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Ming the clam: 507 years old

When this unassuming little bivalve was dredged up from the waters off of Iceland, scientists at Bangor University in Wales couldn’t have known they were in the possession of what may have been the oldest living creature in the seas.

At first, they were so hasty, they botched the age. “Ming”, as the thing was called, was estimated to be around 405 or so years. 

Image: Alan D Wanamaker Jr., Jan Heinemeier, James D Scourse, Christopher A Richardson, Paul G Butler, Jón Eiríksson, Karen Luise Knudsen

Then they checked their findings, and it turned out it was more than 500 years old (according to the BBC) with an estimated birth date in the late 1490s, when Europeans were just beginning to encounter the peoples of the Americas.

They figured this out by measuring the growth of the rings in its shell. It was only a few inches across, but each ring told a different story of a different year, as the growth is based on climate factors, food and temperature.

Unfortunately, in their brave quest to unlock new mysteries of the aging process…well, they, uh, killed Ming.


Yep. Killed him. Oldest known thing in the sea. Killed, and in total ignorance of the incredibly long life they were snuffing out.

Ah well. These things happen. And you’ll notice, when describing our boy Ming, we said oldest “creature,” not organism. The next thing on this list makes everything else look like about as long-lived as newly hatched mayflies.

Pando: 80,000

There's no point comparing this quaking aspen to any point in human history. When Pando's first sapling sprouted, humanity had barely begun to spread across our planet's face.

Image Credit: USDA

So which one of those trees is the ancient behemoth? Answer: ALL OF THEM. Believe it or not, that entire thicket (around 43,000 trees according to this source) is a single organism.

Quaking aspens are what is known as a "clonal colony." Those look like a bunch of different trees, but they're all actually genetically identical offshoots from a single, massive root system. The trunks grow and die, to be replaced by new ones.

Or that's supposed to be how it is. Conservationists are worried about Pando, since they've noticed the dying trunks aren't being replaced by as much new growth.

Humans are a factor, but so is drought, disease, overgrazing and insects.

Hopefully they can find a solution to the problem. Pando is around eight times older than human civilization already. We feel the ultimate grandpa deserves a shot of outlasting us altogether.


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