lifetimes

The longest-lived organisms are trees, if one assumes that two new individuals are “born” when a single-celled organism reproduces by dividing.

Trees

The oldest known living thing is a 4844-year-old bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) identified as WPN-114, growing on Wheeler Peak in Nevada.¹ The previous record holder was another bristlecone pine, 4789 years old, named Methusela.²  It grows in the mountains of California, in the Inyo National Forest.

In the mid 1990's news articles appeared saying that a stand of Huon pine (Lagarostrobus franklinii) on Mount Read in Tasmania was more than 10,000 years old. Although Huon pine are long-lived, the articles misread the research, which only concluded that a particular stand of pine was 10,000 years old, not the individual trees within it.³

1. D. R. Currey.
An ancient bristlecone pine stand in eastern Nevada.
Ecology, volume 46, pages 564-566. (1965)

2. E. Schulman.
Bristlecone pine, oldest known living thing.
National Geographic Magazine, volume 113, no. 3, pages 354-372.

3. See www.dpiwe.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/BHAN-5494LA?open

Resources

A list of old trees, emphasizing North America, is maintained on the Web by Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, Inc. at www.rmtrr.org/oldlist.htm. Henri D. Grissino-Mayer has a comprehensive dendrochronology site with a good bibliography at web.utk.edu/~grissino/references.htm.

Animals with backbones

The longest-lived vertebrate appears to be the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus). The age of the largest shark tested was estimated at 392 ± 120 years.¹

1. Julius Nielsen, Rasmus B. Hedeholm, Jan Heinemeier, Peter G. Bushnell, Jørgen S. Christiansen, Jesper Olsen, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Richard W. Brill, Malene Simon, Kirstine F. Steffensen and John F. Steffensen.
Eye lens radiocarbon reveals centuries of longevity in the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus).
Science, vol. 353, issue 6300, pages 702-704 (12 Aug 2016)
doi: 10.1126/science.aaf1703

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