The world’s oldest flamingo flew to that great big aviary in the sky last week. Greater, as it was known, was the most famous flamingo in Australia’s Adelaide Zoo when it was put to sleep at age 83.
The bird was suffering from severe arthritis and was nearly blind; zookeepers decided that putting Greater down was the most humane thing they could do.
Most of us are impressed when our pets live merely into the low double digits. But there are creatures out there that put in some serious time on Earth, especially compared with us humans. Some sea sponges last more than 1,500 years. (See also “How Old Is That Lion? A Guide to Aging Animals.”)
Herewith, six of the most famously long-lived individual animals:
1. Dynastic Clam
You may have heard of Ming, the deep-sea clam named after the Chinese dynasty during which it was born. When it died in 2006, it was believed to be the oldest living animal ever recorded.
This ocean quahog, scientifically known as Arctica islandica, lived for 507 years and came to an inglorious end.
In 2006, scientists accidentally killed the clam when they dredged it up off the coast of Iceland and froze it, along with many others, for transport back to the lab for climate change research.
There may be older specimens out there hiding in the mud, but Ming was the lucky one that won postmortem fame.
2. Great-Great-Grand Whale
A bowhead whale was 130 years old when it died in 2007. Eskimos harvested the whale that year during a subsistence hunt monitored by the International Whaling Commission.
Scientists were able to estimate its age because the animal had carried a harpoon point in its neck for more than a hundred years. Experts dated the weapon to a New England factory active around 1880.
Scientists believe bowhead whales have the capacity to live about 200 years in part due to their slow metabolism—an adaptation to an icy-cold but food-rich Arctic environment.
3. Golden Oldie Fish
It might just be legend, but a koi goldfish named Hanako that passed on in 1977 was said to be the ripe old age of 226. Fish scales can be read like tree rings, which is how the estimate would have come about.
These ornamental pets are prized in Asia, and the highest-quality koi can cost thousands of dollars. Normally the fish live about 47 years.
4. Bird Named Wisdom
An albatross named Wisdom may be the oldest mom in the bird world. In 2012, at the age of 62, she hatched a new chick, possibly her 35th, and she’s still going strong in the Midway Atoll Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific.
Other avian elders include an 82-year-old Siberian white crane, captive parrots that can live into their 80s, and flamingos. Don’t forget flamingos!
5. Slow and Steady
Giant tortoises are famously long-lived: Thomas, the oldest ever known in Britain, died last year at age 130 after a rat bite on its leg got infected.
But there have been older known tortoises.
Tu’i Malila of Tonga Island passed away at 188, while Adwaita in India was at least 150—possibly as old as 250—when he died in 2006. The Galápagos tortoise Harriet, known as “Darwin’s tortoise,” survived to around age 176. She passed away in 2006 at the Australia Zoo in Queensland.
6. Immortal Jellies
Although I can’t point to an old individual named Gus or Penelope (both great handles for marine creatures, no?), it would be a shame to leave out the species Turritopsis dohrnii, a jellyfish discovered in the Mediterranean in the 1880s that never truly dies.
Instead, this jellyfish recycles itself, “aging” backward from adult stage to an immature polyp stage over and over again. Hanging out with T. dohrnii may just be the closest we humans ever come to immortality. (See more pictures of aging beasts.)
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The National Geographic Photo Ark is a multi-year project to photograph all species in captivity. The quahog is one of them. To learn more about the Photo Ark, visit natgeophotoark.org,