It's a clamity! Ming the clam, the world's oldest animal, killed at 507 years old by scientists trying to tell how old it was

Ming the clam was first discovered in 2006 and killed by scientists unaware of its age. Recent advances have revised Ming's age upwards by 103 years

A team of researchers from Bangor University have announced that the oldest animal in the world, a species of Icelandic clam known as an ocean quahog, was 507-years-old.

Known as Ming, the bivalve mollusc was ‘born’ in 1499, meaning it was swimming in the oceans before Henry VIII took the English throne. It was named after the Chinese Ming dynasty, which was in power when it was alive.

Ming was unfortunately killed by researchers when they opened its shell to find out how old it was. The unlucky mollusc was picked up from an Icelandic seabed back in 2006, but scientists were unaware of the creature's record breaking age.

It was originally thought to be 405 years old, but advantages in aging methodology means that this age has recently been revised upwards to 507 years.

“We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hastingly publishing our findings back then. But we are absolutely certain that we've got the right age now," Paul Butler, an ocean scientists from Bangor University, told ScienceNordic.

Like counting the rings of a tree, the age of bivalves is calculated by totting up growth rings - the lines left annually on the creatures’ shells by seasonal variations affecting how quickly they grow.

Ming’s original age had been calculated by counting the growth rings on the hinge of the clam, but as the creature was so incredibly old the rings had crowded together making them difficult to distinguish, with more than 500 packed into a space just millimetres across.

The new age of 507 years was calculated by instead counting the rings on the shell’s exterior, where they were more evenly spaced. By comparing unique growth patterns that have been previously linked with specific time periods they were able to verify Ming’s mighty age.

"It’s worth keeping in mind that we caught a total of 200 ocean quahogs on our Iceland expedition,” Butler told Science Nordic. “Thousands of ocean quahogs are caught commercially every year, so it is entirely likely that some fishermen may have caught quahogs that are as old as or even older than the one we caught.”

Scientists say that Ming’s long life is due to its incredibly slow metabolism, but also note that depending on how you define 'age' it is possible that the venerable bivalve is far from being the world’s oldest organism.

One species of jellyfish, for example, turritopsis dohrnii, is biologically immortal: instead of dying it simply reverts to an earlier stage in its life cycle. This means that there is no theoretical limit to its life span but also that it is impossible to verify its age.

The longest living terrestrial creature was Adwaita, a male giant tortoise that was estimated to be 255 years old when it died in 2006.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test