The Top 5 Craziest Lifespans of the Natural World

As of this writing, the average expected lifespan of an American male is 76 years; an American woman can plan to enjoy around 80 years. Most golden retrievers live about 11 years, and house cats get about a 14-year run. These are all normal, comfortable figures – the kinds of numbers we expect out of life (exactly what we expect, in fact). But there are other species of animals that tend to take a look at what we would consider “normal” lifespans and say “Hell with that!” These creatures live life on their own terms, “term” in this case meaning “the time or period through which something lasts.”

5 The Galapagos Land Tortoise

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The Galapagos land tortoise is thought by many to have the longest lifespan of any vertebrate. And while we now know that the bowhead whale takes that crown with its bicentennial existence, these charming reptiles come in a close second, often living well past their 150th birthdays. Most species of turtles and tortoises have impressively long life cycles thanks to very slow metabolisms, but these Galapagos denizens elevate “taking it slow” to a whole new level.

4 Queen termite

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The insect with the longest lifespan may be a better pet than that dog of yours, if you don’t deal well with loss: Termite queens can live up to half a century, and average at least 20 years. If you can get over the fact that a queen termite looks a lot like a regular termite, just with a huge yellowish egg sack hanging off her, then these long-lived little characters might just be the perfect companion. Except not.

3 Cicada

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The insect with the strangest “lifespan” has to be the cicada. These locust-like scourges crawl from the ground by the millions and take hold of any surface they can find. Soon they emerge from a now-dried-out shell, taking to the air in droves of noisily buzzing windshield kamikazes. The cicada’s lifespan in its adult form is an unremarkable three or four weeks. But before this ephemeral adult existence, many species of cicada spend 17 years as nymphs burrowed into the ground.

2 Mayfly

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On the distant opposite end of the spectrum, we meet the humble (and ugly) mayfly. These arguably pointless insects have an adult lifespan of … a day. And many of them make it less than an hour. To be fair, mayflies spend what little life they have furiously copulating, so perhaps it’s we who are misled in our judgment, but still – a day? That’s pathetic, mayfly. You lose. (For the record, we know that some of the thousands of species of mayfly live longer, yes, thank you.)

1 Bowhead Whale

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The animal with the longest lifespan is the bowhead whale. These arctic dwellers grow up to about 60 feet in length, are baleen whales (feeding on huge numbers of tiny prey), and have one of the proportionally largest mouths of any animal alive today. Let’s see, what else? Ah, yes! Bowhead whales have been know live more than two hundred years.

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