Modern human beings have been on earth for around 200,000 years.
While that may sound like a long time, it’s a minuscule amount compared to many other animals, who have roamed the planets for millions of years. These are the ones who have been around the longest:
White-tailed deer – 3.5 million years
White-tailed deer are the oldest living species of deer, and can be found from southern Canada down to South America as far as Peru and Bolivia.The key to the deer’s lengthy survival is its intelligence from fawn to fully grown adult. For their first few days their body gives off no smell at all, their dappled coats blend into the bush, and they instinctively hide by dropping to the floor at the first sign of danger. They fool predators and mask their own tracks by circling over them, sticking to familiar routes when chased, and wading through water to destroy their trail.
Zebra – 4 million years
These striped animals have roamed the African plains for up to 4 million years. There are 3 species and 10 subspecies of zebra, which all sport the trademark mohawk and black and white coat. Zebra coats are like human fingerprints in that no two are ever exactly the same. Despite living in the same territories, the different species don’t interbreed. The Grevy’s zebra is thought to be the oldest of the three, but is a rare sight these days.
Red panda – 5 million years old
Unlike their colossal cousin the giant panda, red pandas only grow to the size of a household cat. They do share their namesake’s high forest habitat and love of bamboo. Red pandas used to be thought to be a kind of raccoon because of the similarity in appearance – the two share a masked face and ringed tail – but DNA testing proved them to be part of the panda dynasty.
Sandhill crane – 10 million years
A 10 million year old fossil discovered in Nebraska was found to be structurally the same as the modern-day sandhill, making it the world’s oldest living bird species. It’s the most common of the 15 crane species, and they breed in Northern U.S., Canada, Alaska and Siberia. Every year they undertake an epic journey, migrating to the USA’s southern states, travelling up to 400 miles per day.
Hedgehog – 15 million years
The same species of this prickly little mammal has existed for 15 million years. They’ve been protected by their famous hollow spikes all this time, which are made of keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and nails. Newborns have tiny, barely visible quills under their skin and adopt their prickly look after a few days. The hog part of their name comes from the squeals and grunts they make when foraging and communicating.
Flamingo – 18 million years
In what was once a Spanish lake, researchers have discovered a nesting site believed to belong to a prehistoric species of flamingo. The nests were different from modern-day flamingo versions, but the DNA structure of the birds was almost identical. Baby flamingos are born either grey or white and develop their candy-pink colour after a few years. The rosy tint is a result of eating crustaceans and algae which contain a substance called beta carotene, also found in carrots and pumpkins.
Aardvark – 35 million years
This mammal has hardly changed during its 35 million year history. It still has primitive teeth with no enamel or roots, and no collar bones. Scientists consider the aardvark to be a genetic anomaly, as its genes have developed so little over its life span compared to the rapid changes in other mammals. They feed on huge amounts of ant using their long and sticky tongue, but are in no way relating to their fellow bug guzzler, the American anteater.
Virginia opossum – 70 million years
North America’s only marsupial has fossils dating back 70 million years, making it one of earth’s oldest mammals. Much like a kangaroo, it has a pouch for its young which is so tough that it can protect the bee-sized babies if the mother is hit by a car. The secret to the opossum’s longevity could be its uncanny ability to play dead in the face of danger. In an emergency they can go limp and lifeless, slowing their heartbeat and breathing for up to six hours. It is also known to drool and spit in front of predators in an attempt to appear too diseased to eat.
Indian purple frog – 134 million years
These bizarre frogs are extraordinarily old – they hopped alongside dinosaurs for about 70 million years and managed to survive the infamous disaster that killed them. They were discovered in the Western Ghats of India, scientists found that their DNA was unique, meaning the frogs didn’t belong to any known species. They live mainly underground, using their hands as spades to burrow as far as 12 feet below the earth. The frogs have a puffy purple body, little white snouts, no discernible heads, and an unusual lolloping way of moving around. Despite their lack of physical beauty, they carry huge scientific importance. They may shed new light on amphibian evolution and how species reacted to ancient shifts in landmasses.