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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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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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