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


Data Collection Methods


Major Sources of Longevity Data


Major sources for mammalian life spans included the following: (1)Walker’s Mammals of the World (Nowak 1991) - this two-volume series for use by professional mammalogists and biologists contains detailed life histories, physical descriptions, and biological information on 1,492 species from 135 families and 21 orders. Walker’s texts characterize the world distribution and density of mammals, describe mammalian orders, and present life histories with supplemental black and white photographs. Life span data meeting our criteria was identified for 616 species from 112 families and 21 orders. Wild versus captive species was noted for less than 10% of the animals listed, and sex was specified for roughly one third of the total species. (2)Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals (Parker 1989) - this five-volume series presents life history information in both tables and text for 1,193 species. We identified specific life span information for 544 species from 81 families and 18 orders. Both wild and captive descriptors were noted for less than 15% of the species, and sex was cited for roughly 1% of the total species (e.g., 6 of 544 species reported male or female sex). (3)MacDonald’s Encyclopedia of Mammals (MacDonald, 1984) - broad information and illustrations describe life history information on 1,334 species. Life span data meeting our guidelines was identified for 137 species from 49 families and 13 orders. Wild or captive status was noted for roughly half of the animals for which life span data was found. Sex of the record individual was specified for approximately one half of the life span entries. (4)Science and Technology Desk Reference (Bobick and Peffer 1993) - This reference is a compendium of facts and figures put together by Gale Research, Inc. which respond to questions commonly asked of the staff at the Science and Technology Department in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.


Life span data representing the nearly 10,000 species, 29 orders, and 187 families of birds as depicted by Gill (1995) was extracted from four primary sources. The life span database on birds includes species from 27 orders and 185 families. The following key sources are described in order of their relative contribution to the information identified on the life span of birds. (1)Handbook of Birds of the World (del Hoyo et al. (eds.) 1992a,b) - these two volumes of handbooks produced by the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP) provide life history and conservation information on birds obtained via support from ornithologists and amateurs from around the world. Life histories organized by family texts characterize species’ breeding, habitat, and appearance, and are supplemented by bird plates and distribution maps for 100 species. Life span information was found for roughly 100 species from 11 orders. (2)Birds of North America (Poole, Stettenheim and Gill (eds.) 1994) - this continuing project, sponsored by the American Ornithologist’s Union and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, will grow to reach a proposed goal of 700 species’ profiles at the rate of 40-80 profiles per year which will be included in the volumes of "Birds of North America." Single species’ profiles are published individually throughout the year. The profiles are written for conservationists, ornithologists, and naturalists by specialists on each specific taxon, and life span data is reported for almost every bird species described in volumes one through five. (3)Animal Life Spans (Flower 1938) - Major Stanley S. Flower, a former curator of the London Zoological Gardens, interviewed and recorded factual life span information obtained from private collectors and zoos of Europe and North America for more than 250 species. The Proceedings of the General Meetings for the Scientific Business of the Zoological Society of London consolidate and publish papers presented at the Society’s meetings on an annual basis. Flower’s records met our life span data guidelines for over 100 species from 15 orders. (4)Clapp, Klimkiewicz et al. (1982; 1983) - these references report life span records for more than 200 species based on bird-banding records collected via mark-and-retrieval of birds living in the wild. Their articles titled "Longevity Records of North American Birds: Gaviidae through Alcidae," and "Longevity Records of North American Birds: Columbidae through Paridae," have been published in The Journal of Ornithology (formerly Bird-Banding) which is produced by the Northeastern Bird-Banding Association for use by ornithologists and other professionals. The authors report maximum ages of birds reported to have been killed, found dead, or recaptured alive. Sex was noted for approximately 20% of the entries. (5)Klimkiewicz and Futcher (1987, 1989) - the authors add to the 1982 and 1983 compilations of longevities of marked birds in their article, "Longevity Records of North American Birds: Supplement I," which was also published in the Journal of Field Ornithology.

Amphibians and Reptiles

The following sources together contributed more than 75% of the species for which we identified life span information. (1)Longevity of Reptiles and Amphibians in North American Collections (Bowler 1975) - this reference reviews existing knowledge of amphibian and reptile life spans in captivity. As published for the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles and as written from the perspective of the Curator of Reptiles from the Zoological Society of Philadelphia, Bowler examined ages reported from institutions and from individuals. (2)Goin, Goin, and Zug (1978) - the authors intended the text as a foundation for understanding the nature of herpetology and as an introduction to herpetology research. With a focus on natural history, the authors describe both growth and life span parameters providing more than 50 species’ life spans. (3)Animal Life Spans (Flower 1925a-e, 1936, 1937). Stanley S. Flower published records of amphibian and reptile life spans in captivity recorded predominantly in zoo records, but also through reports of private collectors. Flower published life span data through the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. (4)The Science and Technology Desk Reference (Bobick and Peffer 1993) - this reference is explained above.


The majority of life spans for fishes came from six key sources that are described below. Primary resources are two articles written by researchers studying fish, two reference guides, and two reports on fish longevity. Key sources include the following: (1)Beverton and Holt (1959) - Beverton and Holt of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Fisheries Laboratory of Rome examined the life span and force of natural mortality in fish populations. Their work overviews growth patterns of captured fish for the purpose of conservation. Species name, common name, location, parameters of a growth equation, and life span are available for up to 90 species. (2)Altman and Dittmer (1991) - the Committee on Biological Handbooks in Washington has prepared biology handbooks for the Federation for Experimental Biology since 1964. The Biology Data Book reports life spans of 233 vertebrate and 92 invertebrate species held in captivity. With 124 different sources of life span data reported in this data book, authors selected Recorded Maximum Life Span in years and months, and reported age determination method (e.g., by growth layers, mark-and-recapture, unknown age, or specimen still alive at the time of age-reporting) information for presentation in their tables. Life spans for 37 were extracted from Volume I of the Second Edition of the Data Book for species in captivity. Life spans of 269 species were extracted from the Growth Edition of the Data Book for species in captivity or in nature. (3)Fishes of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary and the Adjacent Waters, California: A Guide to the Early Life Histories (Wang 1986) - this reference provides information in a technical report on California fish ecology and conservation. We identified around 50 species’ life spans from this source. (4)The Science and Technology Desk Reference (Bobick and Peffer 1993) - this is a compendium of facts and figures which respond to the wealth of questions commonly asked of the staff at the Science and Technology Department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. (5)Distribution and Abundance of Fishes and Invertebrates in West Coast Estuaries, Vol. II: Species Life History Summaries (Emmett 1991) - this was written for the Strategic Environmental Assessments Division in Rockville, MD to establish the nature and status of fish populations along the West Coast. We identified approximately 30 life spans of fishes from this source. Additional sources of life span information were identified in journals such as Ecology, The Journal of Animal Ecology, California Fish and Game, Journal of the Fisheries Research Board, and Contributions to Canadian Biology and Fisheries.

After the major sources were surveyed and values recorded, a search of primary literature using AGRICOLA, BIOSIS© and Current Contents© databases was undertaken. Key words or title words employed in the search include life span, life span, longevity, maximum age and life table. The data reported in this book originate in approximately 700 published sources.


Exclusion Criteria

Longevity data were excluded based on the following criteria: (1)Uncertainty of the estimate - longevity information failed to list a specific age (e.g., "several years," "a few years," "following first mating," "about x-years," "same as other animals within the group," etc.). (2)Average life span - life span data cited an average rather than a maximum age. (3)Unspecified species - life span was listed for all members of a group larger than the genus (e.g., a subfamily or order); (4)Non-factual information - the life span information was formulated based on myths of extraordinarily long-lived species which are undocumented.


Data Characteristics

For each record life span that passed the exclusion criteria, the following data was ascertained and included in this database: (1)Sex - when specified the sex was noted as m (= male) or f (= female). Unspecified sex is noted as x (= not noted in reference). (2)Captive/Wild - for each record life span it is noted whether the individual animal was captive or wild (when such was reported) to reflect the biases of environmental factors and aging techniques. (3)Age - life spans for birds, amphibians and reptiles, and mammals are recorded in years with months interpreted as a proportion of the full 12-month year to one decimal place (e.g. 10 years 4 months is recorded as 10.3 yrs). (4)Captive Age - if the age of an adult when captured is unknown, the time held in captivity subsequent to capture is reported as the life span. This life span is recorded as a minimum, denoted by a (+) following the species’ common name, since the duration of life prior to capture has not been recorded. (5)Maximum Age - if an age range is given, then the highest number is taken as maximum life span and the lower number is discounted. (6)Minimum Age - if the reported age is ‘at least’ x-years, then the life span is a minimum age and is denoted by a (+) following the species’ common name. (7) Each record is followed by specific reference(s) where that observation is published. The full references for each major vertebrate subgroup are listed immediately after each table of records.

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