What's the Oldest Living Thing on Earth?

What's the Oldest Living Thing? Howstuffworks

As far as aging goes, humans have it pretty good. We're capable of living for decades, sometimes more than a century. We are not, however, the world's oldest living thing. That title goes to ...

Well, let's hang on just a second. Awarding the Oldest Living Thing honor simply isn't that easy. As our BrainStuff video host Ben Bowlin explains above, determining the world's oldest living thing depends on the way we define "living" and "thing."


For example, if we decide a "thing" could be a communal group of organisms or a clonal colony, there are a lot of contenders for World's Oldest. This includes Pando, a male quaking aspen clonal colony in Utah that's about 80,000 years old.

But what if we stick to single organisms? Then tiny endoliths would certainly qualify as contestants. These extremophiles live in places we once thought were inhospitable to life, like far below the ocean floor. With metabolisms like molasses, endoliths live millions of years, reproducing only once every few centuries.

And what about dormancy? Could this be a loophole for earning the World's Oldest distinction? Bacteria have been revived after remaining in a hibernation state in salt crystals for more than 34,000 years. If we include organisms that spend thousands of years in stasis, there are thousands of contenders.

There are also creatures who don't die from natural causes. These "immortals" include the Turritopsis dorhnii jellyfish, which can revert to infancy any time after reaching sexual maturity, and the hydra jellyfish, which doesn't seem to age at all. This means that one day, the oldest living thing could be a jellyfish.

For now, though, we're handing the Oldest Living Thing award to a continually active organism that lives millions of years—the endolith. Would you want to live a million years or more? Watch the above video for Ben's take on immortality.