(Investigator #203, 2022 March)

How long do animals live? Years, decades or centuries?

The book A World of Wonders (1845) cites previous writers who attributed life spans of centuries to carp, pike, tortoises, horses, stags (male deer),  swans, and parrots. A rook supposedly reached 864 years and crows three times as long. A falcon lived more than 183 years, a mule 90 years, and the average for humans is 86.

The author, Albany Poyntz, rejected these longevity claims and cites naturalists: "The experiments of able naturalists afford the best answer..." 
Poyntz says that sheep and goats live 8 to 10 years; pigeons, fowls and ducks in a natural state 10 to 12 years; horses 30 to 40 years; camels 50 years, parrots 50 to 60 years, elephants 100 years, and eagles over 100. However, an exceptional horse might achieve 100 years, and exceptional humans 150.


Albany Poyntz relied on science, but wrote almost 180 years ago, and science has since advanced.

Table 1 was put together from information on the Worldwide Web. It lists the maximum reported, or in some cases estimated, age of death in various species.

Besides consulting websites dealing with animal longevity, Google Search was consulted using the queries:

•    Maximum age of ……. in captivity?
•    The oldest ……. in captivity?
•    How long do …….. live?


Maximum Reported Age In Years At Death

Land Animals
Marine Life
Human 122 Black coral c.4265 Macaw 114
Asian elephant 86 Sponge c.2300 Cockatoo 103
Chimpanzee 63 Bivalve mollusc c.507 Golden Eagle 80
Gorilla 60 Greenland Shark 392± 120 Other Eagles 70
Horse 56 Koi (a Japan carp) 226 Raven 69
Camel 50 Bowhead whale c.200 Rook 69
Donkey 50 Eel 88 Albatross 68
Hippopotamus 50 Sturgeon 79 Flamingo 60+
Mule 50 Seal 43 Pelican 52
Buffalo 45 Bluefin tuna 40 Condor 52
Polar bear 45 Dolphin 40 Herring Gull 49
Rhinoceros 45 Walrus 40 Ostrich 50
Giraffe 40 Sea Otter 27-28 Vulture 45+
Hyena 40 Porpoise 24 Crane 43
Domestic Cat 38 Stingray 21 Penguin 41
Lion 35 Herring16 Oyster catcher 40
Grizzly Bear 34 Hermit Crab 15 Emu 35
Cow 30 Whiting 14 Goose 33
Zebra 30 Flounder 10 Swan 33
Dog 29 Seahorse 9 Osprey 32
Jaguar 29 Salmon 7 Crow 30
Kangaroo 27 Octopus 5 Owl 28
Antelope 25 Freshwater Fish Ibis 27
Deer 25 Goldfish 43 Pigeon 24
Tiger 25 Trout 38 Skylark 24
Wildebeest 24 Catfish 15 Heron 23
Pig 23
Sparrow 23
Porcupine 23 Reptiles & Amphibians Duck 20
Koala 21 Tortoise 190+ Hen 20
Bat 20 Tuatara 111 Starling 20
Sheep 19 Alligator 85 Dove 15
Badger 18 Crocodile 80 Turkey 15
Wolf 17 Python 62 Robin 13
Goat 16 Toad 40-50 Blackbird 8
Chicken 15 Boa constrictor 40 Quail 7
Rabbit 15 Goanna 40
Reindeer 15 Rattlesnake 32
Fox 14 Anaconda 30
Skunk 12 Salamander 25
Guinea Pig 8 King Cobra 20+
Rat 7 Gecko 20
Common mouse 5 Bullfrog 15
Maximum Versus Average

Life spans in the wild, whether average length or maximum length, would be lower than life spans in zoos, farms and private homes because in the wild many animals die from predation, fights, human hunters, starvation and untreated disease, but these rarely occur in captivity.

Old animals in particular, in the natural state, have their lives cut short by predation or starvation. Also, in the wild the dates of birth and death would rarely be available.

Therefore a more informative comparison of life spans in different species should be based on captive animals born in captivity. Their longevity might in some cases suffer from the stress of their unnatural environment, but if this occurs the effect on length of life is likely to be minor compared to the dangers of the natural state.

Table 1 supplies the maximum known ages reached by individuals in various species. Maximum instead of average is chosen because the calculation of the average would require length-of-life information on a large number of individuals, which for many species is not available.

The longest human life in modern times was Jeanne Louise Calment (1875 -1997) of France who died aged 122. The global average lifespan of humans was estimated by the UN at 72.6 years for 2019.

The known maximum life span in humans is therefore only about 70% longer than the average. For most other animal species of which we have the knowledge the difference is larger — maximum life span is often at least double, triple, or quadruple the length of the average.

Oldest Known Age Versus Oldest Possible

The oldest known age reached in a species is lower than the oldest age possible,  which is a distinction some commentators confuse.

To get 122 years as the currently attained highest human age required a sample size of about 12 billion people — all the people who have lived since the birth of Jeanne Louise Calment in 1875. But for other species we do not have as our sample all the individuals that lived in recent times. The sample sizes from zoos, and of animals tagged or banded and recaptured, might only be hundreds or a few thousand. If we collect a random sample of only 100 or 1000 humans, chances are that the oldest individual in the sample would be in his nineties or about 100 — that's about 20 or 30 years lower than the greatest confirmed age.

Alternatively, if the 12-billion human sample becomes larger, by getting records from before 1875 or from future records, we might discover an individual older than 122 years. In other words, 122 years might not be the maximum possible age for humans. The known-oldest, and the oldest-possible, are different numbers.

Similarly, the maximum ages so far observed in species (as in Table 1) are probably lower than the maximum age possible.

Other Problems

Attempting to find the oldest identified member of each species encountered the problem that no two lists consulted fully agreed. Some writers also confused oldest age with average age or didn't state which measure they are using.

Some species have no known upper age limit. Some jelly fish instead of dying after they reproduce, revert to the polyp stage and "are considered biologically immortal". Other creatures with indefinite life spans are flatworms, lobsters, and tardigrades when in suspended animation state.


Poyntz (1845) overstated the maximum life spans of humans, horse and elephant, but nevertheless was, by seeking the scientific way in the form of naturalists, fairly accurate. Poyntz was definitely far more accurate than the exaggerations, amounting to paranormal nonsense, that ancient writers published.

This topic is not finalized, and available information is scattered and time-consuming to retrieve. Therefore Table 1 should be regarded as provisional rather than definitive. If you have a bet with someone on animal longevity and the stakes are high, such as your house or car, don't rely solely on Table 1.


AnAge: Animal Ageing and Longevity

Wasser, D.E. & Sherman, P.W. Avian longevities and their interpretation under evolutionary theories of senescence, Journal of Zoology, February 2010, 103-155 Enhydra-lutris