The World’s Oldest Animal Is Even Older Than We Thought
A new dating method puts a mollusk specimen at 507 years young
Here you see Ming, a mollusk of the species Arctica islandica. In 2006, researchers discovered the bivalve in Iceland, and examined its interior growth rings–patterns on the inside of its shell–to determine its age. That put Ming at an impressive 405 years old, making it the oldest-known animal. (It was named after the Ming Dynasty, the period between 1368 and 1644.) But now researchers are reporting it’s more than an entire century older than that: a healthy 507 years young.
What changed? Well, originally, researchers counted the rings on its shell, which usually provides an accurate count, since the clams produce another ring each summer. This time, though, the rings were so compressed there was apparently a miscount. A new count of rings on the exterior, confirmed by carbon dating, gave the new age. The team also cross-checked the rings against rings from similar organisms that lived in the same environment. (Ming’s slow metabolism is what allows it to survive for so long.)
More than just a record-breaker, creatures like this can give researchers clues about climate change: the growth rings change based on the temperature of the ocean each year.
Unfortunately, Ming died in the original study back in 2006. (You will find a totally absurd article blaming the scientists for that here. That spin on the story is floating around. Actually, do not click that.) But there are a lot of other examples of A. islandica out there, and, as scientists pointed out to ScienceNordic, it’s not unlikely that an even older one has been found and not properly researched. Plus, depending on how complicated you like your organisms, Ming might not be the oldest. Still! Let’s not mitigate this impressive feat.