The 16 Longest-Lived Organisms Known to Man

The natural world is full of fascinating animals and plants, some of which boast lifespans that far exceed our own. This is even more impressive considering they live in the wild without human care or guaranteed food supplies. Here, we explore the 17 wild organisms with the longest lifespans—and they aren’t necessarily the ones you’d expect!

Immortal Jellyfish (Potentially Infinite)

Immortal Jellyfish
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When adults of the jellyfish species Turritopsis dohrnii are starved or damaged, the American Museum of Natural History says they can revert back to their larval stage and form a structure that produces baby jellyfish—all of which are genetic copies of the adult who transformed. Theoretically, this allows them to repeat their life cycle indefinitely, potentially living forever if they avoid predation and disease!

Glass Sponge (10,000+ years)

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Glass sponges inhabit the frigid waters of the deep seafloor and are simple filter-feeding animals that contain a high proportion of silicon, hence their name. Despite their fragile-looking appearance, they’re surprisingly strong and resistant to damage. Some scientists estimate that individual glass sponges may live as long as 20,000 years! 

Black Coral (4,000+ years)

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These deep-sea corals grow in branching colonies and have impressive longevity thanks to the cold, dark, stable, and low-energy habitat they call home. Scientists have discovered individuals aged 4,250 years old in deep water off the coast of Hawaii but are concerned about the impact of climate change on such historically unchangeable environments.

Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (4,855 years)

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The oldest known bristlecone pine, Methuselah, is almost 5,000 years old and lives in the White Mountains of eastern California. The tree looks gnarled and twisted but is healthy and still growing (albeit slowly). All species of bristlecone pines have phenomenal lifespans and are known to thrive in harsh conditions, like extreme temperatures, drought, and high winds. 

Ocean Quahog (500+ years)

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This marine clam holds the title of the longest-lived mollusk on Earth. It lives deeply buried in ocean-floor sediments, where the pressure and cold temperatures necessitate slow growth and metabolism. They’re important in nutrient-poor deep-sea ecosystems, where they filter feed organic matter from the water column and contribute to nutrient cycling.

Greenland Shark (272+ years)

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Another cold, deepwater dweller is the ancient-looking Greenland shark—a large, slow-growing species that inhabits the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans. These “living fossils” have toxic flesh and can grow to 26 feet in length. They are among the longest-lived vertebrates on Earth but are almost always blind, thanks to a bioluminescent parasite that attaches to their eyes.

Freshwater Pearl Mussel (250+ years)

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These gigantic bivalve mollusks inhabit freshwater rivers and streams in North America and Europe, filtering the water for food and playing an important role in maintaining water quality and recycling nutrients within the ecosystem. Their longevity is attributed to their slow growth rate, efficient feeding mechanisms, and hard shells, which significantly reduce predation risk.

Bowhead Whale (200+ years)

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Inhabiting the icy waters of the Arctic, the bowhead whale is a giant plankton feeder that grows to 65 feet long and can boast a massive mouth of up to 25 feet! Their exact lifespan is difficult to determine, but estimates suggest they can live for over 200 years, with some possibly reaching 300 years. They are the longest-living mammals (marine or terrestrial) on Earth.

Red Sea Urchin (200 years)

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These spiny relatives of sea stars graze on the seafloor and exist worldwide, although claims they live longest in the cold waters off Vancouver. Also known as “blood urchins” due to their reddish color, Vancouver individuals may be up to two centuries old.

Slow metabolism, efficient energy use, and the ability to repair damaged tissues aid their longevity.

Lingcod (200 years)

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This bottom-dwelling fish is found in the cold kelp forests of the North Pacific Ocean and can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh over 500 pounds. Live Science states their exact lifespan is difficult to determine due to the lack of annual growth rings in their otoliths (ear bones), but studies suggest they can live for at least a century, with some estimates reaching 200 years.

Seychelles Giant Tortoise (150+ years)

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In the world of reptiles, there are some impressive life spans, but the champion record holder is the giant tortoise, with several species living far beyond a century, even in the wild. These gentle, herbivorous giants are slow-growing and remarkably resistant to diseases and parasites. Sadly, habitat loss and invasive species threaten their survival in their native island habitats.

Buffalofish (100+ years)

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Unlike the other fish on our list, long-lived buffalofish are found in the freshwater habitats of the scorching Arizona desert. A recent study found that three or more separate species have known lifespans exceeding 100 years. This surprising discovery challenged what science knows about longevity, seeing as long life is typically associated with cold, stable habitats.

Tuataras (100+ years)

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Often mistaken for lizards, tuataras are unique reptiles endemic to New Zealand, survivors of an ancient lineage that has a special place in Maori culture. Tuataras can live for over a century thanks to their slow growth rate, late sexual maturity (around 11–15 years old), and cold-blooded metabolism. They are nocturnal predators of insects, invertebrates, and small lizards.

Saltwater Crocodile (100+ years)

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The biggest Australian saltwater crocodiles can be 17 feet long, weigh 1 tonne, and be over a century old. Like other giant reptiles, their slow metabolism and cold-blooded biology help them achieve great longevity despite their warm habitat. According to the Economic Times, captive individuals have lived up to 140 years! 

Blind Salamander (100 years)

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The blind salamander is a subterranean dweller of caves and underground springs and thrives in the perpetual darkness. With no use for vision, they have evolved to lack eyes and navigate via an excellent sense of smell and touch. Scientists think they could reach 100 years old due to their slow metabolism, low-energy lifestyle, and cool, stable cave environment.

African Elephant (70+ years)

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The largest land animal is the African elephant, a powerful and intelligent resident of the woodlands and savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa. These gentle giants may live to be a century old and form strong family bonds with a matriarch (head female) leading the other members of a herd and passing on her vast, helpful knowledge to younger generations.

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