10 Animals That Spit at Father Time: From Giant Tortoises to Monster Clams

Giant TortoisesDid you know that glass sponges can live for 15,000 years or tortoises can live for 170 years or more? As humans who are constantly on the lookout for ways to live longer, we should take a closer look at our nearly-immortals friends of the animal kingdom. Unlike the fountain of youth or freezing our brains for the future, this isn’t fiction, folks. Several species of crazy animals outlive us by hundreds, even thousands of years. Science is getting close to discovering ways to keep us younger longer and extend our lives just by examining these amazingly ageless animals. Here is a list of Mother Nature’s most impressive senior citizens:

1. Spongebob Glass Pants

HexactinellidThe Hexactinellid, which biologists refer to simply as the “glass sponge,” lives for as much as 15,000 years. These are sea sponges that have a solid skeleton; hence, the name – and believe it or not, some of these spongy specimens are older than human civilization, making them the oldest living creatures on our planet. Imagine these animals, which are older than the cavemen and the ancient Egyptians, who evolved into their current form 700 million years ago and have stayed the same ever since. Scientists found one specimen in the South China Sea that they discovered was 11,000 years old. Although they were able to test the water inside of it to find out what the temperatures were like back in ancient times, what they discovered next was a real shocker; an animal drama unfolding before their very eyes. Trapped inside were spongicolid shrimps, tiny animals that like to chill inside these glass sponges; however, once inside, they get so big, they can’t escape. What’s worse is they live and breed inside them, bearing young who are also hexactinellid hostages.

2. Blowhard Bowhead Whale

These humongous wales have the biggest mouths in the animal kingdom and swim throughout the billowing waves blowing ocean water high into the sky. The Geophysical Institute of Alaska discovered one ancient specimen that they estimated to be between 177 and 245 years of age, making it the oldest animal known to man. This was an eye opener for marine biologists who once thought bowhead whales only lived between 60 and 70 years. They were way off base with this impressive member of the baleen whale family. Bowhead whaleBack in 2007, native Alaskan hunters killed a bowhead whale, finding a shocking surprise inside its shoulder blubber: the tip of an explosive harpoon, embedded there for over 117 years. This harpoon had to be tossed during the President Cleveland years between 1837 and 1908. The scientists were able to determine this whale was born around 1877, a full 130 years earlier.

3. Teenage Mutant Ninjas

Most people know that turtles can live a long time, as attested by Darwin’s tortoise, “Harriet,” who died at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo in 2006, at the ripe old age of 176 years. Darwin found Harriet on his voyage of 1830 on the Galapagos Islands when she was only two inches in size. Scientists credit Harriet with helping Darwin create his infamous theory of evolution. For over a century Harriet had a sexual crisis, being referred to as “Harry,” after being mistaken for a male by scientists. But it doesn’t stop there. After she passed and researchers examined her insides, they discovered that Harriet’s organs hadn’t aged beyond the teenage years, as if the aging process had frozen at the moment of sexual maturity. They also found something even more insane: The heart of a turtle doesn’t just respond to the impulses of the nerves, but rather, these ancient animals can turn their hearts on and off at will. In other words, turtles don’t die of old age – ever. They die of accident, disease or predation. Kowabunga, dude.

4. Colossal Lobsters

lobsterImagine if humans lives to be hundreds of years old and continued to grow at the same time. The planet would be full of giants looming over skyscrapers, but that’s how it is with the crustacean of the sea, the lobster. Before you start slicing lemons and melting butter, consider this: Exactly how old lobsters really get is still a mystery. According to  Smithsonian.com, when lobsters molt, they lose their entire exoskeleton, making it difficult to measure their date of birth and therefore, their age. One memorable crustacean is“George the Giant Lobster,” rescued from a restaurant in New York City back in 2009 by animal activists who was estimated to be 140 years old. This shellfish was born after the Civil War, but he wasn’t the largest or the oldest lobster recorded. In 1977, a 44 pound behemoth was discovered and go back to the cold waters of Maine in 1926 when they pulled a 51.5 pound giant from the sea. No one really knows how old either of them were, but what they do know is that lobsters get more fertile and sexually active with age, meaning these old timers are having more fun than most twenty year olds.

5. The Clamgate Controversy

Clams are another species that live longer than people do, but what scientists have recently discovered is that clams age at an extremely slow rate. This is due to what they call a slowed cell replacement process. Once at their sexual maturity, the enzymes in a clam stabilize for as much as 150 years. leonardo da vinciIn 2007, the animal science world was abuzz over the murder of “Ming,” a 507-year-old clam. Although the scientists later admitted they did not kill the senior shellfish in order to determine its age, but rather, it froze along with all the other samples on the way back from the Icelandic Shelf. What’s impressive is the 100-year difference in their age estimate. They didn’t find out Ming’s real age until they went back to the lab and counted the number of bands on the shell by enlarging their view with a microscope. Turns out, Ming was born during the Ming Dynasty when Leonardo da Vinci was busy creating the Mona Lisa. The nearly-200 clams researchers sample each year are a small percentage of the global clam population, so even if Ming was the oldest animal known so far, there is a good chance we have not yet discovered the most geriatric clam in the sea. But don’t be sad, because Ming didn’t die in vain – science can use the shell to track environmental changes over the past several centuries.

6. Burgling Bdelloids

You probably have not heard of Bdelloids, a microscopic organism that exists in fresh water, but these amazing creatures can survive out of water for several years. On top of that, they’ve been able to multiply without having sex for at least 80 million years by gathering their genetic material from other species. When examining one bdelloid, for example, scientists found a DNA soup consisting of genetic scraps from 500 separate species. So, if you’ve ever gone swimming in a lake, there could be a microscopic piece of you inside one of these little animals. While you’re trying to wrap yourself around this, imagine this: Bdelloids can withstand huge amounts of radiation, as much as 1,000 Gy, before being rendered infertile; a full 250 times higher than that for a human female.

7. Gooey Ducks Dig Deep

The geoduck, which people pronounce, “gooeyduck,” a Native American word meaning, “dig deep,’ is the world’s largest burrowing clam. It can stretch its leathery trunk-like neck out to the length of over three feet. As little as forty years ago, it was virtually unknown. Nowadays, fishermen sell millions of pounds of it yearly, to eateries from New York to Hong Kong. What makes these tasty dinosaurs so impressive is that they have a life span of at least 160 years, and when they are undisturbed by man, they can live as long as 200 years. The oldest geoduck was researched by J.M. (Lobo) Orensanz at the age of 168 years.

8. Dancing Tube Worms

Flailing around on the hydrocarbon vents along the ocean floor are colorful tube worms that live for more than 170 years. Lamellibrachia luymesi relies on internal sulfide-oxidizing bacterial symbionts for food. This means they survive on the billions of bacteria that reside inside of them that evolves into chemicals and launch out of the vents. These are hardy animals. The material these vents eject can be as much as 750 degrees, but that’s okay – the tube worm can withstand extremely high temperatures and sulfur levels. They grow very slowly, but can reach lengths of 10 feet or more.

9. Carp Centurions: Koi Fish

This domesticated variety of the common carp are actually quite fascinating, because they can live for hundreds of years in water features like Koi ponds. They are attractive, coming in a variety of colors and patterns. Most fish have growth rings on their scales, or annuli, so researchers can determine their age by counting them. A celebrity carp named, “Hanako,” meaning “flower maid,” was the world’s oldest Koi fish, dying at the age of 226 years in July 1977.

10. Rusty Relics

Although we call them Red Sea Urchins, the color can range from pink to orange to dark black. This sea creature lives in the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Baja, California, in shallow waters at the low-tide line to 300 feet deep waters. It likes to sit on rocky shores protected from high wave action. The urchin has a coat of sharp spines and live to be nearly 200 years old – and no wonder – those spines have got to hurt. It’s hard not to be jealous of these silver species; however, science is on the crux of discovering many ways to keep humans looking and feeling young, from lifestyle amending to supplements like HGH – and more time stopping tools are surely on the way.
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