Aging is a relative thing. Species like the Labord’s chameleon in Madagascar live their entire lives fast and glorious, spending only four months outside of their eggs before death. The coral reef pygmy goby, meanwhile, only lives an estimated eight weeks.
But other vertebrates take the long road, living for decades, and in some cases, centuries — far outstripping the lifespans of the humans around them.
Here’s a look at some of the longest-living vertebrates on our planet.
Modern humans may be the longest living primates. The oldest verified was a French woman named Jeanne Louise Calment who lived from 1875 to 1997 — 122 years, according to the Guinness World Records. But other primates are also long-lived. Chimpanzees and orangutans, for example, can live between 50 and 55 years in the wild, according to a study published in 2012, and even longer in captivity. The maximum reported age of gorillas in the wild, the study shows, is 43 years.
And even among hominins, humans may not have always been the longest living. Some research has revealed that Neanderthal life spans matched those of Homo sapiens at the time.
(Credit: Hemming1952/CC-By-4.0/Wikimedia Commons)
Greenland sharks are perhaps the oldest vertebrates on the planet. These giant fish are so old that they don’t even reach sexual maturity until they are about 150 years old. A study published in Science in 2016 found that the sharks may live to 400 years old. And while there is some dispute on this age, many scientists agree that the sharks are at least centenarians.
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The oldest mammals also happen live in the Arctic’s chilly waters. Take bowhead whales, which scientists believe could live more than 200 years. In case there was any doubt, the remains of a harpoon dating back 115 years was found lodged in the shoulder bone of a bowhead caught in Alaska about 15 years ago by Indigenous people.
Other cetaceans live a long time, as well — blue whales live between 80 and 90 years on average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Fin whales live similarly long to blue whales, while other species of cetaceans also live for decades.
Some research shows that jogging can increase your lifespan — among humans, at least. And if the Laysan albatross is any indicator, then flying long distances should (in theory) increase the lifespan of certain winged species.
These birds, which almost entirely breed in Hawai’i, range widely across the North Pacific in other seasons. One Laysan albatross named Wisdom has been tracked by researchers for decades, and is believed to be at least 71 years old. The septuagenarian is the world’s oldest known wild bird. She may have even outlived her mate of 60 years, who went missing last month.
Cookie the cockatoo, seen here in 2008, passed away in 2016 at the age of 83. (Credit: Nimesh M/Wikimedia Commons)
While Wisdom may be the oldest known wild bird, captivity can extend lifespans. In 2016, a pink cockatoo named Cookie — held at the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago — died at the sprightly estimated age of 83 years old, holding the Guinness World Record for the oldest bird.
But a sulphur-crested cockatoo named Cocky Bennett may have lived to 120, dying in a hotel in Australia. Kākāpōs, meanwhile, are estimated to live up to 90 years, according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation. Many parrot species are long-lived, routinely outliving owners that don’t think things through too clearly upon purchase.
New Zealand is home to another strange long-lived species. Tuataras aren’t only an evolutionary relic dating back to the time of the dinosaurs, they also live long. This species appears roughly similar to lizards but they are an entirely distinct order of reptiles. Tuataras live 60 years on average, according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, and can live up to 100.
A photo of Jonathan the tortoise taken in March, 2020. (Credit: Kevstan/Wikimedia Commons)
There’s more than one way that a tortoise can beat a hare. Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, hatched in 1832 and recently celebrated his estimated 190th birthday in St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic.
Giant tortoises are generally very long-lived — the next oldest recorded tortoise died aged at least 188 years old. Captain James Cook presented a Madagascar radiated tortoise to the royal family in Tonga in the 1770s, and it went on to live to 1965. The last known Pinta Island tortoise, Lonesome George, died in 2012 after at least a century.
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The rougheye rockfish can reach ages of at least 205 years, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. And they aren’t that rare, as commercial harvesters commonly catch them off the coast of northwestern United States. These fish are found around the North Pacific from San Diego up through Alaska, as well as across the Bering Sea into Japan.