Do you ever find yourself wondering, “What is the oldest living thing?” Is it an animal or plant; creature of the land or beast of the sea?
Well read this post and you’ll wonder no more – you may even discover the secret to eternal life!
Oldest Person (122 years)
Unsurprisingly, man doesn’t make it too high up the list. The oldest person currently alive on the planet is 115 years old, but the oldest person ever was a French lady called Jeanne Calment, who lived to the ripe old age of 122!
It’s a good feat for mankind, but nothing compared to what’s coming up!
Oldest Mammal (200 years)
Bowhead whales are believed to be the longest living mammal.
In May 2007, a whale was discovered with a harpoon in its neck, which dated back to 1890! There have been several similar occurrences, with 19th century spear points discovered in newly killed whales, suggesting that some of them lived to around 200 years.
Oldest Animal (4,265 years)
You may think that it’s cheating to include coral as an animal and not as a plant, but corals are in fact animals, with many made up of cloned colonies of polyps.
In 2009 scientists found a new technique for dating corals, and discovered that the deep sea black coral Leiopathes may be one of the oldest living things on the planet, with one estimated to be 4,265 years old!
The main advantage of being a colony is that while individual polyps will die over time, new ones will form to replace them.
Oldest Individual Tree (4,862 years)
The oldest individual tree was a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine. It was dated at 4,862 years when it was cut down in 1964!
Another member of the species currently holds the record for the oldest living tree, at 4,842 years old. Still rather impressive!
The trees certainly look old, but I think they’re looking pretty good for their age!
Image by Frank Kolvalchek
Oldest Plant Colony (80,000 years)
Plant colonies survive by cloning themselves, and become a series of plants connected by a root system. The Jurupa Oak is a colony of Palmer’s Oak trees, and is estimated to be 13,000 years old, starting life in the last Ice Age!
But unlike the towering Great Basin Bristlecone Pines, it never grows more than a few feet tall, and is more likely to be viewed as a shrub. It probably won’t be used to make furniture anytime soon!
But while 13,000 years is impressive, topping the list by quite a mile is the Pando colony in Utah, which is made up of one male Quaking Aspen. On the surface it may look like a forest of individual trees, but they’re actually all clones connected by an underground root system!
From this list it seems that clones can effectively live forever, but even clones suffer from DNA flaws as they age.
Research on Pando revealed that over time genetic mutations will make it infertile. At that point it will be able to clone, but it won’t be any to make seeds, so it will be stuck in one place and vulnerable to disaster and disease.
But there are some species that do not suffer the effects of ageing!
The Turritopsis nutricula jellyfish acts like a phoenix, returning to its sexually immature young form and then growing into a fully formed jellyfish again. Therefore it could theoretically live forever!
So what’s the secret to eternal life?
Well it seems to be the ability to reverse your life cycle – copy Benjamin Button and grow younger as you get older. I’m not sure that many of us would be keen on that idea though, and our ability to self-clone is rather limited!
But on balance I think that I’d much rather live 80 years as a human, than 80,000 years as a tree! Could your oak furniture range date back to the last Ice Age; is your great-aunt the oldest person alive?
Can you think of any other ancient living things you’ve encountered?