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9 Animals That Can Live Longer Than You

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The average life expectancy in the United States these days is nearly 79 years. As animal species go, humans are pretty hearty, especially given all these fancy medicines we’ve developed. But we’re not the only ones who hope to live past 80 (or 90). Other birds and mammals and fish and microbes manage to live longer. Some a lot longer.

1. Giant tortoises

The Aldabra tortoise, found on a tiny atoll north of Madagascar, can easily live past 100 years, and it’s thought that the oldest in captivity died at age 250 (that’s the upper limit; other records point to an age of at least 150). Who knows how long the Aldabra might live, though. Accurate records of the species’ age haven’t been kept, partly because the tortoises being studied have outlived the scientists researching them.

2. The immortal jellyfish

Scientists discovered Turritopsis dohrnii back in 1883, but it wasn’t until more than a century had passed that they discovered it was technically capable of living forever. That’s right: When faced with stressors like starvation or injury, the jellyfish reverts to its youngest form. Its cells transform into other cells, and it transforms into a cyst. That blob then produces a bunch of baby jellyfish, or polyps, all of which are genetically identical to the original. This method of self-preservation has actually turned it into an annoying invasive species.

3. Ocean quahog

These large clams found in the North Atlantic look unremarkable. More people have probably tasted them than seen them, given that they’re a frequent chowder ingredient. But when their rings are analyzed, it becomes clear that quahogs are some of the longest-lived ocean dwellers. In fact, a clam nicknamed Ming harvested in 2006 turned out to be 507 years old. And given that Ming turned up in a random sample of 200 clams, its likely that many others are at least as old, if not older. And you may have eaten them.

4. Tuatara

Move aside, coelacanth. The tuatara, a reptile found in New Zealand, is also known as a living fossil. Its closest relatives are extinct, and it has a vestigial third eye on the top of its head. (Skin grows over it, but the “eye” can still detect light and dark.) They’re slow-growing, not maturing until the ages of 13-20. They can stop breathing for up to an hour, and they’re not slowed down by cold. Given all of this, one of the least remarkable things about tuataras is that they can live up to a century in the wild.

5. Parrots

With parrots, we skirt the edges of the human lifespan. Macaws, for example, can live some 60 years in the wild. But some have sailed past the 100-year mark, most notably Charlie, who was reportedly owned by Winston Churchill. Taught to spew obscenities against Hitler and the Nazis, Charlie was a fixture at a British garden center for years. As with giant tortoises, it can be difficult to substantiate birth dates for centenarian parrots—and researchers have cast doubt on Charlie’s provenance—so the exact details are murky.

6. Bowhead whale

The bowhead whale is second only in size to the blue whale—but it’s apparently No. 1 among mammals in terms of sheer lifespan. Scientists have discovered at least three of the whales are 135 to 172 years old, with a fourth clocking in at 211 years old. They figured this out by studying the creatures’ eye lenses, and by finding ivory and stone harpoon points buried in other whales. Those tips haven’t been used since the 1880s. These discoveries doubled the known lifespan for the creatures.

7. Koi

This beautiful, domesticated carp variety lives an average of 50 years. But depending on the quality of their care and genetic variables, koi have been known to live for more than a century. Hanako, a fish that died in 1977, was believed to be 226 years old. Scientists measured her age by examining the microscopic rings on her scales.

8. Flamingo

You’ll likely outlive most flamingos, but not all of them. In captivity, they usually live some 40 years, about 10 years longer than they survive in the wild. But Greater, a flamingo at the Adelaide Zoo in Australia, made it to age 83.The animal’s gender wasn’t known, but Greater managed to survive both World War II and a late-in-life attack from younger flamingos at the zoo. Sadly, complications from age led to the bird's demise.

9. Bacteria

Deep, deep in the ocean you can find some of the longest-lived creatures ever. These viruses, bacteria, and assorted fungi have such slow metabolisms that scientists hesitate to even call them "alive" in the conventional sense of the word (the term "zombie" came up). And yet some have likely existed for millions of years, only reproducing every 10 millennia.

All images courtesy of Thinkstock.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
Google
Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
Google

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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