Galapagos tortoises
Credit: Wikipedia photo by Minglex, CC BY 2.0.

Two male Galapagos tortoises, engaging in a dominance display. This photo was taken on Santa Cruz Island, in the Galapagos Islands. These islands are a series of shield volcanoes, much like the Hawaiian Islands, and are located off the coast of South America in the Pacific Ocean. They are part of Ecuador. [1]

Some live longer than tortoises (way longer!)

Overall, of the millions of species of animals on our planet, not very many live more than one hundred years. One of them is human beings. The oldest person known, with verifiable birth records, passed away in 1997 at the age of 122.[2]

Most people know that tortoises live a very long time, longer than humans. But did you know that there are other animal species that live even longer? Some species in fact can live for thousands of years.[2] Below you’ll find out which ones, although first let's discuss how long tortoises live.

Jonathan the tortoise
Credit: Public domain.

This is Jonathan the giant Seychelles tortoise, which is a subspecies of the giant Aldabra tortoise. The Aldabra tortoise is the second-largest species on Earth, after the Galapagos tortoises, and they are native to the Aldabran Islands in the Indian Ocean. [3]

How long do tortoises live?

This is a difficult question. The reason is because they outlive anyone who is observing them.[2]

One case that gives us an idea of how long at least some species can live is that of a tortoise given to the royal family of the island nation of Tonga in 1777. It was a radiated tortoise from the island of Madagascar, given as a gift by explorer James Cook.[4]

This tortoise lived there until it died in 1965. That's 188 years, plus however old it was at the time it was given as a gift.[4] Tortoises typically take at least ten years to reach full size, so this tortoise was most likely at least 200 years old.

Another source claims the tortoise was given to royal family of Tonga under different circumstances in the early 1800's. If this is true, then that could lessen the age by 30 or 40 years. However, again, it's unknown how old the tortoise already was when delivered to the Tongans.[4]

It's safe to say that tortoises live more than 150 years, and may surpass 200 years, although no one knows the maximum age with certainty.[6]

The photo shown above is a tortoise named Jonathan, from 1900, when he was about 68 years old (he was born in 1832). He was taken to the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean in 1882, when he was already 50 years old. He is still there as of the summer of 2015 (when this article was published), and is now 183 years old, the oldest living reptile and last surviving giant Seychelles tortoise on Earth.[5]

Giant barrel sponge in the Caribbean
Credit: Public domain, courtesy of NOAA.

This is a giant barrel sponge, native to the Caribbean Sea. Some are estimated to be more than 2,000 years old. [2] Sponges are aquatic animals, although all of them are sessile (they don't move). This is one of the most ancient forms of animal life, having first come into existence about 600 million years ago. [7]

Animals known to live longer than tortoises

It’s known that some other vertebrates can live for 200 years, and one can live for more than 400 years. The Greenland shark has been shown to live for more than 400 years, and possibly more than 500 years.[9] A koi fish in Japan is said to have lived for 226 years. At least one other species of fish, the rougheye rockfish of the northern Pacific Ocean, has been known to surpass 200 years.[2][8]

Some bowhead whales were recently found with spears and other human-made weapons that had been manufactured in the late 1800s, meaning the whales had to be well over 100 years old. It's thought that they can live more than 200 years.[2]

Although these species live a long time, they’re still not close to the record holders, which are various invertebrate species, the longest-living of which we know of are:

1. Some sponge species near Antarctica are thought to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old based on their known rate of growth and their present immense size.[2]

2. Some black coral species, which live deep in the world's oceans, are known to be more than 4,000 years old.[2]

3. Some giant barrel sponges in the Caribbean Sea (pictured above) are estimated to be more than 2,000 years old.[2]

4. A species of clam native to the northern Atlantic Ocean, called the ocean quahog, is known to exceed 500 years old.[2]

5. Another mollusk species, the freshwater pearl mussel, found in Russia, Europe, and North America, is known to live over 200 years.[2]

6. Red sea urchins of the northern Pacific Ocean are known to live for more than 200 years.[2]