If you ask a child, or grown man, really, what superpower they would like to have, one of the most popular answers are the gift of flight. Some wish to be super smart, some want wolverine's claws. Some will say they would like to be able to time travel, or maybe to heal the sick, and some just want immortality. There are plants and animals on this planet that seem to actually have that ability, to live forever. Forever, of course, is a term used loosely in some cases. Forever to some of us seems like it should be for millions of years in the past and millions of years to come. To others, it's thousands of years in the past and future. Even if it is just thousands of years, to us puny humans, that's immortal! Here are some of the most awesome, resilient organisms on the planet that don't seem to be going anywhere soon.
10. The Bristlecone Pine Tree
The green pine needles on the branches of this tree, the Pinus longaeva, make the tree look similar to a bottle brush, and it gets its name from the dark purple cones that have incurved prickles on their surface. Some of these trees are believed to be close to 5,000 years old, the oldest, being named Methuselah, being dated at 4,789 years. They grow in harsh climates, which slows down their growth greatly. This makes their wood very dense and resistant to the elements and bugs. Their locations make it hard for fires to reach them and wipe out millenniums of growth. The Great Basin Bristlecone Pines are most common in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Eastern California and Nevada. The pines can grow at lower altitudes and less harsh conditions, but they don't have the crazy gnarled appearance of their brothers up high, and the faster growth makes it so they don't live as long.
9. The Creosote Bush
Second on the list is another plant that thrives in a harsh climate as well, but this time it's the desert. More specifically, the Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. The estimates on the lifespan of the creosote bush, or the Larrea tridentata, blow away the bristlecone pine, the oldest clocking in at around 9,400 years old. The average life of the bush is around only 900 years old, but if the conditions are right, the bush clones live much, much longer. When it's dry, the old branches and roots die back, but when it rains, branches are replaced by sprouts around the outside of the root crown. In the Mojave Desert, there is a King Clone, which is a creosote ring that is actually one big organism, like the giant redwoods, that is thought to be between 9,400 and 11,700 years old!
8. The Immortal Jellyfish
This tiny jellyfish, the Turritopsis doohmii, is a perplexing little creature that would make a good prequel to Finding Nemo. It's basically the Benjamin Button of the animal kingdom. Like other jellyfish, or every other animal, they can die the normal way. But if something out of the ordinary happens, like starvation or any other crisis, they can actually transform all of their cells to a younger state. They return to how they were in the first stage of their lives, a tiny blob. They develop back to their adult form from there, but not before transforming into a polyp colony from their bloblike state. From that colony, through asexual reproduction, hundreds of new, genetically identical jellyfish can be spawned. So not only are they immortal, they can make baby immortals!
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of today are pretty cool, but any fans of the old school heroes in a half shell might remember Wyrm from the TMNT comics of yesteryear. Wyrm was a mutant garbageman/flatworm that fed off a mutant cockroach named Scumbug. Anyway, a real species of flatworm, planarian worms, have amazing regenerative abilities. They're able to replace damaged or aging tissues and cells, quite possibly giving them immortality. They grow from millimeters to inches long, and travel in large masses. Some species are parasitic, and some are marine or terrestrial. Either way, they can potentially live for a LONG time.
6. Glass Sponges
This deep sea sponge is known by a few names; Hexactinellid sponge and Scolymastra joubini being two. This, and similar species of Antarctic sponges work like the bristlecone pine, and grow very slow in harsh conditions, which are low temperatures for the sponge. On specimen in the Ross Sea is believed to be about 23,000 years old, but due to sea levels fluctuating in the sea, it may be closer to 15,000 years old. The age of the sponges is particularly exciting to scientists who study climate change, since the organisms may store carbon.
5. Polyp Hydra
No, this isn't The Avengers enemy. If they were immortal, we'd have a problem. This is the tiny freshwater polyp called Hydra. They contain stem cells that are capable of continuous proliferation. Human beings contain stem cells as well, but ours aren't quite as awesome as the Hydra's, which seems to allow them to be immortal. Studies have been done over the course of 3-4 years on these polyps, and there were no visible signs of aging. Like the sponge, scientists love studying these guys, in hopes of getting some insight into the fascinating world of stem cells. This process of not aging is what is common in all the immortal organisms of the world; they all resist senescence, or biological aging. Hydra seem to be the perfect example of that.
4. Ming the Mollusk
This little guy's life was cut short at 507 years by the scientists who discovered it and plucked it out of the waters off the coast of Iceland in 2006. They initially thought the ocean quahag clam was 402 years old, but after studying it some more, discovered it was much older. Who knows how much longer it could have survived had we not intervened? Other clams now have a chance to trounce Ming's record, since it died when scientists popped it open to study its insides. The previous record was 200 years, so maybe someday we'll find and murder a clam that's over 1,000 years old! Even the Guinness Book of World Records has an entry for it, and like everything else on the planet (and beyond) it has its own Wiki page as well.
Dr. Who fans, I apologize. This isn't a derogatory term for you, it's actually a water-dwelling micro-animal, more commonly known as a water bear, for its peculiar animal-like shape. They typically reach 0.5 mm long when they're done growing, but it's their ability to survive pretty much anything. They've been found in the Himalayas, at the bottom of the ocean, in hot springs in Japan, and in Antarctica. They even blasted some into space in 2007, attached to a satellite. Not only did many of them survive, but some even reproduced, and their kids were healthy. Radiation doesn't hurt them very much, as does extreme heat and cold. What really makes people believe that they may be immortal is their ability to dry completely out, for as long as 10 years, and with a single drop of water, come back to life again. A zoologist in Italy in 1948 even claimed to have found some that survived for 120 years before being reanimated. In 1922, it was found that the tardigrade retracts its head and legs, and enters a state of suspended animation.
2. Sea Anemone
These guys, introduced to whole new generation by Finding Nemo, are seemingly immortal. Alot of factors weigh in when you speak of a plant or animal being immortal; as long as a meteorite doesn't come and wipe out the planet, or a flood or volcano doesn't happen, then all these things may live forever. The anemone is no different. It may not look like much, or even an animal, but given no interference from humans, climate change, etc., they could live forever. They don't seem to age; they just get bigger. If you cut off part of one, it just grows back.
As the years go by, technology allows us to go deeper in and farther around the earth to find all sorts of amazing things. In 2013, researchers found bacteria, fungi and viruses living 1.5 miles beneath the ocean floor, with some specimens appearing to be millions of years old, reproducing only once every 10,000 years. That's way better than bdelloids, a species that has survived 80 millions years without having sex. They're all females, and they steal DNA from other species. Creepy! The specimens found in 2013 were typically in a dormant state, using most of their energy to repair cell damage caused by whatever may have damaged them, instead of reproduction, and only emerging when the temperature around them warms up.