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The Life Span of Animals
Nature Bulletin No. 486-A   March 24, 1973
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

THE LIFE SPAN OF ANIMALS
Signs of senility, or extreme old age, are seldom seen in the wild. Animals living under natural conditions rarely approach their maximum possible age because of very high death rates due to infant mortality, diseases, predators, bad weather, accidents, or competition for food and shelter. For this reason, most of the reliable information about the length of the life span comes from zoos, where accurate records are kept and animals live under conditions almost ideally suited to prolong life. A mouse whose life is measured in months in the wild can survive years of captivity.

Large animals tend to live longer than their smaller relatives -- but there are many exceptions. For example, man is longer-lived than any other mammal. After him, in age, comes the elephant, hippopotamus, horse, rhinoceros, the bears, the big cats and many others which are larger in size. In general, birds live longer than mammals, and certain reptiles the longest of all. A giant tortoise is known to have lived 152 years on the island of Mauritius and then was killed accidentally or it might have lived a century longer. Even our common box turtle rather frequently reaches the 50-year mark. It is an interesting sidelight that there seems to have been no change in the life span of dogs, cats, horses and cows under thousands of years of domestication by man.

The following examples of extreme old age have been chosen from the reliable records of zoos and aquariums all over the world.

MAMMALS         YEARS
Elephant        69
Horse           50
Hippopotamus    49
Chimpanzee      40
Grizzly Bear    32
Bison           30
Lion            30
Tiger           25
Elk             22
Mountain Lion   20
Beaver          19
Wolf            16
Squirrel        16
Chipmunk        12
Cottontail      10
House Mouse      4

BIRDS           YEARS
Turkey Buzzard  118
Swan            102
Parrot           80
Great Horned Owl 68
Eagle            55
English Sparrow  23
Canary           22
Humming Bird      8

REPTILES        YEARS
Giant Tortoise  152
Box Turtle      123
Alligator        68
Snapping Turtle  57
Cobra            28
Cottonmouth      21

AMPHIBIANS      YEARS
Giant Salamander 55
Toad             36
Bullfrog         30
Mud Puppy        23
Green Frog       10
Newt              7

FISH            YEARS
Catfish          60
Eel              55
Carp             47
Mosquitofish      2

INSECTS         YEARS
Cicada           17
Ant (queen)      16

Locally, in the Lincoln Park Zoo, for instance, the Indian elephant, "Judy", died last year at 51. "Bushman", the famous gorilla, died there at 23 years and a pelican at 52. When the Shedd Aquarium was under construction in 1929 workmen, for a joke, stocked the central pool with carp. Twenty Eight years later, three or four of them still survived. Among the native wildlife in our Trailside Museum a gray squirrel has lived 16 years, a barred owl 15, a blue jay and a chipmunk each 12 years. At the Brookfield Zoo, the pair of chimps, "Mike" and "Sally" died at 35 and 37 years old, respectively. They still have the same alligator snapper and "Cookie" the Cockatoo with which they opened in 1934. Dozens of birds have lived 18 to 20 years and hundreds 8 to 15 years. A spitting cobra died after 23 years in the zoo.


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