Poor old Ming the mollusc saw off Queen Elizabeth I, the English Civil War, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars - but suddenly came a cropper when the climate scientists got their mitts on him.
Scientists from Bangor University in North Wales dredged the seabed off the coast of Iceland as part of a study into climate change.
Not knowing the long life of the mollusc, the researchers opened its shell for analysis, killing Ming in the process.
But by counting the rings on the inside of Ming's shell, they calculated that the ancient creature was born in 1499.
World's oldest creature is revealed to be 507-year-old shellfish called Ming – until scientists KILLED it by opening it up to check its age
Scientists initially thought the clam, named Ming, was 405 years old
Mistake was made as scientists couldn't clearly see Ming's growth rings
Researchers claim the creature could help unlock the secrets to a long life
By Ellie Zolfagharifard
13 November 2013
A clam named 'Ming' has been confirmed as the world’s oldest animal at 507 years old.
Ming saw off Queen Elizabeth I, the English Civil War, the entire Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars.
But its life came to an abrupt end seven years ago when scientists from Bangor University dredged the seabed near Iceland as part of a study into climate change.
This is the only picture of Ming, believed to be the world's oldest animal at 507 years old. Not knowing the long life of the mollusc, researchers at Bangor University opened its shell for analysis, killing Ming in the process
Not knowing the long life of the mollusc, researchers at Bangor University opened its shell for analysis, killing Ming in the process.
By counting the number of rings visible on the inside shell of the mollusc, they initially calculated that Ming was an incredible 405 years old.
Scientists have now admitted they made a mistake- and now believe it to be 100 years older than first thought.
Ming's life came to an abrupt end seven years ago when scientists from Bangor University dredged the seabed near Iceland (pictured) as part of a study into climate change
‘We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hasty publishing our findings back then,’ ocean scientist Paul Butler from Bangor University told ScienceNordic.
‘But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now.’
The problem with the original calculation was that some of Ming's growth rings on the inside of the shell had become too compressed to be seen.
The researchers have now recalculated the age of Ming by looking at the growth rings on the outside of the shell.
The ‘new’ age means that the mollusc was born in 1499.
By counting the number of rings visible on the outer shell of the mollusc, researchers calculated that Ming was an incredible 507 years old
By examining the oxygen isotopes in the growth rings, scientists can find out the sea temperature at the time when the shell came into being.
What’s even more fascinating, however, are the lessons that the Ming could teach scientists about ageing.
A few years ago, charity Help the Aged, gave the marine biologists from Bangor University £40,000 to investigate why this animal lives so long.
The charity hopes the university will be able to help unlock the secret to human longevity, or at least make old age a little more palatable.
‘If, in Arctica islandica, evolution has created a model of successful resistance to the damage of ageing, it is possible that an investigation of the tissues of these real life Methuselahs might help us to understand the processes of ageing,’ said researchers Chris Richardson.
WHY IS THERE SUCH A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN LIFESPANS OF CREATURES?
While the lifespans of different species may seem random, there is a pattern.
Generally, big creatures live longer than small ones and this goes for plants as well as animals.
At one end of the scale are mice and shrews, which live just a couple of years, while at the other are large animals like rhinos, hippos, giant tortoises, lions and elephants, which have life expectancies measured in decades - or even centuries.
Some Galapagos tortoises, for instance, have been recorded to reach nearly 200 years.
The bowhead whales have been found recently with antique harpoons embedded in their skulls dating from the 1790s.
Unless these were a freak, this means that in the sea today there may be large, intelligent animals that pre-date the invention of the railway engine.
Other Methuselahs include orange roughly, a Pacific fish increasingly popular as food.
These cold-water fish can live to more than 150 years old, meaning that your dinner could date back to a time when Queen Victoria was still middle-aged.
But there are some interesting anomalies. Humans, for instance, live longer than is to be expected for our size.
Marine biologist Doris Abele believes that Ming's ability to live for centuries could be down to the creature's slow metabolism.
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