Beating out other perennial favorites such as Harriet, the Galapagos land tortoise - who, before she passed away at a little over 175 years, seemed almost sprightly by comparison - an ocean quahog clam, affectionately named "Ming" (after the Chinese dynasty in power when it was born), has laid claim to the vaunted title of "world's longest-lived animal". Clocking in at around 405 years, Ming was plucked off the seafloor near Iceland's north coast by a team of researchers from Wales' Bangor University.
The clam was apparently still alive when the scientists initially dredged it up - to date it, however, they were forced to cut through the shell to count the growth rings. Acknowledging the sad irony, the scientists expressed hope that they could glean information about long-livelihood and senescence - the process of growing old - from the diminutive mollusc. The official record for longest-lived animal, as determined by the Guinness Book of Records, had been previously held by a (wait for it) clam, discovered in 1982 aged 220. Unofficially, however, an even older clam - aged around 374 - was found by the Bangor team a few years ago.
Chris Richardson, a professor in the School of Ocean Sciences, is also hoping to use the clam as a proxy for studying past climate regimes and to make some predictions about the future impact of global warming.
"The growth-increments themselves provide a record of how the animal has varied in its growth-rate from year to year, and that varies according to climate, sea-water temperature and food supply. And so by looking at these molluscs we can reconstruct the environment the animals grew in. They are like tiny tape-recorders, in effect, sitting on the sea-bed and integrating signals about water temperature and food over time," he explained.
Yes, all of this from just one clam.
Via ::BBC News: Ming the clam is 'oldest animal' (news website), ::Guardian Unlimited: Clam claims oldest animal record (news website)
See also: ::Oldest Newspaper In The World To Stop Killing Trees, ::Resurrecting Life in the "Valleys of the Dead"
Image courtesy of clpo13 via flickr