World's oldest animal was even older than thought


A clam previously though to be 'only' 405 years old, has turned out to be much older.

Nicknamed 'Ming', this rather long-lived individual is a Quahog clam (Arctica islandica), which was found in 2006 by experts from Bangor University during a field trip to Iceland. It formed part of a project investigating climate changes over the last 1000 years — the clams contain significant records of marine climate changes embedded in their shells.

Scientists carried out a ring count on the inside of Ming's shell and determined the clam was the ripe old age of 405 — but seven years on, new calculations show that it was actually more than a century older than this, at a sprightly 507 years of age.

The scientists who first aged the clam have had some stick from the media, because the process involved opening the shell, resulting in Ming's demise.

But Bangor University explains: "In order to undertake the research, live specimens, in addition to dead shells, are collected. The numbers taken are restricted in order to ensure minimal impact on the populations. The longest-lived clam was collected along with many others and, as it is impossible to age the clams until their shells have been opened, there was no indication of its extreme age until after this had been done.

"The notion that scientists knew in advance that it was the longest-lived species and then deliberately destroyed it is plainly incorrect. The same species of clam are caught commercially and eaten daily; anyone who has eaten clam chowder in New England has probably eaten flesh from this species, many of which are likely several hundred years old. Based on previous information and its size, this species was believed to live for around 100 years."

It's thought these clams may live so long because they may have evolved exceptionally effective defences which hold back destructive ageing processes.

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