This list of the oldest living things on Earth, including the oldest animals, species and organisms, is sure to leave you feeling young. You could probably call some of these life forms a million years here, a million years there… but the fact remains that these animals have been around for a very long time. What are the oldest living organisms on Earth? And more importantly, how did they survive for so long?
These ancient organisms have existed for millions, or even billions of years, and have reached an apparent perfection in their environment. Millennia have passed, and they just keep going. Sure, a tail can shorten, an extra tentacle can grow, or they can develop a more streamlined armor… but, just like that kid you know with that haircut he’s had since high school, these animals are asking themselves asked: Why change if it works?
These are the oldest living things on Earth, and they may be around long after we are just fossils found buried in a pile of Styrofoam takeout boxes.
10. Martialis Heureka
Source: AntWeb.org | CC BY 4.0 International
Age: 100 million years old
The most primitive species of living ants, the DNA of the Martialis heureka (which roughly translates to “From Mars! Wow!”) has hardly changed in the last 100 million years. This species was discovered in 2000 in the Amazon region and mostly lives underground.
Age: 200 million years old
Sturgeons and related paddlefish have undergone remarkably few morphological changes, suggesting that their evolution has been slow, giving them the informal status of “living fossils”. This is partly explained by their long intergenerational time, their tolerance to large differences in water temperature and salinity, their lack of predators due to their size, and the abundance of prey in their benthic environment.
8. Iron on Crayfish
Source: Eric A. Lazo-Wasem | CC0 1.0 Universal
Age: 200 million years old
This little man has the privilege of being the oldest living species on Earth that has existed UNCHANGED for 200 million years. In other words, it may not have been around as long as some of the oldest creatures on this list, but it’s virtually indistinguishable from its 200-million-year-old fossil today.
Source: Manuae | CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
Age: 235 million years old
The nautilus, often called “living fossil”, originated in the Late Triassic and is a marine mollusk. The name means “sailor” in Greek. The nautilus is only found in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. They live in the deep slopes of coral reefs.
6. Gingko Biloba
Source: Cayambe | CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
Age: 270 million years old
The Ginkgo tree is the only living representative of the order Ginkgoales, a group of gymnosperms that dates back to 270 million years ago in the Permian. As a result of geological cataclysms, only three or four species remained in the Tertiary (65 million years ago). The extinction of the dinosaurs, which were able to disperse the tree’s large seeds, may also have influenced this decline, which is consistent with the fossil record.
Source: wikipedia | Public Domain Mark 1.0
Age: 400 million years old
Coelacanthidae, a rare order of fish, are more closely related to lungfish, reptiles, and even mammals than to common ray-finned fish. Live species were not discovered until 1998.
4. Horseshoe Crabs
Source: Breese Greg | Public Domain Mark 1.0
Age: 450 million years old
Horseshoe crabs are considered “living fossils”. The earliest fossils of the horseshoe crab are dated to the Ordovician. These marine arthropods mainly live in shallow ocean waters with a soft, sandy or muddy bottom. Their populations have declined due to habitat destruction and overfishing.
Source: Dan Parsons | CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic
Age: 505 million years old
Jellyfish belong to the group of animals called Cnidaria or Coelenterata. This group includes corals, hydras, jellyfish, physalia, sea anemones, lugworms, and soft corals. They are difficult to fossilize because they are mostly water, but fossils suggest they are even older than previously thought.
Source: Nhobgood | CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
Age: 580 million years old
Sponges belong to an ancient animal group whose lineage can be traced back to the beginning of animal life. Glass sponge fossils have been found in rocks in Australia, China and Mongolia. Although about 90% of modern sponges are demo sponges, fossil remains of this type are less common than those of other species because their skeletons consist of relatively soft sponge material that does not fossilize well.
1. Blue-green algae
Age: 3.5 billion years old
The oldest known fossils of cyanobacteria have been found on Archean rocks in Western Australia. Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, are a type of bacteria that use photosynthesis to produce energy. This is believed to have played a role in the oxidation of the Earth’s atmosphere, making the planet more suitable for life as we know it.