The curious collection of a slightly mad scientist
When scientists inadvertently killed what turned out to be the world’s oldest living creature, it was bad enough.
Now, their mistake has been compounded after further research found it was even older – at 507 years.
The ocean quahog – a type of deep-sea clam – was dredged alive from the bottom of the North Atlantic near Iceland in 2006 by researchers. They then put it in a freezer, as is normal practice, unaware of its age.
It was only when it was taken to a laboratory that scientists from Bangor University studied it and concluded it was 400 years old.
The discovery made it into the Guinness Book of World Records however by this time, it was too late for Ming the Mollusc – named after the Chinese dynasty on the throne when its life began.
Now, after examining the ocean quahog more closely, using more refined methods, the researchers have found the animal was actually 100 years older than they first thought.
Dr Paul Butler, from the University’s School of Ocean Sciences, said: “We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hasty publishing our findings back then. But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now.”
A quahog’s shell grows by a layer every year, in the summer when the water is warmer and food is plentiful. It means that when its shell is cut in half, scientists can count the lines in a similar way trees can be dated by rings in their trunks.
The growth rings can be seen in two places; on the outside of the shell and at the hinge where the two halves meet. The hinge is generally considered by scientists as the best place to count the rings, as it is protected from outside elements.
When researchers originally dated Ming, they counted the rings at the hinge.
However because it was so old, many had become compressed. When they looked again at the outside of the shell, they found more rings.
It means the mollusc was born in 1499 – just seven years after Columbus discovered America and before Henry VIII had even married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon in 1509.
Scientists say they can study the clam’s layers to find out about sea temperatures and water masses from thousands of years ago.
Jan Heinemeier, associate professor at the University of Denmark, who helped date Ming, told Science Nordic: “The fact alone that we got our hands on an animal that’s 507 years old is incredibly fascinating, but the really exciting thing is of course everything we can learn from studying the mollusc.”
Sad. Such a great run. Anyway, with all due respect, it is highly unlikely that this 507 year old mollusk was the “oldest living creature”. This Giant Sponge (“Scolymastra joubini”) is estimated to have lived 10,000 to 15,000 years in the Antarctic sea.
- Some species of sponges in the ocean near Antarctica are thought to be 10,000-15,000 years old.
Animals of this and similar species of Antarctic sponges grow extremely slowly in the low temperatures. Estimates based on growth rates suggest a very long lifespan in this and similar animals. One two meter high specimen in the Ross Sea was estimated to be 23,000 years old, though because of sea level fluctuations in the Ross Sea it is unlikely that such an animal could have lived for more than 15,000 years . Even if 15,000 years is an overestimate, which may well be the case, this specimen appears to be the longest-lived animal on earth.” – link
- Specimens of the black coral genus Leiopathes are among the oldest continuously living organisms on the planet: around 4,265 years old. Corals are animals classified in the phylum cnidaria, pronounced “Nid-air-ee-ah”
- The giant barrel sponge Xestospongia muta is one of the longest-lived animals, with the largest specimens in the Caribbean estimated to be in excess of 2,300 years.
- The black coral Antipatharia in the Gulf of Mexico may live more than 2000 years.
- The Antarctic sponge Cinachyra antarctica has an extremely slow growth rate in the low temperatures of the Southern Ocean. One specimen has been estimated to be 1,550 years old.
- Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish, is known to be the longest-living creature which could live on forever without dying of old age. Most may be aged a few hundred years.