Conventional wisdom used to be that the life span of a creature was roughly proportional to its body mass and heart rate—the big, slow elephant outlives the quick, small mouse. New research, however, presents a more complicated picture. Bats and birds, for instance, are small but tend to live longer than many larger creatures. Moreover, when scientists look within particular species, size does not correlate well with longevity, although fast growth is often associated with shorter life. To some degree, resting metabolic rate does correlate, but for animals total energy expended over a lifetime may be the best indicator of all. Definitive answers in this field can be slow in coming, partly because the studies take a long time to do—a typical Galápagos tortoise, for instance, can outlast a scientist's career. And don't hold your breath for insights into the extreme life span of the bristlecone pine.


Credit: RECORD-HOLDER SOURCES: JOÃO PEDRO DE MAGALHÃES AnAge online database, Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool; “PATENTED HARPOON PINS DOWN WHALE AGE,” BY AMANDA LEIGH HAAG, IN NATURE, PUBLISHED ONLINE JUNE 19, 2007 (whale); GUINNESSWORLDRECORDS.COM (dog and elephant); GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS 2010 (cat); THE TELEGRAPH; JANUARY 6, 2015 (parrot); Research and Graphic by Graphicacy