Researchers discovered and subsequently killed the world’s oldest living animal, a 507-year-old Arctica islandica bivalve mollusk, or ocean quahog, named Ming.
Taken from the ocean floor near Iceland, Ming was born less than a decade after Columbus sailed to America and well before Copernicus presented his theory that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Unaware of its age, however, the scientists pried it open in order to count the growth rings on its hinge ligament, killing it in the process, according to CBS.
Researchers were astounded to discover that the animal, once thought to live less than 100 years, was centuries old. Even then, however, they underestimated its age, announcing it was roughly 405 years old.
The mollusk’s shell grows a layer every year, leaving a detailed history in its number of lines much like a tree’s rings. According to The Telegraph, Ming was so old its layers had become compressed.
“We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hasty publishing our findings back then,” Paul Butler of the University’s School of Ocean Sciences, told reporters. “But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now.”
The latest study is considered more reliable, employing more sophisticated research mechanisms.
“The age has been confirmed with a variety of methods, including geochemical methods such as the carbon-14 method,” marine biologist Rob Witbaard of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research told Science Nordic. “So I am very confident that they have now determined the right age. If there is any error, it can only be one or two years.”
Despite having died, researchers say the mollusk could prove highly useful in unpacking the past.
“The fact alone that we got our hands on an animal that’s 507 years old is incredibly fascinating,” said Jan Heinemeier, an associate professor at the University of Denmark who helped date Ming, “but the really exciting thing is of course everything we can learn from studying the mollusk.”