It’s only natural to wonder just how old a critter can get. How long is a life?
It depends on how you look at it. The Immortal Jellyfish, for instance, has a really good run going. Evidently if the jellyfish is threatened or harmed it can revert to an earlier stage in its growth—a mere polyp, poinking out a stack of new jellyfish clones nested like Pringles—and then it can snap them off into the sea, where they can start all over again, with all the same DNA, and maybe hitch a ride on a ship. And so now there are genetically identical jellyfish all over the world. Does that count as immortal?
It’s a little diffuse. It isn’t what we’re looking for in longevity, because we feel special. Our interest in longevity is only the desperate, grasping need of our own personal consciousness to hold on forever. But all the reincarnation in the world means little if we can’t remember our previous glory, stitch our existences together.
An astonishing number of people who have delved into their prior lives have discovered they were once Charlemagne. Charlemagne must be the immortal jellyfish of humanity, but did he care? He did not. He may have been the Father of Europe but his lungs crapped out like any peon’s and he had to settle for a spot in Catholic Heaven. It’s one way of living forever but still fills the honest heart with doubt.
So what we want to know is how old is the oldest existing critter? How old can things get? By which we mean: How old can we get?
Sponges probably clean up in that department. But they’re not relatable. They’re all squish. They need eyes or feet or something.
Tardigrades are more sympathetic and adorable but contrary to popular opinion they don’t live forever. As it turns out, they live only about two and a half years if they’re happy. It’s when conditions really deteriorate that they squeeze all the water out of themselves and continue on almost indefinitely in the form of little tardigrade crackers. They can be boiled, frozen, irradiated, dried, or blasted into space. An Acme Safe can fall on them from six floors up and they’re just fine. All they need is to be re-dampened and they spring right back up and start looking around for tardigrade kibble. The oldest tardigrade fossil ever found was encased in 16-million-year-old amber. They chipped it out and spat on it and it was right back in the game and died 2.5 years later.
But that isn’t what we want in a long life. We don’t want a long stretch of dessication with a couple good years blinked into it.
So consider the Greenland shark. Humans have nothing to fear from them. This is because they live in deep Arctic waters and we don’t. They do eat stuff. One was found dead with an entire reindeer inside it. It was probably the antlers that did it in. But some individuals might live up to 500 years. They know this because there’s an original birth protein in their eyes that can be carbon-dated. Scientists report these sharks are nearly blind but they might not have been counting the ones they hadn’t stabbed in the eye for science.
Even the shark doesn’t take the tiara. The oldest individual critter we know about so far is Keith Richards, the clam. Not really—they named him Ming, after the dynasty in which he was born. He was 507 years old, as determined by the number of layers in his shell. He was collected off the coast of Iceland in 2006 in deep frigid waters. “Collected,” by the way, is a scientific term meaning “killed.” No sooner had this magnificent ocean quahog been hauled up that scientists began wondering how old it was. So they froze it to death and started counting layers. “Huh,” they said, totting up, and marking down a birthdate around 1499, “Wonder how much older these things can get?”
We won’t know until they kill some more.
People sometimes say things like “drinking will take years off your life!” I say so what? They don’t take the years from the youthful end, when you’re happy, have lots of energy, and have lots of fun and friends. No, it’s taken from the older end, when you’re alone, deteriorating, and everything hurts. So, I have concluded that longevity is for suckers. I personally not only don’t crave “immortality,” (immortality without eternal youth is pointless) I don’t want to live “to a ripe old age.” I don’t want to get to a state of deterioration where I have to be warehoused in “an assisted living facility” (basically a storage facility for old people instead of extraneous stuff.)
I would like to live to an overripe old age. You know, where you get discolored mushy spots.
I just hope Murr keeps going longer than me, so I can always have a delight like this blog until I’m just too damn old to work the internets.
Just got my mammogram results so it looks like I’m renewing the lease. Thanks, Susan.
There was an incredibly ancient bristlecone pine that was cut down to count its rings because the coring tool usually employed such purposes wasn’t long enough to reach the center. The researcher realized he’d killed one of the oldest things on Earth for a completely arbitrary reason.
Instead of doing the “cleaned up” social media version, I will say it: OH, FOR FUCK’S SAKE!! You know… I have a lexicon of “swear words” that I combine that don’t even make any anatomical sense! But EVEN THAT doesn’t cover this!
I didn’t realize you ever did the cleaned-up social media version!
Sometimes I have to. I’ve been booted off Next Door for a month for saying something that I thought was just offering information, but apparently felt “patronizing” to someone somewhere. Sorry, if I READ, people!
As far as the whole living forever thing goes, unless it comes with a healthy body, it’s worthless. I have enough aches and pains and dysfunction that death doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Should note that as far as I can tell, when I die that will be it. Maybe my brain will stage a final light show or maybe it will just stop. Last time I came close, there was a brief This Was Your Life and then my field assistant pulled me out of the mud before the tide came in.
LOL… sorry, but it seemed a rather funny near-death experience. Yeah, I’m already tired. Since menopause, I have insomnia. To me, death is just –finally– sleeping well. And I certainly HOPE that will be it, ’cause I’m fuckin’ tired already!
Kudos to your field assistant, Bruce. And I suppose it didn’t even involve lightning that time.
I’m thinking that arctic clams may become the new longevity drug. No more eating rhino horn or those thick stemmed mushrooms to make your life longer.. . . wait, . . oh that’s right. You eat those to make something ELSE longer. Never mind.
First of all, tardigrades are cool. Didn’t have a clue what they were, had to jump off here and look them up in my encyclopedia. They look like something from the cover of a 1950 sci-fi paperback! Second, if you had the opportunity to have the contents of your brain downloaded onto a 2.5 petabyte flash drive where you could live on so to speak among Microsoft Excel and talk to everyone via Zoom, my God Murr would you do it?
You had me until Zoom.
Don’t you think they look a bit like the Sand Worms from Dune?
I guess I’ve never seen that. There are so many things everyone has seen that I haven’t seen.
A tardigrade did make it into the current sci-fi universe in the first season of Startrek: Discovery. It was a big one.
To take another example: never seen Star Trek, or Star Wars.
Yeah, Prometheus, a bristlecone pine, was more than 4,844 years old when they cut it down in 1964. So, there’s that.
OH, Jesus Christ, cocksuckersmotherfuckers…. This fucking hurts. They fucking KILL things to understand them. I HOPE we are wiped out soon. SHIT!!!
I wish I lived near mimimanderly so we could get together and amuse each other cynically over a beverage, but Eagle Point Oregon is a long way away from her, I’m pretty sure 😢
Yeah… I live on the East Coast. I’m glad I amuse you, as I can be an acquired taste, and some do not care to acquire it. Bless their hearts.
Y’all always have Murrmurrs.
I’m 99.9% sure I don’t have a previous life to delve into. If I did, I’d understand more about the ways of the world, right? So I’m a newbie, hoping to live longer than my grandmother who died at 96. I want to be 100 at least, then I’ll see my newest grand-daughters into adulthood and know they’re going to be okay.
I hope your granddaughters will be okay too, but I worry.
I’ve just read the other comments, that tree could still be standing today if they hadn’t cut it down. Surely they could have found some other way to count the rings? 🙁
Or, they could have just wondered.
Then there’s Pando, estimated to be between 15,000 and 80,000 years old. Aspen groves are mainly underground. They send out shoots that we call trees, but they’re really all part of the same organism.
Panda is also enormous, covering as a single organism about 106 acres. Other huge and old single organisms: Humongous Fungus — 2385 acres — in Malheur National Forest, Oregon, age somewhere between 2000 and 8000 years. And more recently, in Australia, a seagrass meadow at Shark Bay covers around 77 square miles and is aged at about 4500 years. I’m with mimimanderly, of whose comments I am a big fan, in expressing ‘dismay’ at chopping down an ancient tree to see how old it is.
It seems that a lot of people become vegetarians because they don’t want to kill and eat living creatures. Well, guess what, people. Vegetation is ALIVE. Everything eats something that is alive. We had pine trees beside our house. (HAD being the operative word.) A freak ice storm sheared off the northern branches. All of them. I cried! Then, the root system upheaved itself and made the trees lean toward our house. We had to have them cut down. Oh, fuck, did I cry! We only cut down what we have to. We have neighbors (whom I really like. They are easy to get along with, and, more importantly, laugh at my humor) but they seem to cut down trees for no apparent reason. I REALLY cry when that happens. EVERYTHING is alive. You cannot escape the fact that we all eat other life. Just because it doesn’t have eyes to stare back pleadingly at you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t value its life. And I don’t mind if our food is raised in a fashion that lets it live out its life in a happy way. NOT a factory farm. Paul and I have a phrase we use, as we are bird people, so we get hawks from time to time, killing off some of our outdoor birds. “Birds gotta eat.” As do we all. But to kill ANYTHING just for science is fucked-up. If you’re not going to eat it, leave it the fuck alone!
It is my understanding that Jains will only eat plants that won’t be killed in the process — so, no root vegetables. (And if they are strictly following their rules, they don’t pick flowers.)
It’s very difficult for most of us to get meat from humanely raised animals. Beyond that, there’s nothing sustainable about raising the amount of meat we demand. So it’s not just the pleading eyes. I’m not a vegan but I won’t disparage them. I’ve cut down on a lot of meat myself. But that’s just compared with what I USED to eat…
Pando covers about 106 acres, every tree bearing the same DNA. Other big and old: Humongous Fungus, a honey mushroom, in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest which covers about 2385 acres and is somewhere between 2000 and 8000 years old, and in Shark Bay of Western Australia, a seagrass meadow covering about 77 square miles, deemed to be one organism about 4500 years old. I’m with minimanderly , of whose comments I am a big fan, in her ‘dismay’ at chopping down an ancient tree just to see how old it is.