6 Unassuming Animals That Are Secretly Immortal
For centuries, mankind has tried absolutely everything to achieve immortality, from searching for mystical fountains of youth to literally putting corpses in cold storage hoping the future can un-kill them. Considering that we don't have Ponce de Leon or Walt Disney hanging out in Florida today, it's safe to say that we're failing in this department.
Meanwhile, some animals living in our world seem to be kicking death in the ass just by hanging around and doing what they do. These species have managed to stick around the planet for mind-blowing amounts of time ... at least until we killed them and dissected their bodies to find out how they did it. For example ...
Lobsters Don't Actually Get Older, Just Bigger (And Hornier)
When some animal activists found out that a restaurant in New York City was offering to serve a massive 20-pound lobster, they rushed to try to save the behemoth. It seems like a ridiculous thing to do, since lobsters are born to be delicious, but then they pointed out that this monster was estimated to be 140 goddamned years old.
And yet it doesn't look a day over "terrifying."
See, the bizarre thing about lobsters is that they don't really age, in the sense that they don't get weaker or start getting arthritis in their claws as time passes. Instead, they just keep getting bigger and bigger. That's how you can wind up eating the meat of a creature that was born just after the Civil War and who, had it been captured earlier, could have realistically been eaten by Thomas Edison.
Oh, and this isn't even the biggest/oldest lobster ever found -- according to The Guinness Book of World Records, that would be a 44-pound colossus that was caught in 1977. Apparently, no one told them there was also a 51.5-pound one caught in Maine in 1926. How old were those dudes? No one really knows.
If humans aged the same way, Abe Vigoda would be the size of the Statue of Liberty.
The most amazing part is that lobsters don't suffer through their old age like we do, unless you count the existential angst that probably starts kicking in after the first century. As they keep accumulating years, they don't lose function or get slower -- they actually get more powerful. When they grow so big that their shells can no longer contain them, they simply shed it and grow a new one and keep on trucking.
In fact, scientists believe that lobsters only get hornier and more fertile the "older" they get. We now ask you to imagine a hypothetical 700-year lobster down in some undiscovered depth of the world, meeting another colossus the same age ... and boning.
"Why does this ocean suddenly have more motion?"
As for George, the big lobster saved from being someone's dinner in New York, it was taken to a nature preserve in Maine where it will probably bury every human there.
Turtles Are Technically Stuck as Teenagers for Centuries
Seeing as it often makes the news when turtles die, the fact that they can live for centuries is probably not news to you -- one tortoise that died in 2006 was so old (176) that it was said to be a former pet of Charles Darwin. What you may not know is that, biologically, there is almost no difference between a juvenile turtle and one that's older than your great-great-grandparents. Apparently, they just say "fuck it" and stop aging at some point.
That, or they reach a point where they can't physically get any uglier.
When researchers got around to actually taking a look inside a century-old turtle, something they'd amazingly never thought of doing before, they were astounded to find that its organs were virtually "indistinguishable from those of its teenage counterpart." Biologically, the turtle hadn't aged a day since hitting sexual maturity, a phenomenon scientists have dubbed "The Don Draper Effect."
Along with having organs that are remarkably stubborn to the advance of time, researchers also discovered that a turtle's heart didn't always beat in response to nerve impulses and, in fact, sometimes didn't need to beat at all -- in other words, it looks like turtles are able to just turn their own fucking heart off if they don't need it. This means that you could realistically tear out a turtle's heart and show it to it like in that scene from Indiana Jones ... only to have it live long enough to watch you bleed to death from the resulting turtle bite wounds.
Don't laugh, a snapping turtle can fuck your shit right on up.
This research has led scientists to believe that turtles are biologically immortal -- but wait, don't they die all the time? Of course they do, otherwise we'd be swimming in turtles, but the weird thing is, they never seem to die of old age. It's always a disease, or a falling boulder, or Master Shredder.
Combine this with the fact they can breed and lay eggs until the day they drop dead and that means that, technically, a turtle can live and have sex forever. And we think we're the dominant species of this planet?
"Yeah, keep on staring, kid. I just laid 200 thought eggs in your mind."
Bdelloids Survive by Stealing DNA from Other Species
Bdelloids are a type of microscopic organism that live in fresh water, yet can survive out of water for years. And if that's not weird enough, as a species they haven't had sex in about 80 million years.
We know what you're wondering: How do they keep their genetic material fresh, then? By stealing it from other species, naturally.
A bdelloid in its natural habitat: a ruler.
A lot of scientists are of the idea that a species can't survive long by reproducing asexually, since they end up becoming more flawed with each generation, like microscopic hillbillies. Bdelloids have defied those odds in the most horrifying way possible. When they analyzed the little bastards' DNA, scientists found it to be a "genetic mosaic" -- a single bdelloid had DNA from more than 500 different species.
Apparently, when they need to add some alien DNA to the gene soup, they just find whatever is lying around and attach it to their own broken double helix. This includes bits from near-by dead animals, from any food they hadn't gotten around to eating yet, and from who knows what else.
If you've ever relieved yourself in a lake, there might be a little bit of you in this guy.
This DNA-stealing routine might also explain how bdelloids are able to survive, like, every conceivable deplorable condition you can imagine. For instance, you might think they'd need water to keep on living, since that's their natural habitat and all, but bdelloids have been able to survive nine years completely dried up. Hell, they can even shrug off massive amounts of radiation -- a bdelloid can withstand about 1000 Gy of radiation before becoming infertile, which is about 250 times what it takes for a human woman. (Uh, don't ask how we know that.)
And they aren't the only impressive freaks of nature living in ponds: their distant cousins, the planarians, are tiny wormy creatures that have been called "immortal under the knife," since you can cut their heads off and they'll just grow another one. These guys don't get old at all. They just replace damaged tissue with shiny new cells.
This is also exactly how the Baldwin clan was created.
Bowhead Whales Live for Centuries
Bowhead whales are huge freaking whales endowed with the largest mouth of any animal -- they basically just swim around giving the ocean a huge blow job all the time. Not content with breaking one impressive record, it was recently discovered that these whales are pretty good at something else: outliving all of us. And our sons. And our sons' sons.
Seriously, if there's a mammal that lives longer than them, no one's been able to prove it. One was determined to be like 211 years old. Scientists used to think bowhead whales lived 60 or 70 years, but in 2007, some Native Alaskan hunters killed one and found a surprising artifact from another era inside.
Ah, a whale hunt. A great time for the whole family.
The hunters were cleaning up the whale when, embedded in its blubber, they found the head of an explosive harpoon ... from around 1890. This thing had been swimming around with a bomb lance stuck in its shoulder for the last 117 or so years. To put it in perspective, the harpoon was thrown during the Grover Cleveland administration and removed in George W. Bush's second term. Scientists estimated that the whale had actually been born in 1877, 130 years earlier. This guy was a contemporary of Sitting Bull.
If the whale hadn't been shot with a second explosive bomb lance in 2007, it may have lived to be around two centuries old. Another gigantic, ancient, ocean-borne terror is the Greenland Shark, which some experts believe may be even older than that -- based on its growth rate (6 centimeters in 16 years), scientists believe that the 22-feet specimens may be over 200 years old.
Because the problem with giant sharks was that they just didn't live long enough.
Oh, and these things actually feed on whales. And polar bears, and, somehow, horses (yep, they've found horse remains in their stomachs). Since it lives so deep in the frozen seas of the Arctic Circle, some believe there can actually be bigger (and thus older) specimens roaming around. Biding their time. Waiting for a horse to go scuba diving.
Some Clams Are Older Than the USA
Clams are another species that sometimes gets bigger as they get older, and they can get pretty fucking big. For instance, in 1934 a native diver in the Philippine Islands was trapped by a monster clam when he tried to reach for an oversized 14-pound pearl; it seemed like a hilarious situation out of a cartoon, except for the part where the clam simply did not let the guy go and he died. But hey, at least they managed to find the guy's body -- considering how long these things live, one of them could conceivably hold your remains in its jaws for almost half of a millennium. Yep, that's how long clams live.
In retrospect, it seemed rather odd that the diver tried to reach the pearl with his penis.
Back in the '30s, the natives said that the homicidal clam had to be around 450 years old and everyone else probably laughed it off. Present day science, however, has confirmed that this estimate was totally possible -- another (normal-sized) clam found in Icelandic waters in 2007 has been determined to be 405 years old, meaning that this thing was kicking around since the time when Shakespeare was writing Hamlet. Believe it or not, there are clams out there that are older than fucking America itself ... and we still steam and eat them by the bucketload.
And these are just the oldest ones we know of -- it's almost certain that there are much, much older ones out there. Their incredibly long lifespan is linked to what scientists describe as a "slowed cell replacement process," but as of yet, they have no idea what makes them age at such a slow rate. They do know that, once these clams reach their sexual maturity, the enzymes in their body (which are linked to growth) remain stable for about 150 goddamned years, which doesn't mean they manage to survive thanks to their horniness, but that's how we're choosing to interpret it anyway.
That is so hot.
Some scientists think that clams may be the oldest living animal in the planet, but it turns out that there's another species that has them beat by, oh, a few thousand years ...
Glass Sponges Can Live for 15,000 Years
You may not think of sea sponges as animals, but that's how people who know more than you classify them; they're just very simple ones that happen to look like the stuff you use to wash your dishes. One not particularly sponge-y looking one is the Hexactinellid or glass sponge, which has a rigid skeleton, hence its nickname. We think a better name would be "the fucking Highlanders of the sea," because that's exactly what they are.
Seriously, how long do you think a sea sponge can live? A hundred years? Five hundred? A thousand? Try over 10,000.
And that's even without wearing square pants.
Yeah, glass sponges may not seem very impressive at first glance, but that quickly changes once you find out there are specimens alive today that are older than human civilization -- these things are estimated to live up to 15,000 years, making them the oldest living animals on the planet. They are older than the pyramids or, you know, the concept of humans building stuff, and they're still alive and chilling right now. What's more, scientists think they evolved their current form 700 million freaking years ago, at which point they decided "yep, this is good enough."
One of these guys found in the South China Sea was determined to be 11,000 years old, and scientists used the water inside to find out what water temperatures were like in ancient times. Water isn't the only thing that goes inside of them, though: the spongicolid shrimps like to loiter around inside these sponges, only to find themselves trapped once they grow too big to come out. These shrimp live the rest of their lives trapped inside the fun-house sponge, mating and releasing their unknowing young into a bleak world where their only chance for survival is to also be forever trapped inside a glass house, looking out, but never being free.
Pretty sure there's a metaphor there, but we'll be damned if we can think of one.
For more animas that'll outlive us all, check out 5 Animals That Are Terrifyingly Hard to Kill and 6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead.
Further Reading: Looking for an animal even tougher than the ones on this list? Microscopic water bears can survive nuclear blasts and temperatures near absolute zero, because they're the goddamn boss. But death doesn't mean animals have to go away- click here for the creepiest art dead pets have ever been fashioned into. And if that puts you in the mood for inspirational tales of animal survival, click here to read about Roadrunners beating the shit out of rattlesnakes.