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The Longest Living Species

Despite a pretty good success rate in our tenure on this planet, Homo sapiens haven’t been around that long. We have ancestors dating as far back as six million years ago, but humans in their current form are only about 200,000 years old. This puts us way down the list of longest surviving species. So who’s at the top?

There are a number of animal species around today who are given the little nickname of ‘living fossil’, either because they age slowly, the species has been around for ages or simply because they look so prehistoric. Whatever the reason for being called that, these animals certainly deserve it. Here’s the list of the five oldest surviving species. Just to clarify, these aren’t the animals who individually live for a long time (although, many of them do), it’s a list of who have been around the longest as an entire species.

5 – Coelacanth
Found in the Indian Ocean and off the coasts of Indonesia, these ferocious looking fish are actually more closely related to reptiles than they are to most fish species. Believed to be extinct for over two hundred years before being rediscovered in 1938, Coelacanth can reach sizes of two metres long and weigh nearly 100 kilograms. Big fish. They’re rarely seen due to the depth at which they live, part of why they have survived as long as they have. They earn their place on this list due to their ability to reach ages of 60 years old and due to the fact that the species has been around for over 360 million years.

flickr | smerikal4 – Horseshoe Crab
See what we mean about looking prehistoric? Check these chaps out! Despite being commonly called a crab, they are more closely related to spiders and scorpions. Adult males grow to over half a metre long while the females can be up to 30 percent bigger. Found along the eastern coast of North America and in south East Asia, Horseshoe Crabs have blueish-green blood thanks to the copper found in the hemocyanin that carries oxygen around their bodies. They live in to their early 20’s individually, but their species age is pushing 460 million years old.

flickr | Peter Massas3 – Nautilus
This Nautilus is the marine mollusc not Captain Nemo’s ship. It’s a member of a family lineage that stretches way back to members who grew to three metres long. Today’s Nautilus grows to roughly the size of a football and lives in tropical waters around Fiji and other pacific islands. As you probably guessed by its looks, the Nautilus is a close relative of the squid, octopus and cuttlefish but far predates all of them. They live a relatively long time for a mollusc of this size too, some on record have been as old as twenty. However, that shell is a popular souvenir and decoration to us and as a result the nautilus has almost been hunted to extinction, a great shame for a creature that has been around for over 500 million years.

wikipedia commons | Manuae2 – Jellyfish
The jellyfish outdates the Nautilus by a miniscule five million years to claim second place on this list. However, that’s only as far back as we’ve managed to date them and it’s a comfortable bet they might be that much older still. Coming in all different sizes, shapes, threats and colours, Jellyfish are one of the most diverse organisms on the planet. The biggest is the Lion’s Mane which maxes out at around 36 metres long which is saying something when you consider that blue whales at their biggest are about 33. On the flip side, there are jellyfish species around which fit on the head of a pin when they’re born. The ages vary too as some species are considered immortal thanks to their ability to revert back to juvenile stages of development while the Lion’s Mane only lives around a year to eighteen months. Their diversity is a crucial factor in having survived for 505+ million years. See, Jellyfish ARE cool.

flickr | Hank Sun1 – Sea Sponge
Drum roll please. Yes the Sea Sponge is the species that has been around for the longest. Often mistaken for being a plant, the Sea Sponge is in fact an animal and a pretty diverse one at that. Sponges don’t have nervous, digestive or circulatory systems at all and rely on constant water flow to keep them fed, oxygen-d and to remove waste. Their different variations live from anywhere from a few years up to 5,000 years if uninterrupted. Coping pretty well so far with climate range, this is one animal who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. The rough estimate so far with the sponge is that they’ve been around for 760 million years, and even that might be quite far out.

flickr | Klaus StiefelRemember how old you felt when the sitcom Friends became ten years old? I bet you feel a bit better, now that you’ve seen some really ancient animals. This isn’t a goodbye article though. Pointing out the age of these animals isn’t about giving them a round of applause as the curtain falls. If anything the opposite is true. Being the oldest surviving species surely warrants attention to help them keep that streak alive.

By Guy Bezant  Online Journalism Intern

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