Life Spans of Mammals, Birds, Amphibians, Reptiles, and Fish

Carey, J. R., Judge, D. S.
Odense Monographs on Population Aging 8
214 pages. Odense, Odense University Press (2000)
Open Access


This book contains nearly 4,100 longevity records (reports of highest documented age) for 3,054 vertebrate species/subspecies including 890, 817, 120, 777, and 450 mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish, respectively. The number of records exceeds the number of species because for some species we found separate longevity records classified by sex and/or by living conditions (wild or captive) and for others we included two or more record ages. Longevity records do not represent so-called species-specific maximal ages. First, whereas the life span of an individual animal is unambiguously the interval between its birth and its death, "maximum longevity" is not an appropriate general concept. As Caughley (1977) notes, this is because an animal dies before the age of infinity, not because it cannot pass some bounding age but because the probability of its riding out the ever present risk of death for that long is infinitesimally small. In other words, there is no identifiable age for each species to which some select individuals can survive but none can live beyond. Second, the record age of a species is heavily influenced by the number of individuals observed. That is, the longevity records for species in which the life spans of large numbers of individuals have been observed will be significantly greater than the corresponding figure for a species with the same longevity but represented by a few dozen individuals (Gavrilov and Gavrilova 1991). For the vast majority of longevity records by species, the population at risk and therefore the denominator are completely unknown. Despite some of the analytical and conceptual shortcomings, we believe that the longevity records contained in this book are useful in a number of comparative and disciplinary contexts including demographic, gerontological, ecological and evolutionary. The longevity records provide frames-of-reference for life course analyses for selected species, shed light on the relative longevity of different groups (e.g. mammals vs birds), and help to situate human longevity in the broad context of all living vertebrates. We organized the book into five sections. The first section introduces the book, describes the data collection methods, describes the major sources of longevity data for each of the vertebrate groups, and presents a brief summary graphic of the longevity data contained in the book. This is followed by a list of selected references on longevity. The subsequent four sections contain the longevity records for each of the four main vertebrate groups. Each section begins with a broad description of the group (e.g. Mammals) followed by a general description for each of the main subgroups (generally Orders, e.g. Artiodactyla), and finally a table with longevity records. These records are organized alphabetically by order, family, and genus-species name.
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.