the nickname “Gaja Muthassi” (meaning “elephant granny”), she died in February at 88 years of age.
In the US, there are several Asian elephants in their 70s: Shirley, who lives at Tennessee’s Elephant Sanctuary, is 70 years old, while Ambika at the National Zoo in Washington, DC is 71. It’s worth noting, though, that these ages are often estimated.
Fred, the world’s oldest cockatoo, is over 100 years old.
For instance, Fred, a sulphur-crested cockatoo at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania, Australia, is now 104.
Another Australian sulphur-crested cockatoo known as “Cocky Bennett” reportedly lived until the age of 120 before he died in 1916. Bennett resided at a hotel.
Cookie, a Major’s Mitchell cockatoo, is also famous for his longevity. He lived to be 83 at Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago, Illinois and died in 2016.
Jonathan, a giant tortoise born in the Seychelles islands, is 187 years old.
Giant tortoises are known for their longevity. One of the best-known examples is Lonesome George, who was the last surviving member of the Pinta Island species. He was believed to be more than 100 years old when he died in 2012.
Jonathan, a giant tortoise born in the Seychelles islands, is still going strong. At 187 years old, he’s been designated the world’s oldest living land animal by Guinness World Records. Since 1882 (50 years after his birth), Jonathan has lived on St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Jonathan is just one year shy of claiming the title of oldest chelonian ever. (Chelonia is the scientific order that contains turtles, tortoises, and terrapins.) That’s an honour held by Tu’i Malila, a Madagascar radiated tortoise gifted to the royal family of Tonga by Captain Cook. She died when she was at least 188 years old in 1965.
The tuatara, sometimes referred to as a “living fossil,” lives for upwards of 100 years. One of the oldest members of the species, called Henry, is over 120.
Tuatara are descended from an extinct group of reptiles that roamed the Earth alongside the dinosaurs. These scaled creatures are endemic to New Zealand, where they inhabit 32 islands. The creatures can live up to or past 100 years of age.
One of the oldest living tuatara, Henry, is at least 120. He lives at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, where there’s a “Tuatarium” habitat.
Henry his mate Mildred were still laying eggs together as of 2009, when he was already 111 (though Mildred was thought to be in her 70s).
Bowhead whales can live for over 200 years. One particular bowhead was estimated to be 211.
With a lifespan that can exceed 200 years, the bowhead whale is the longest-living marine mammal. In addition to its longevity, the species is known for its namesake noggin, which contains the largest mouth of any creature in the animal kingdom.
According to Medical Daily, a group of Eskimos in Alaska caught a bowhead whale in 2007 that had six ancient harpoons in its flesh. The harpoons dated back to the late 1800s, suggesting the whale was about 211 years old at the time it died.
According to a 2016 study, one female Greenland shark was estimated to be 400 years old.
In the 2016 study, researchers found that, on average, Greenland sharks have a lifespan of about 272 years. Yet the sharks, which are native to the North Atlantic, can live upwards of 400 years, as evidenced by one very old unnamed Greenland shark thought to be 400.
The largest sharks noted in the study measured 493 centimeters (16 feet) and 502 centimeters (16.5 feet) long, and had lifespans of 335 and 392 years, respectively.
A potential secret to the species’ longevity might be its slow growth rate of one centimeter (0.39 inches) per year.
An ocean quahog clam named Ming lived to be over 500 years old.
Ocean quahogs, a type of clam, typically live 100 to 200 years. One of these clams, nicknamed Ming, was 507 years old when it was found in 2006 off the coast of Iceland. To calculate Ming’s age, researchers counted the bands in its shell.
Ming happened to be part of a group of 200 clams that were dredged from the ocean and frozen as part of a research project about climate change.
There’s an “immortal” species of jellyfish that is said to age backward.
The only thing better than living a long time is finding a way to outwit death. One jellyfish species, Turritopsis dohrnii, is virtually immortal. As the jelly ages, it eventually settles onto the sea floor and becomes a colony of polyps (individual organisms). The polyps then spawn new, genetically identical jellyfish.
If a Turritopsis dohrnii gets physically harmed or starts to starve, it can transform back into a polyp at will – then in turn produce new, genetically identical jellyfish.
Some elkhorn coral in Florida and the Caribbean are more than 5,000 years old.
Many of the oldest creatures on the planet live underwater, corals included. A study by researchers at Penn State University in 2016 found that some genotypes of Acropora palmata (elkhorn coral) in Florida and the Caribbean are more than 5,000 years old.