World's Oldest Animal Living Is (or Was) a 507-Year-old Mollusk

Friday, 15 Nov 2013 06:31 AM

By Michael Mullins

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The world's oldest living animal is – or was – a 507-year-old ocean mollusk named Ming. Too bad researchers killed it.

Ming was discovered in a seabed off Iceland by a team of researcher during a 2006 expedition who initially believed it to be 405 years old. At the time, the find was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest animal, ScienceNordic.com reported.

The bivalve mollusk's long life was ended however by British researchers who opened it up in 2006 to determine its age. The age was recently revised due to scientists using more refined methods to estimate when Ming came into being.

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It's named stems from the fact that it was born in 1499 during China's Ming Dynasty that lasted from 1368 to 1644.

"We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hastily publishing our findings back then. But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now," ocean scientist Paul Butler told Science Nordic.

ScienceNordic.com reported that "the world’s leading mollusc researchers" are in "general agreement" this time around that Ming is 507 years old and further age revisions will likely not occur.

"The age has been confirmed with a variety of methods, including geochemical methods such as the carbon-14 method," marine biologist Rob Witbaard of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, told ScienceNordic.com. "So I am very confident that they have now determined the right age. If there is any error, it can only be one or two years."

Though not involved in the actual study responsible for Ming's latest age determination, Witbaard is considered an expert with more than 30 years of research in the field.

Much like counting the growth rings of a tree to determine its age, researchers use the same method to determine how old an ocean mollusk by counting the rings on its shell casing.

Decades earlier, researchers did not believe bivalve mollusks lived past 100 years of age.

"I had several specimens in my collection that had more than 100 growth rings, but I found it difficult to convince people that they were really that old. Today, however, these growth rings have become an accepted way of dating the A. islandica," Witbaard added.

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One of the reasons Ming's age was inaccurate initially is because "more than 500 rings were packed into a tiny hinge ligament area measuring only a few millimeters," ScienceNordic.com wrote.

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