Like this chipmunk, most rodents are destined to live short lives. That isn’t the case with all animals. Some live astoundingly long lives.
Long-lived individuals are anomalies even when they come from long-lived species. But it is just cool to know that an animal beat the tremendous odds piled high against its survival. If we could only unravel all the knowledge gained over those years, what insights we would have into the natural world.
In the long life game, it really isn’t fair to compare between species. Each species has its genetic potential which is only sometimes approached in a captive setting. An 18-year-old rabbit should be just as exciting as a 200-year-old fish.
Longevity isn’t limited to any particular line in the animal tree. There are examples from all branches of long-lived species and individuals.
Most insects generally last only a season or two. However, queen bees may live five years, queen ants may live 10 to 20 years and queen termites may live for decades, sometimes as long as 50 years. Cicadas may live 17 years.
Among birds, the Manx shearwater, a medium-sized ocean bird, is a long-lived species with a 15-year average lifespan. In 2003, it also had the oldest living bird known in the wild. This bird was marked as an adult (at least 5 years old) in 1953, making it at least 55 years old in 2003.
This record was shattered by a Laysan albatross named Wisdom. Wisdom is the oldest known wild-banded bird in the world as of 2014. She is at least 65-years old and still producing chicks at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
Galapagos tortoises are slow, methodical reptiles that continue to grow throughout their lives, sometimes attaining weights over 800 pounds. On their home islands off the Ecuadorian coast, they had no natural enemies and routinely lived to be 100 in the wild. One captive individual lived to be at least 175.
Human hunting of whales helped determine the age of some of our cetaceans. Current research found that recently killed bowhead whales still had harpoon heads embedded in them from 1890. Combined with amino acid studies, scientists were able to age the bowheads at over 211 years old +/-34 years.
Greenland sharks have the current record among vertebrates. A study conducted just this year found that the oldest animals sampled were 392 +/- 120 years (a minimum of 272 and a maximum of 512 years) and don’t even become sexually mature until about 150 years of age.
While vertebrate species are considered the high end of the evolutionary chain, we apparently lost something in the improvement. Invertebrate species can live even longer and even approach biological immortality.
A quahog clam, later named Ming, was dredged off the Iceland coast in 2006. Clams grow throughout their lives, adding a new ring of shell each year. On Ming, annual shell ring counts, backed by carbon-14 dating techniques, verify that this animal was 507 years old and still growing. Why was it named Ming? Because it hatched during China’s Ming Dynasty, just seven years after Columbus landed in the Americas.
And sponges make clams look like kids. Some sponges (yes, they are animals) are estimated to be millennia old. That competes well with some of the oldest plants on earth.
Lifestyle choices and genetics pretty much guarantee that I won’t be setting any records for human longevity. That’s okay—it really is more about what I do with the time I have.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho