What would you do if you had all the time in the world? While all of us are bound by the business of modern life — work, school, family and friends — the real ticking of the clock comes from the fact that every human has a finite lifespan, one that is measured in decades, not centuries. Yet even as we try to squeeze as much living as we can into whatever time we have, scientists are learning more and more about longevity, and what factors contribute to how many years we have on Earth.
While much work on longevity is focused on humans, all living things can serve as a source of information for researchers trying to figure out what exactly determines how long we live. That's why scientists are so fascinated by lobsters, who manage not to show any serious signs of aging over the years, or undersea creatures whose lifespans are measured in millennia rather than years. Even animals that live on land can provide longevity clues, from the seemingly immortal tortoise to the primates that share such a large portion of their DNA with their human counterparts.
Know which creatures life for decades and which have a much shorter lifespan on average? Prove it with this quiz on the longest-living animals!
The average Asian Elephant lives into its 50s, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo. One long-living fellow named Lin Wang, however, broke all the rules when he lived to the age of 86. The enduring Asian Elephant fought in the Sino-Japanese War in the '30s and '40s, then moved into the Taipei Zoo in 1952, where he remained a top attraction until his 2003 death.
Despite its name, the Geoduck has nothing to do with actual ducks. It's actually a saltwater clam found in cold water along the northwest coast of the U.S. and Canada. While the Geoduck's shell is only 6 to 8 inches long, the "neck" of the creature extends out as long as 3 feet. This species easily lives 120 years, though scientists have found one estimated at 168 years old.
An Australian Cattle Dog named Bluey lived from 1910 to 1939, making him 29 years old when he died, and the oldest verified dog on record. This lifespan is particularly impressive when you consider that most Aussie Cattle Dogs live just over 13 years on average.
The Tortoise is the longest-living terrestrial animal, or the longest-living creature that actually lives on land. Most species have a lifespan between 80 and 150 years, but a Tortoise named Jonathan living on the island of Saint Helena is still going strong at age 187 as of 2019.
The Gray Whale measures 40 to 50 feet long and weights between 30 and 40 tons. This over-sized creature typically lives between 50 and 70 years, and the species is doing so well that it was removed from endangered lists in the '90s.
The Greater Flamingo is the largest and most common member of the Flamingo family. While these birds live 30 to 40 years in the wild and around 60 in captivity, a female Greater Flamingo (who happened to be named Greater) at the Adelaide Zoo died at the ripe old age of 83 in 2014.
Scientists call it Scolymastra joubini, but this species is more commonly called Hexactinelled or Glass Sponge. Native to the Arctic, it consists of a tough mineral skeleton wrapped in one "mega-cell." This unusual makeup gives it a lifespan in excess of 10,000 years.
American Alligators look like something out of the dinosaur era, so it's no surprise they live a long time — 30 to 50 years on average. One long-living gator named Muja as born sometime in the early 1900s, moved into the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia in 1937, survived heavy WWII bombing, and is still going strong in 2019.
In 2006, scientists discovered an Ocean Quahog off the coast of Iceland. They named it Ming, or Hafrun, and started trying to calculate its age. Sadly, this 507 year old critter was killed when its shell was opened by scientists trying to count the growth lines on its shell, so who know how long it could have ultimately lived.
Horses live around 25 to 30 years, but one specimen named Old Billy worked as a barge horse in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, ultimately passing at the age of 62 in 1822. Billy lives on at the Manchester Museum, where his skull is on display.
Also known as the Gurry Shark or the Gray Shark, the Greenland Shark lives in the cold waters between Canada and Scandinavia. One of the largest species of sharks, it can weigh more than 2,000 pounds, and lives between 300 and 500 years on average. While its meat is toxic, it is edible when carefully prepared, and is considered a delicacy in Iceland.
Rats may live just 2 to 3 years, but a rat named Rodney made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1995 for making it to his 7th birthday. Just under a decade later, a lab mouse named Yoda made history when he lived to the age of 4, which is about twice the age of most mice.
With a wingspan of 11 feet or more, the Andean Condor is one of the largest birds in the world. Though most live to around the age of 50, a condor named Thaao living at the Beardsley Zoo in Connecticut was around 80 when he died in 2010. What a tough old bird!
Brown bats can live as long as 30 years, but one species called Brandt's Bat seems to live 40 years or more. While these tiny creatures are elusive, an individual tagged by researchers in 1964 in Siberia was still going strong 41 years later when scientists managed to recapture it in 2005.
Despite its name, Black Coral might not actually appear black. While its internal skeleton is black, its exterior "skin" can actually take on any color. Found in the tropics and long used by craftspeople to make jewelry, Black Coral can easily live for thousands of years.
Creme Puff was the world's oldest living cat when he died in 2005 at 38 years and 3 days of age. Owned by a Texas man named Jake Perry, Creme Puff was known for dining on oddities ranging from coffee to green veggies.
Koi are a form of wild Carp that can grow up to 3 feet long. They live an average of 40 years, and are chosen for their beauty to swim in ornamental ponds. One Koi named Hanako lived from about 1751 to 1977, making her well over 200 years old when she passed.
Despite what you might have heard, lobsters aren't immortal. They live 30 to 50 years, but are unique in that they don't experience a change in strength or metabolism as they age. One special lobster named George was 140 years old when he was briefly owned by a NY restaurant. He was returned to the sea with the help of PETA in 2009.
Cockatoos are a beautiful sight and can live as long as some humans thanks to their 40 to 60 year lifespan. One pink cockatoo named Cookie was a whopping 83 years young when he passed in 2016 at a zoo in Chicago.
With an average lifespan in excess of 200 years, Bowhead Whales have the honor of being the longest-living mammal. Also known as the Arctic or Polar Whale, these creatures range from 50 to 60 feet long and weigh more than 100 tons.
Native to New Zealand, the Tuatara is a lizard with scary-looking spikes running down its back and tail. They live into their 60s, and keep growing for the first half of their life. One Tuatara named Henry was estimated to be 111 years old when he mated with an 80 year old female Tuatara in 2009, producing 11 babies.
Rockfish includes a bunch of fish species that are known for hanging out around rocky outcroppings. In addition to being good hiders, these fish have a lot of endurance. For example, Rougheyes live for 140 years, while Shortrakers live an average of 120 years. In 2013, fishermen hauled in a Shortraker measuring more than 3 feet long, with an estimated age in excess of 200 years.
One species of Jellyfish known as Turritopsis nutricula is pretty much immortal. Measuring around a quarter of an inch, this species can actually reverse its life cycle, transferring cells to switch from a fully-grown adult back to a younger version of itself.
Polar bears tend to live to around 25 years of age, but one of these critters named Debby broke all the rules. She lived at a zoo in Winnepeg from 1966 to 2008. She and her mate Skipper produced six cubs before Debby passed away at the age of 41 or 42.
Native to sub-Saharan Africa, the Hippopotamus can run 20 mph despite an average weight of 3,000 pounds. This animal lives 40 to 50 years on average, but a hippo named Donna made it to the age of 61 before passing away at an Indiana zoo in 2012.
Western Gorillas can weigh 400 pounds or more, but are remarkably similar to humans. With a lifespan of 40 years in the wild and 50 years in captivity, they are the longest-living primates. One female Gorilla named Colo died at age 60 in 2017 at the Columbus Zoo.
The Puffin, whose scientific name is Puffinus puffinus (yes, really), is a black and white bird with a 20 to 25 year lifespan on average. Interestingly enough, one Puffin tagged by researchers in 1957 at the age of 5 was captured again in 2003, making him more than 50 years old.
White Rhinos live 40 to 50 years, while Black Rhinos live 35 to 50 years...when they're not brutally murdered for their horns, that is. One Black Rhino named Elly lived to the ripe old age of 46, producing 14 babies before dying in 2017 at the San Francisco Zoo.
Eels are sea creatures that live a respectable 15 to 20 years, but some individuals can live much longer. Eels found in wells in Denmark and Sweden had estimated ages of 55 and 85, respectively, while another Swedish eel named Ale died in 2014 at age 155.
Orangutans usually live into their 40s, which would be considered around middle-age for humans. One special lady named Nonja died in 2007 at the age of 55 in a Miami Zoo after having birthed five babies in her lifetime.
Golden Eagles live around 30 years in the wild, and have dark brown feathers with paler golden feathers along the back of their heads. These birds mate for life, and the oldest known individual living in captivity died at age 46.
The oldest known spider is an Armored Trapdoor Spider, which was around 43 years old when it was killed by a wasp in Australia in 2018. Before that, the oldest spider on record was a Tarantula from Mexico that made it to age 28.
A blue and gold Macaw named Charlie has been kicking it in England for well over 100 years, and is still living as of 2019...though rumors she was owned by Churchill are false. Most Macaws live 30 to 35 years in the wild, or 50 years in captivity, so Charlie is doing pretty well for her species.
Most dog owners can tell you that small dogs tend to live longer than larger ones. Based on the lack of common genetic illnesses, most Chihuahuas live 15 to 20 years. Though rare, the New Guinea Singing Dog is the longest-living canine, but good luck finding one.
The Red Sea Urchin consists of a tough shell covered in pointy spikes, which can range from red to burgundy, While most live 30 years or more, some individuals have been found with estimated ages in excess of 200 years.
Because so few lions reach adulthood, especially males, their life expectancy in the wild is only around 15 years. In captivity, lions live 20 to 30 years. A 25-year old female named Zenda was believed to be the oldest lion in the U.S. when she died in 2016 at the age of 25.
Some compare Barrel Sponges to Redwood Trees because they are large, slow-growers. The Barrel Sponge resembles a Redwood trunk, and can be 6-feet in diameter, but looks more like stone than wood. Species of Barrel Sponge living in the Caribbean have an estimated age of 2,300 years or more.
In the wild, Brown Bears live a respectable 20 to 30 years. The oldest known member of this species in North America was a Grizzly named Ginger, who was 40 years old when she had to be euthanized in 2015.
A Bristlecone Pine located in the White Mountains of California is the oldest individual creature on the planet, with an estimated age of 5,068 years. The second oldest? Another Bristlecone Pine located in the same mountain range. This one is nicknamed Methuselah and in "only" 4,850 years old.
The history books are full of tales of long-living humans, but the oldest human ever whose age could actually be verified was Jeanne Calment of France, who was 122 years old when she passed in 1995. Interestingly enough, the 10 oldest humans who ever lived were all women, with the oldest known male dying at the age of 116.