Named after the Chinese dynasty age in which he was born, Ming the clam is the world’s oldest recorded animal, according to National Geographic. However, the 507-year-old ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) met his untimely death when the scientists who studied him accidentally killed him. When news of the clam’s ill-fated end broke, several headlines criticized the scientists.
They claimed that Ming was killed just to see how old it was. But it turned out that there was much more to the story than this.
The Discovery of Ming The Clam
Ming the clam was first discovered in Iceland in 2006 by a group of researchers from Bangor University in the United Kingdom. Ming, along with 200 other ocean quahogs, were dredged up from the bottom of an Icelandic shelf and taken back to the Bangor labs for study as part of a larger research project on climate change.
According to National Geographic, all of the clams were killed shortly after they were removed from the ocean. The clams were frozen on board the ship and taken back to the U.K. It wasn’t until the researchers began their study of the animals that they discovered Ming’s record-breaking age.
World’s Oldest Known Animal
Ocean quahogs are known for their long life spans according to a 2011 study. So it is common to find members of the species that are older than 100. Their life spans make them the perfect specimen for scientists to use for the study of the history of the ocean and climate change, according to BBC. Ocean quahogs add a new ring to their shell each year.
Those rings can fill scientists in on the conditions of the sea for each year of the clam’s life. Scientists can then discern any changes in the ocean through time, and ultimately see how a changing climate had affected sea life. In 2007, the researchers discovered that Ming was not like the other ocean quahogs that they had plucked from the sea.
The first examination into Ming’s age, figured out by counting the number of rings on its shell, placed the clam somewhere between 405 and 410-years-old, BBC reported. Unfortunately, to appropriately study the clams, their shells must be removed and placed under a microscope.
Until Ming’s shell was underneath the researchers’ microscope, they had no idea that they had miscounted the number of rings, as some of them were too narrow. Further examination revealed that the clam was actually 507-years-old. Scientists had just dismembered the world’s oldest known living animal.