Many, Many, Many Happy Returns

While most creatures can’t expect to rack up nearly as many birthdays as, say, the ocean quahog (the oldest reported age was over 500), there are some members of the Animal Kingdom whose celebratory cakes might rival Mrs. O’Leary’s cow for accidental arson champion of the (nonhuman) world. Here are a few beings that would need a blow torch to light all their candles—and a leaf blower to extinguish them.

In the water, one of the longevity champs is the Greenland shark. The largest member of the dogfish family (up to 23 feet in length), this cold-water inhabitant can get really long in the tooth—upward of 400 years!  Also hailing from Arctic as well as sub-Artic waters, the bowhead whale can boast a lifespan of 200 years on average. Also capable of making it past the two-century mark? The unassuming red sea urchin, which is found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico.

Galápagos tortoise

On land, the Galápagos tortoise runs away, albeit slowly, with title of longevity king. Being a reptile may give these gentle giants a head start, but their 100-plus-year average lifespan is still a “shell” of a claim to fame.

Asian elephant (left) and African elephant

Also a big birthday star, the African elephant wins the longest-living land-mammal title, trunks down! And those can be approximately 70 active years, at least for the ladies. A recent study has suggested that females remain fertile until the very end. And their smaller-eared relative, the Asian elephant is no slacker, either, averaging 60 years.

Western lowland gorillas

In the primate world, props go to western lowland gorillas, which have a lifespan of approximately 50 years. Making their home in rain forests in the countries of Gabon, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo, western lowland gorillas are slightly smaller than other gorillas but reach up to 400 pounds for males and 180 for females.

In the avian world, these birds of a feather better like each other—a lot—if they’re going to flock together, because that coexistence would be for decades. Large parrots, such as cockatoos and macaws (like the blue and gold macaws at the top of this article), can live up to 80 years—and that’s something to squawk about! And not only is the lifespan of an albatross impressive—up to 50 years—these feathered giants have the longest wingspan of any bird: up to 11 feet! With a lifespan of 20 years in the wild and possibly 50 years under managed care, the bald eagle land a spot on the longevity list for two reasons: years of life, and number of years putting up with bald jokes!

Feeling “old” about an upcoming birthday? Just remember that it’s nothing compared to a tree, and a mere blip to a bowhead whale! Here’s to many more.

Peggy Scott is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous blog, Beauty and the Beak.