There are several contenders for the title of longest-lived animal on Earth. Giant tortoises, Greenland sharks and bowhead whales are all in the running. And coming up on the inside is a tubeworm that lives at depths of 3km in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nothing is straightforward at such depths, and ageing a tubeworm is no exception. But biologists led by Alanna Durkin of Temple University, USA, have risen to the challenge. By measuring how much worms grow in one year, they have estimated that the largest specimens – which stretch to over half a metre – are more than 300 years old.
That doesn’t beat the Greenland shark, which can live to more than 400, or the ocean quahog, a marine clam that reaches at least 507. But there is still everything to play for. After all, there’s a lot of deep ocean still to explore.
“There may be large Escarpia laminata tubeworms alive in nature that live even longer,” ventures Durkin.
Could Escarpia laminata be the oldest animal?