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What Animal Has The Longest Lifespan?
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2011 by eNature
Aldabra giant tortoise
Aldabra giant tortoise
© Muhammad Mahdi Karim

If you’re a TV watcher, you may have noticed that the most recent iteration of the long-running TV show Survivor just wrapped up.

But there’s a much more interesting version playing out in the wild.

It’s one thing to survive a few weeks on a television show, but it’s quite another to live 180 years and never be voted off the island!

The tale of the ultimate survivor begins in a world of 18th century explorers, kidnappings, and tropical islands, when long-distance travel was by ship and many lands were still uncharted. The secret to this creature’s longevity may be in its philosophy: Slow and steady wins the race.

The Real Survivor
By all accounts the longest-lived creatures on earth are turtles. It may have something to do with the slowed-down lifestyle and perhaps the protective armor. At any rate, tales abound of giant tortoises of the Galapagos, Seychelles, Madagascar, and other islands that lived well over 100 years.

Sailors were said to carve their names and dates into the shells of these behemoths, providing something of a record of their lifespans. But it is quite difficult to track the lifespan of a wild animal, especially when the animal outlives the person keeping track!

What Creature Has Lived Longest?
The longest life of any tortoise of which there is an authenticated record is that of Marion’s Tortoise, a Testudo gigantea. This giant tortoise, along with four of its companions, was taken as an adult from its native island in the Seychelles to Mauritius, where no tortoises occur, by the French explorer Marion de Fresne in 1766. It lived there for 152 years, until it died in 1918. Since it was a full-grown adult at the time of its capture in 1766, its actual age may be estimated at not less than 180 years and perhaps as much as 200 years.

Even the smaller members of the turtle order are known to be long-lived. One Box Turtle, passed down as a family pet, is said to have died at the ripe old age of 123. It was just one year older than the the the person many consider the oldest human on record, a French woman named Jeanne Louise Calment (1875 to 1997).

Winners All Around
Interestingly, turtles aren’t only the longest-lived individuals known, they are the oldest type of living reptiles, vastly more ancient in lineage than the fossil dinosaurs and most of the other extinct forms.

That makes them older than all mammals and birds, as well.

Surely they are doing something right. There may be more to the tale of the tortoise and the hare (lifespan probably up to 8 or 10 years, if lucky!) than race strategy!

Although their numbers are threatened by development, the Eastern Box Turtle is common sight in the woods.  Have you encountered any turtles— in your yard or in your travels?

We always enjoy your stories!


Find what turtles species are native to your backyard »



I live in a suburb outside of Chicago.  I have a creek and ponds close to my house and have found turtle eggs buried very close to the water.  I actually saw a box turtle last spring.  He/she was caked with mud, so possibly just came out after being buried all winter.

Posted by Marilyn on 12/19

Don’t forget about invertebrates! Some species of European and North American freshwater mussels have been estimated to be over 200 years old as well.

Posted by Kevin Cummings on 12/19

Disagree - I believe the record is an Atlantic clam at 405 years.

Posted by Bill Machovina on 12/19

Always stop for turtles in the road, then relocate them to suitable habitat.
One small box turtle was totally combative, tepeateadly scratching me and noisily scuttling about the truck bed. Got to a pond, and, again, the little turtle drew blood, then disappeared into the pond.

Posted by Richard Alley on 12/19

Correction:  The Eastern Box Turtle is a common sight, not site, in the woods.

Posted by John T. on 12/19

When helping out turtles, be careful of snapping turtles. We have a lot here in NE Wisconsin. If you want to help one, try to get it to latch onto a stick and then ‘guide’ it to the side of the road. First figure out which side it is headed for because it will turn around and head back into danger if you move it to the wrong side!

Posted by Carol Schuster on 12/19

Actually, Evolution has not been proven, and if the Bible is correct ( then turtles, dinosaurs, and all other animals would only be a few days apart, in terms of who was on Earth first.

Posted by First Knight on 12/19

Thanks for pointing out the typo. It’s fixed.

We spend way too much time writing about our web site and not enough time writing about the sights out in nature!

Posted by eNatureAdmin on 12/19

Actually, the Bible has not been proven and never will be.  Evolution explains what is seen in the natural world and the historical record far better, especially with the discovery of DNA.

Posted by John T. on 12/19

Oh First Knight… I didn’t realize that trolls had found their way to this website too. That one had me laughing for a while though. Well done!

Posted by Chris Hitch on 12/19

I grew up in west Texas (Midland) and would always find box turtles.  I painted a small star on one and a diamond on another and placed them in our backyard in the mid 1960’s. There was a bed of ivy they thrived in.  My mother would put food out and they would come eat it.  There have been babies and they were still there when my mother moved from there a few years ago.

Posted by Steve Noah on 12/19

I hate to be a party pooper, but there are lots of animals with longer lifespans than tortoises.

Galapagos tortoises are mayflies compared with animals like the giant barrel sponge, which have lifespans exceeding not two hundred years, but two THOUSAND years.

A koi fish is on record living to 226 years old.

Bowhead whales live to be over 200 years old (211 on record, as evidenced by the age of the spearhead found embedded in the deceased animal).

A simple mollusc, the ocean quahog, lives over 400 years.

Some corals also have staggeringly long lifespans, over 2000 years.  The invertebrates win this race…but even if you discount them, the bowhead whale has beaten out all of the tortoises for longevity.

Posted by Donna on 12/19

My family has lived in our home, which has a 2-acre wooded yard that includes a “sometimey” creek, for nearly 40 years.  Several times a year, we see what we’ve always considered “our” box turtle—usually hiking across the front lawn.  Earlier this fall, my husband called me out to the yard to see what he could hardly believe he was seeing:  TWO box turtles, mating!  I ran for my camera—figuring hey, it’s turtles.  It’ll take a while.  It did, and they didn’t appear to mind a bit that I snapped away.  Amazing.  So now the dilemma:  Which is the resident, or do they both live in the yard?

Posted by Sharon K on 12/19

Which came first the chicken or the egg? I forgot, probably the Chicken which evolved from an Amoeba. Ha Ha, that is the funniest thing I have ever heard Chris T. Not nice to call people names by the way. Nice job showing your progressive, atheist true colors.

Posted by Todd on 12/19

And that old sun keeps right on circling around the earth, just as it has since Biblical times.

Posted by John T. on 12/19

Carol, pick snapping turtles up by the tail, thus saving a few digits…Didn’t Noah live 900 years?

Posted by John Pollard on 12/19

Gen 9:29 Noah lived 950 years. The longest lived person recorded in the bible was Methuselah who lived 969 years (Gen 5:27). He was Noah’s Grandfather. After Noah lifespans got shorter & shorter.

Interesting info. I knew there were trees that had lived over 2000 years but didn’t know that there were living creatures who had lived that long.

Of course since its hard to tell how long a creature has lived, & they are still discovering new ones, there may be others that have lived longer.

Posted by Kathi R on 12/19

“Relocating a turtle to a more suitable habitat” is a bad idea.  Turtles are strongly territorial, and water turtles such as snappers only emerge during the egg laying season in mid spring.  It is okay to move them to the other side of the road, the side her head points at, to let her go on to her egg laying grounds, but to take her someplace else is NOT something you should ever do.  Eastern painted turtles will wander endlessly until they find “their” home pond again, and they will not eat until they do. They also only eat when completely submerged. Injured box turtles must always be returned to the exact place where they had been found upon rehabilitation.

Posted by Sigrid Warren, licensed wildlife rehabilitator on 12/20

Sig, thanks for the good advice.

Posted by John P. on 12/20

So we have turtles that witnessed Lincolns assination and are still living today.

Posted by Steve on 12/20

interesting that there ARE older organisms on earth - and I agree there are older living ‘things’ than turtles…but aren;t corals and other organisms like that technically ‘colonies’ of organisms>>> not individual organisms….Hats off the the ‘individual’ long lived specimens….just sayin’…

Posted by Barb on 12/20

I put a snapper back in the water near a nursing home facility in Carlton MN. It was roaming the parking lot, and I was afraid it would get run over.  Since everyone else seemed to be afraid of the snapping turtle, and I wasn’t, I picked it up by the tail,and put it back in its pond near the facility. Neither one of us was any the worse for wear.

Posted by Armida Turk on 12/20

Ornate box turtles are frequent visitors to our yard, located between the river and a sandpit in Wichita, Kansas. Since they are the official Kansas reptile, we always feel honored by their visit and created a tiny pond in yard with a log for easy access/egress to help meet their needs.

Posted by Lynn on 12/20

Steve..Too bad one didn’t bite JWB on the butt, thus saving our beloved president! Eastern box turtles are of concern here in NC. We just don’t see as many as in the past.

Posted by John P. on 12/20

I live in Northeastern PA and we had a big snapping turtle walking across our front yard. The dogs were going crazy inside and I looked out the window and didn’t see what they were barking at. I saw something that looked like a big rock and realized we didn’t have a big rock out in front so I went outside and yeah, HUGE snapping turtle. I took some pictures of him. Never saw him again after that. I don’t know where he went to. We live near a lake and he was pointed in that direction, so maybe that’s where he went, but he came out of the woods. I don’t know if there is a stream or some kind of water source in there, but that sure is a lot of traveling for this turtle, especially at his pace.

Posted by Victoria on 12/20

snapping turtles are the least desirable of all turtles, since they eat baby ducks, but that’s nature. When I was a wee lad, I would catch them for a local restaurant that made turtle soup. It was common to see “turtle traps” along the river. A turtle trap is a fishing line with a hook and a piece of meat at one end and tied to a stake at the other. Later, they were illegal for obvious reasons.

Posted by John P. on 12/20

Yeah, they’re not the nicest or prettiest of the turtle species, but I do love all animals. Even though they’re not the most desirable, I still find them fascinating. I love wildlife. I’m just not that fond of bugs. lol

Posted by Victoria on 12/20

We have eleven wooded acres here in the N. Ga. mountains and have maintained a walking trail on our land for the past 10 years.  We started finding box turtles and thought it would be fun to start lettering them and documenting where they were found.  We went through the alphabet quickly, to our surprise, and started on numbers.
  As the years passed, we were amazed the distance they can travel innot too long a time!  After our record keeping and documenting, we have reached # 133.  Some we find that need their numbers retouched and have found some mating and once a turtle orgy with four involved.  There seem to be an almost equal number of males to the females.  We rarely see the babies as they are too small to notice in the woods.  In times of drought (this last summer) they go to the little streams and soak. 
  Our Labradoodle is the turtle hunter and alerts us to their whereabouts.  Our trail takes about 45 minutes to walk and sometimes after a nice rain, she has found three or four on their travels.  It has been an interesting study!  We keep our woodland as nature created it so it’s a safe haven for all the wildlife.  D.M.

Posted by Dorothy Morford on 12/20

Good for you, Dorothy! We need more people like you! Let’s hear it for those who really care about our wildlife!!!!

Posted by John P. on 12/20

My Dad used to catch snappers and when I was little I had the job of making the turtle grab on to a stick to pull his head out of the shell.  Actually the Turtle soup my Mom made was delicious but the meat was rubbery.  Dad used to put them under a crate in the cellar until their systems cleaned out.  Horrible.
The last snappers that I saw were about the size of a 50 cent piece and were coming out of the sand by the pond.  They were adorable.
DO NOT PICK A TURTLE UP BY THE TAIL as it can break their spines.  I’m afraid that perhaps you should just stop your car while the turtle crosses the road.  If they bite, they have a tendency of not letting go.  Dad used to bury the heads attached to a stick so that dogs wouldn’t get them.  They will open and close their jaws even a couple of days after being beheaded.
I helped a strawberry turtle cross the road two years ago and had to sit there and pull off leaches that were stuck all over it.  Yuck!

Posted by Poyye on 12/20

I was thinking before I read this it would be an animal in the Avian family, but alas I forgot it was the turtle . 158 years is amazing, and its befitting that one of G-ds most humble and kind creatures should have the honor of utmost longevity. Long live the Turtles, G-d knows weve done them a GREAT INJUSTICE==THANKS DEEP WATER HORIZON ==THANKS B.P for the most heinous act of ecological disaster ever perpetuated. I still cant pass a B.P station w/o putting up the cross of the vampire [they totally suck!]

Posted by Marcie Newman-Perskin on 12/21

So many comments about turtles, all missing my point that the article itself is in err. The oldest living animal appears to be a north Atlantic clam (405 yrs.) NOT a turtle—or a tortoise. A mollusk!

Posted by Bill Machovina on 12/21


Posted by Marcie Newman-Perskin on 12/21

Thanks, Marci. The clam info was in Discover or Scientific American—I’m too lazy to go look.
Mollusks are people, too!

Posted by Bill Machovina on 12/21

Oh yes, the Mollusks and Clams.  The last time I saved a Clam and helped it cross the road I ate it by mistake :o(

Posted by Poyye on 12/22

I know we are talking animals here, but let’s not forget our great, old friends the redwoods and Methusaleh trees smile

Posted by Laura on 12/25

Dear Poyye
  This conversation started w/ how old is the oldest living creature. Is it necessary to discuss eating them , being rubbery and what that== horrible thing was, I didnt care to read on
  Are you serious ?  The people here care about animals dont want to know what they taste like and how they are beheaded .
  Its people like you and your Dad, and by the way if it was horrible ,it was your DUTY to save it from your heartless Dad. If you input on these issues, maybe you should be on the animals side of the discussion. I assure you we== ANIMAL LOVERS DONT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT TURTLES BEING ABUSED AND BEHEADED. I suggest when it comes to animals you eat less and nurture more

Posted by Marcie Newman-Perskin on 12/26

Thanks Marcie. I was wondering if I was the only one disgusted by Poyye’s tales of beheaded turtles. And I’m with Chris Hitch on the trolls! In any case, lots of interesting follow-ups regarding a variety of life forms and their potential lifespans. Fascinating!

Posted by Robin on 12/26

Dearest Robin
        At first I didnt read the responses just Bills as he responded to mine ,and since then my computer E mails me when anyone responds {didnt know that ]. I just kind of skimmed the posts and that one really rocked my socks==It was as if this thing was a usual practice of some people and no big deal, unfortunately for a woman of 55 saving animals for 50 years it made me Very Angry and Quite Sad. Alas humanity has hit an all time low in so many ways .
  With that I wish you a== Peace filled New Year== Please help all animals that you can, and Please stand up for our Wild Horses they really need our help===The BLM must be stopped !!===Peace ===Marcie

Posted by Marcie Newman-Perskin on 12/26

Sorry I offended you people named Rebecca who live on Sunnybrook Farm.  My father, unfortunately, passed in 1991 and I am 60 years old.  I would be very surprised if your parents or grandparents did not behead chickens, turtles, hogs and cows.
Did I say that I did?  No.  I said I stopped my car in the middle of the road to pull the leaches of one.  Probably I should have left the leaches on it instead of killing them or tossing them aside because they, too, deserve a chance to live.  As for me, I am a realist.  If it is at all possible to save a creature, I will.  My property is posted so that no hunters come on it but yet I am a realist that loves venison.
If I remember correctly, sometimes those turtles made the difference in having or not having supper that night.
Because of people like you that do not accept other people’s beliefs and principals I find the human race sometimes are the ones that need the beheadings (and not to eat for dinner).
PS: Frog legs are yummy too but you don’t see me clunking them on the head to eat on my property because I can afford to go to the nearest store.
Another thing, I know a butcher in my area that cleans hunter’s venison and gives it to the needy rather than tossing it if the hunter doesn’t need it to feed her/his family.  Believe me,  those needy people are VERY grateful to get it.
Sorry I “rocked your socks” (whatever that means) and I’m sorry that you are angry and sad and would rather see the needy starve.  I also didn’t mean to “disgust” anyone.  I guess beheading a corn plant hurts the corn worse.  As for the person who believed that my Dad was “heartless” should have known him.  I would have helped him do ANYTHING and I resent your animosity toward human beings.

Posted by Poyye on 12/27

Oh and I forgot to tell you “your welcome” when you thanked me about the advice in picking up a turtle by the tail.  You just go ahead and sling them into the gully by the side of the road.

Posted by Poyye on 12/27

eyouch.  This may be getting out of hand/paw.  Is there a moderator for this group?  Sorry I offended anyone.  Don’t worry.  No more posts from me.
Poyye (female)

Posted by Poyye on 12/27


Please remember to keep your comments civil.  We’re close to getting out of hand here….

Posted by eNature Admin on 12/28

The post about Rebecca of Sunnybrook farms should be removed, you deleted my post, now its time to take this heinous post about beheading animals off as well ===Its Disgusting ===anti animal and has nothing to do w/ the oldest living creature. Ladies and Gents this is a country where free speech lives and this post was appropriate and censored.

Posted by Marcie Newman-Perskin on 12/28

Dear enature Admin,
I must agree with Marcie regarding your decision to delete her post yet leaving all of Poyye’s posts. In all fairness you should remove Poyye’s post as well.  If you’re trying to be play mediator then do so, fairly. Poyye’s posts have nothing to do with this article.

Posted by Robin on 12/29

Thank You Robin, I cant believe the violent terrible things said . Im normally very nice and non confrontational , but when it was inferred that my family beheaded animals as well, it was time to correct her, and tell her this was not a humane option and not something most people do. I still cant understand what this response pertains to=== WHAT IS THE OLDEST LIVING CREATURE===but I am only Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms

Posted by Marcie Newman-Perskin on 1/1

As protectors of wildlife, we must co-exist with those who hunt. I admit that years ago I did some hunting but later committed my life to conserving them. I’m the area herpetologist (snake wrangler) and remove snakes from human habitats. So far I’ve removed them from crawl spaces, attics, homes. garages, cars, pools and even a printer. I take them into areas that I know will not be developed in my lifetime. I have the proper equipment to handle venomous snakes as well as non-venomous snakes. Last summer here in coastal NC was brutal. It was hot and very dry, which is hard on reptiles. I found a very sickly, skinny cottonmouth (water moccasin) in a dried out drainage ditch. I took it home and fattened it up on fish, then released it in an area where there is plenty of fresh water and lots of frogs. I’m probably one of the few people in the world that would do this for a creature that is so persecuted.

Posted by John P. on 1/1

There is a little snake that lives in my barn.  I don’t know much about snakes but when I sit in the doorway he goes under and around me sometimes.  I’ve named him/her Slinky.  I also have a Toad tree.  Did you know that Toads live in little caves under trees.  When you look in the caves you see eyes staring back at you.  When I planted morning glories I had to dig holes to separate the roots so that the Toads’ doorways werent blocked.  I do have to be careful about them though because I have three Terriers and Toads are poisonous to them.  So, I walk them (the dogs, not the toads) in another direction.
I congratulate John P. on his way to deal with the snakes but how do you know which areas are not going to be developed?

Posted by Poyye on 1/1

Poyye, you can buy toad houses at local pet stores. We have one in our garden and often a toad will take up residence in it. Toads have to keep moist in order to survive. One of the few critters that eat toads is the hognose snake, which feeds primarily on them. We have a national forest (Croatan) where I release snakes. Hopefully, it won’t be developed in my lifetime.

Posted by John P. on 1/1

Thanks John for your answers.  I guess I never thought of those little toad houses you see.  I suppose mine can be called a toad condo.  We have some huge ancient Maples in our yard and when we moved in we, unfortunately and after consulting with a tree professor from Cornell University, were advised to cut it down because there wasn’t “any life left in it”.  However, the bark had so much character (it was like imagining shapes in the clouds) that we only had it (and I hesitate to say this but I have to…LOL…) beheaded.  An official from the town had the audacity to tell me that it was ugly and should be removed.  Luckily I didn’t because now there are crevices at the top that are growing what look like blueberry bushes and bumps in the middle that have little fields of grass and it draws all sorts of woodpeckers.  Plus, there are the toads.  I love trees and talk to them when I’m trimming around them.  I swear they listen!  Especially when I sit on their feet and they are afraid I might cut their toes!
Have a happy and fruitful and peacefull New Year!

Posted by Poyye on 1/2
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