The Galapagos Islands are famous for the Giant Galapagos Tortoise that lives an extremely long life and has been known to live up to 170 years. The Galapagos Tortoise is thought to have arrived from the mainland South America thousands of years ago. As these tortoises float, they are theorized to have made the 600 mile journey via ocean currents and found these lush tropical islands perfect not only for survival but to flourish.
In 2006, a giant old lady (Galapagos Tortoise) finally passed away in an Australian zoo, at the grand old age of 176 years! (She did not die of old age, she died of liver failure). She was believed to be one of the world’s oldest living tortoises. She was affectionately known as Harriet and was believed to be a Galapagos tortoise obtained by Charles Darwin himself in 1835! Although scientific age dating verified the age of Harriet, DNA testing actually showed she was from an Island that was not visited by Darwin. Regardless of the specific island from which Harriet originated, her incredible age was not in dispute.
Unbelievably, Harriet was not the world’s oldest known tortoise. That title was awarded by the Guinness Book of World Records to Tui Malila, a tortoise from Madagascar that was apparently presented to the royal family of Tonga by British explorer Captain James Cook in the 1770s! This tortoise died in 1965 at the ripe old age of 188! This tortoise too, did not die of old age, she died of heart failure.
Galapagos Tortoise May Have Characteristics of Long LifeSo what are the common characteristics associated with animals that have a long life? It appears that the Giant Galapagos Tortoise (along with Madagascar Tortoises) have a secret. Here are some characteristics that you may think are important:
It seems logical that giant animals have a better chance of living longer. This appears to be consistent with elephants, whales and giant tortoises. Giant-ism possibly provides good protection against predators, however giants would still be susceptible to other hazards such as disease.
Bowhead whales, (a.k.a Arctic whale) are by far the longest living mammal on Earth. Some bowhead whales have been found with the tips of ivory spears still lodged in their flesh. Age dating of the ivory spear tips have determined the ivory to be 200 years old! The oldest known bowhead whale was at least 211 years old.
However, there are some species that are not giants (i.e. sea urchin) and still live incredibly long lives, so this may not be one of the more important traits for long life.
2) AdaptabilityIt makes sense that animals that are the most adaptable to change, may tend to survive longer. After all, that is what natural selection is all about. For example, it is known that marine iguanas of the Galapagos Islands can change their diet during periods of low food supply (ie. during El Nino events). This ability to change one’s food supply makes a species more likely to endure periods of high stress.
3) Ability to Reproduce and Pass On Favourable TraitsIt is apparent that the old age gene is hereditary and may be passed on from generation to generation. If the secret of old age is entrapped in genetic material, it is absolutely important to pass on the genes to later generations that may adapt even more beneficial characteristics. Therefore, a species must be proficient at reproducing to survive longer.
4) Negligible SenescenceThis may be one of the most important characteristics common in animals that are known for long life such as Galapagos Tortoises, lobsters, and rock fish. Senescence is the deterioration of one’s body and bodily functions with increase in age. It is common in humans and most animals. However, there are a few species of animals that exhibit “Negligible Senescence”, in other words, these animals do not exhibit deterioration with age and they:
-do not exhibit a decline in survival abilities such as strength or mobility with age,
-do not exhibit an increasing death rate with age, and
-do not exhibit reduction in reproductive ability with age.
Organisms that do not age or age immeasurably slowly are still susceptible to disease, starvation, predator attack, accidents, climate change as well as adverse environmental conditions. However, if a species manages to avoid death from all of the above, and with time their body does not deteriorate, that species clearly has something special.
The above clams also exhibit negligible senescence. Of all the above characteristics those animals with apparent negligible senescence may be the one that hold the secrets for longer life in humans. If negligible senescence is hereditary then perhaps the Galapagos Tortoise, along with several other select species mentioned here may hold the key to long life. This is the field of study is actively being researched to evaluate the potential for long life in humans.
Further research is required in this field, but studying animals like the Galapagos Tortoise could provide enormous breakthroughs in extension of human life.
Maddalena Environmental Inc.