Ming, A Clam From Iceland, Was The Oldest Animal On Earth. Then Scientists Found Him.
No, they didn’t dip him in melted butter. Nonetheless, humans put an end to the long reign of Ming, an ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) clam from the North Atlantic who until his untimely demise may have been the oldest animal on the planet.
Ming—named for the Chinese dynasty that was flourishing at the time he was spawned—died in 2006 after British researchers found him and cut him open to determine his age. (In the scientists’ defense, they didn’t know how incredibly ancient he was until they looked inside his shell.) At the time, he was thought to be a little over 400 years old, which still qualified him as the oldest individual animal known to science.
Recently, more refined dating methods revealed that Ming actually had lived about a century longer than previously thought. This means that, at over 507 years of age, he was alive less than 10 years after Columbus first visited the New World.
Much like the trunks of trees, the shells of ocean quahogs display a growth ring for each year of their life. Scientists originally miscounted Ming’s growth rings because some of them were so close together that two rings sometimes were counted as one. The venerable bivalve’s most recent and more accurate dating involved a number of different techniques.
Scientists attribute Ming’s great age to the fact that ocean quahogs have a very slow metabolism. Researches add that, not only is it possible that an ocean quahog older than Ming still lives in the waters surrounding Iceland, but the fact that many thousands of these mollusks are commercially harvested for consumption every year means that people often eat some very old clams without even knowing it.
More information is available concerning the world’s oldest animal.