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What is the oldest living thing on earth? Who has the secrets to longevity?

Updated on November 11, 2016

Is it a person? a plant? a spore? a bacteria? or something in the back of the refrigerator? What can help us live longer? What is the key to anti-aging? There are few certain answers but that doesn't keep us from guessing. Actually scientists in a variety of fields from geology to forestry have been searching and measuring.

Oldest person?

Not counting Methuselah, we humans have a hard time cracking 100 years of age. Most people don't make it that far; those that do get their pictures in the paper.

Sketchy records and anecdotal claims can make age verification very difficult. The Gerontology Research Group researches these claims and tracks people over 110 years old. Here is their list of validated living supercentenarians...

Life expectancy is a moving target, thankfully moving upward. The world average is 67.2. Try to be born in Japan which leads the list of countries at 82.6. The shortest expectancy is Swaziland at 39.2.

Jeanne Louise Calment, was born on February 21, 1875 and lived 122 years and 164 days!
Jeanne Louise Calment, was born on February 21, 1875 and lived 122 years and 164 days!

1.5 Million Years Is a Long Time to Hide...

Scientists have found bacterial activity in a reddish feature on the side of Taylor Glacier on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, in a place called Blood Falls. The red comes from iron, and apparently so does the life force for this bacterial life form.

Scientists speculate that these microorganisms use iron that leaches from the glacial bedrock to perform a series of metabolic reactions that produce a life energy. The oxidized iron creates the red hue that leads to the Blood Falls name.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains.

Oldest individual plant?

We're talking about a single plant here; one that reproduces externally - flowers, seeds. There are a few candidates including a creosote bush in the Mojave Desert, placed by some at 11,000 years old. However, most scientists agree on the Bristlecone Pine. Genus: Pinus, Species: longaeva.

How old? Dr. Edmund Schulman dated an individual plant in the White Mountains in California at over 4,700 years. This pine is nicknamed Methuselah, and it's location is kept secret to protect it.

Amazingly, this long living species, seems to thrive in the some of the harshest conditions. They are found in several US mountain ranges, typically at the 11,000 foot level. That is some very windy, very cold territory!

Another old sucker?

In Tasmania, we have the Kings Holly which is another sterile plant with no flowers, no seeds. The Kings Holly reproduces by root suckering and produces one big plant.

How big? 1-2 kilometers. How old? Estimated at 43,000 years, by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service.

Meet B. permians from New Mexico
Meet B. permians from New Mexico

Oldest icky thing?

Then we have some spores contained in sea salt in Carlsbad, NM. Scientists can crack open these spores and find bacteria in suspended animation. Reactivate the bacteria and we have a living thing that can reproduce, B. permians.

How old? Try 250 million years!

Ooops - this one is also a little controversial as some other scientist think that no bacteria can remain viable this long, and that Mr. B. permians is actually contamination from the salt that isn't that old.

Quahog clam show their age on the outside, you count the rings...
Quahog clam show their age on the outside, you count the rings...
Giant tortoise from the Galapogos
Giant tortoise from the Galapogos

Happy as a clam...

A quahog clam was dredged from the Arctic waters off the coast of Iceland. It's age was calculated to be 405 years! Apparently you can see and count growth lines on the clams shell. Scientists are studying these growth lines as part of research on climate change.

This particular clam ends up in the record books instead of on the dinner table. Maybe there are antiaging vitamins in the sea?

Longest living things that walk, creep or fly?

Records like these generally come from zoos and aquariums. Conditions in the wild would alter numbers, but these are good for order of magnitude for oldest lining things by species:

Mammal, excluding human - an elephant lived for 69 years.

Bird - a turkey buzzard lived to 118 years and a swan to 102.

Reptiles - we have a giant tortoise that crept around for 152 years.

Amphibians - a giant salamander lasted 55 years.

Fish - no surprise that a catfish lived 60 years.

Insect - cicada is on the list for 17 years, but I saw somewhere that a queen ant lived for 25 years, as her colony came and went.

Hmmm, it seems like being big (elephant, giant tortoise) and belligerent (swan) helps. Being a good sleeper works for the cicada.

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Acknowledgements

I got the idea for this HubPage from Clay Thompson's article in the Arizona Republic. He has a daily column called Valley 101. He answers readers questions. He tends to pick odd questions, and then print his version of an answer - often interesting, usually humerous. He has one great job - research questions on the Internet all day and then write up the easy and interesting ones!

Animal, bird, insect numbers came from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, click here for full list.

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    • profile image

      taran 4 years ago

      I wish everybody live long

    • profile image

      matt 5 years ago

      We humans should only last at the maximum 100 and we have to attain old age and vanish so that there will be food for the people out thr who r just BORN on this beautiful earth ALL FOR GOOD & GOOD FOR ALL... imagine all people living for more that 100 years just for 10 years (No 1 died from past 10 years just imagine on this earth) will there be place to stay or to keep our FEET on this earth... we will kill ourselves for FOOD trust me.

      ( LET'S FLOW AS PER NATURE'S PROCEDURE )

    • Yoovle profile image

      Yoovle 5 years ago from at the beach

      Man, if the information about those B. permians is true then it's really amazing! 250 million years is quite a big number :)

    • carcro profile image

      Paul Cronin 5 years ago from Winnipeg

      Very interesting hub, Age is one of those subjects that captivates, we'd all love to live long healthy lives, its amazing that there are plants that live for hundreds and even thousands of years. Voted Up and Interesting!

    • profile image

      davey 6 years ago

      technically we are made up of carbon base but if you look at protons and nuculas atoms ect ect we and everything else are ancient metaphorically speaking

    • profile image

      neal 6 years ago

      to be honest we r killin earth cuz theres to many of us(were not killing each other as fast as we used too) we need to go back to old days where only the strong survived,an proceed to weed out everyone else that cant make there own livin...bam so in other words ppl need to die an not live to 100

    • Il_Padrino profile image

      Il_Padrino 6 years ago

      Very interesting hub...I will read it one more time !

    • profile image

      km 6 years ago

      I've read that Norwegian scientists discovered a Norwegian Spruce that is 9800 years old! Sounds like it might be the oldest living plant on earth.

    • rakoo profile image

      rakoo 6 years ago from Midwest

      You should look into Norwals, Godd Hub

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 6 years ago from Ireland

      Hope we all make it pass one hundred. That would be cool. Great hub, interesting facts that need digestion and consideration about living things on this planet. Thanks for the great hub.

    • D.Virtual.Doctor profile image

      Funom Theophilus Makama 6 years ago from Europe

      yeah, this is the oldest hub still receiving comments..... But can this life elongivity stuff work? Even if it does, I think its best to leave myself the way I am. Anything synthetic must have a side effect and to worsen the scenario, side effects may not be detected as early as possible until the damage has been done.

      Anyway, This is such an awesome hub. Very contemporary and indeed breath- taking. I am so privileged to read this hub because I am duly informed and educated. Hoping to read more of such hubs from you. Cheers!

      D.Virtual.Doctor

    • profile image

      lara bastery 6 years ago

      my fav thing is the oldest plant

    • profile image

      james evans 6 years ago

      Turritopsis nutricula can live for ever

    • profile image

      Tyler Mc 6 years ago

      I saw 1 very old man lived for 256 years he's was chinese person what I saw on the web!

      I saw another woman from another country but I for got it was located but she lived for little over 143 years!

      I ready hope I can live that long? But I still have a long life to live LOL!

    • profile image

      key 6 years ago

      there is a type of bug that goes 100 years in suspended animation and can wake up afterwards soo lets say

      its 1899 the Water Bear suspends and wakes up it is now 2010

    • profile image

      Sarah 6 years ago

      That's weird

    • adorababy profile image

      adorababy 6 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      Some of the oldest living things on earth are Bristlecone pine trees, some of which can be found in the White Mountains of California. Many of them are over four thousand years old.

    • secretscp profile image

      secretscp 7 years ago

      This is a really cool list. I had read before about that bristlecone plant. 4700 years is a long time for a plant!

    • profile image

      motlavivek 7 years ago

      The oldest living evidence on Earth was an atom of carbon which was found in I think Greenland, and was 3.6 billion years old. It was magnified over 6,200 time so that it could be seen.

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 7 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Great article! I dig your style too Stankevicz! Glad to have a Tasmanian fan! Age is a strange thing, when you're young you don't care if you live old. But the older you get the more of it you want! I wouldn't be surprised if bacteria did "live" in suspended hibernation for a billion years, they are vigorous little buggers!

    Blood Falls supports life?

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