For the past couple hundred thousand years or so, people have been obsessed with life expectancy. In paleolithic times, an average person might expect to live to see 30 (if they were lucky), and by the dawn of the 21st century, that number more than doubled to around 80. While humans are certainly interested in how long they will live, there is another fascination with how long other species live.
Tortoises can live for 150+ years, and the Greenland Shark has been estimated to be able to swim the cold seas for as many as 500 years! That’s a long lifespan, but what about the critters who aren’t so lucky? What about the animals who only live for a matter of months, weeks, or even days? Believe it or not, they’re out there, and some insects, mammals, fish, and reptiles have the shortest lifespans, making them poor pets, to say the least!
Some of these critters have multiple stages of development, and for those, their adult lifespan is considered. Check out this list of short-lived creatures below, and take comfort in knowing we live far longer than them!
Average Life Span: 5 Minutes
Many species of mayflies are found around the world, and they all live for about 24 hours. Much of that time is spent transitioning through the various stages of maturation, but when it comes time to be an adult mayfly, the clock starts ticking — fast!
An adult female mayfly of the species Dolania americana, which is found in the Southeastern United States, only lives for five minutes. In that time, it has to deposit its eggs for reproduction and die. Males can live for as much as 30 minutes, but like the females, they kick it almost as soon as they emerge.
Of all the animals known to exist, D. americana has the shortest lifespan.
Average Life Span: 5 Days
There are around 400 distinct species of Gastrotrich, which are commonly referred to as “hairybellies,” of “hairybacks.” They are tiny, wormlike animals found in freshwater all around the world. They are almost impossible to see with the naked eye for most of their lives, and when they mature, they can grow to 3mm in length.
Gastrotrichs mature incredibly rapidly, though some species live longer than others. Most live for only about five days, but there is a species, Lepidodermella squamatum, which lives for up to 40 days. Interestingly, their eggs undergo direct development, which results in the hatching of miniature adult versions instead of a pre-metamorphosis stage.
Several species of Gastrotrich reduce via parthenogenesis, which means they reproduce without the genetic code of another individual, and they possess both male and female reproductive systems. Essentially, this results in cloned offspring instead of unique individuals comprised of genetic information from two parents.
Average Life Span: 7 Days
Luna Moths, Actias luna, are commonly referred to as “Giant Silk Moths,” as they are rather large. Typically, their wingspan spreads for around 4.5″, but some have been noted reaching as much as 7″, which is considerably large for a moth. They are well known for their bright green coloration, making them look distinct from other moths.
Luna Moths begin as eggs, which hatch in about a week. This is followed by a larvae phase that can take anywhere from four to eleven days. The pupae stage will take two weeks within a cocoon, resulting in the adult (Imago) stage, which only lasts for seven days. They are generally only active at night, so their limited lifespan makes them a rare sight.
Photo: dr_relling / Flickr
Average Life Span: 7 Days
Mosquitos are probably the most well-known pest species on the planet. Just about everyone hates them, but they don’t live for very long, which makes it a small comfort in knowing that when one stings you and gets away. Regardless, they are an essential prey species in every ecosystem they inhabit, as they are widely consumed by predators.
Mosquitos undergo an egg, larva, pupa, and adult stage in their short lives. From start to finish, this can take anywhere from four days to a month, depending on the species. Once they reach adulthood, a mosquito will typically live for a week. Some species have been noted to live for up to three weeks, while others can remain in their adult stage for as long as six months, but it’s hardly the average for the 3,000+ species spread around the world.
Average Life Span: 14 Days
Fruit flies experience their entire lifecycle in a relatively short period of time, which has made them an ideal candidate for scientists to study through a variety of different experiments. They go through their egg and larval stages in about eight days. The following pupal stage is six days, and their adult stage lives for two to three weeks.
Female fruit flies become sexually mature after only 48 hours, and the eggs hatch in only 24 hours. Because their life cycle is so short compared to other insects, they make for excellent subjects in generational experiments.
Average Life Span: 15 – 25 Days
Houseflies, Musca domestica, have been around since the Cenozoic Era, and while they may have gotten their start in the Middle East, they have managed to spread to every continent, except for Antarctica. They are a pest species, and the most common species of fly found around the globe.
Houseflies undergo a similar life cycle as other insects. They begin as eggs and then hatch into a primary larval stage. They undergo two additional larval stages as maggots before becoming a pupa. This is followed by the adult stage, which typically goes for between two and three weeks.
Their entire life cycle from egg to adult spans just seven to ten days, which is considerably fast. A female can lay as many as 900 eggs during her brief time of sexual maturity, but at most, she’s only going to live for around 21 days.
Average Life Span: 20 – 22 Days
Ants are an interesting species and depending on an individual’s role in the colony, they can live for very long or very short periods of time. Queens can live for as many as 20 years, while workers typically live for five years.
The winged drones don’t have it as lucky as the others. When a well-established colony needs to expand, it will begin producing fertile male and female winged drones. They swarm and mate with other reproductive drones from nearby colonies. The males immediately die after breeding. A female, once fertilizes, will lose her wings and find a new place to establish a colony of her own.
Most male drones live for around three weeks, but because they reach sexual maturity as soon as they reach adulthood, they can mate and die much sooner than the average lifespan.
Average Life Span: 28 Days
Indianmeal Moths, Plodia interpunctella, are a pest species spread around the world that were given their name after they were seen to subsist on Indian cornmeal. They are more commonly known as waxworms, though they aren’t the same species of waxworm bred for animal feed.
They can bite through plastic and other hard materials, which makes infestation possible in sealed containers. In terms of their life-cycle, on average, an Indianmeal Moth can live for as many as 28 days in ideal conditions. There have been individuals noted for living up to 50 days, but this doesn’t happen naturally. In cool climates, their growth can slow, which helps keep them around for a bit longer than usual, but most don’t see the end of a month.
Average Life Span: 35 Days
The most common bee is the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, and they can live for around 122 to 152 days. Like ants, they have a highly specialized function within their colonies, so some individuals live far shorter lifespans than others.
A worker bee is aptly named because they literally work themselves to death. That’s not hyperbole either; a worker bee will spend their lives flying out to scout or collect nectar and pollen. They can also specialize in water gathering or hive protection, but whatever they end up doing, it will eventually kill them.
After flying for around 500 miles over the course of their lives, their wings are ragged, and they continue doing their given task until it kills them. The average worker bee will only last around a month.
African Turquoise Killifish
Average Life Span: 35 Days
The African Turquoise Killfish, Nothobranchius furzeri, is an annual species of killifish found in the ephemeral pools in the semi-arid areas of Africa from Zimbabwe to Mozambique. Very little precipitation has pushed them to evolve a desiccation-resistant egg, which is deposited into the dry mud where it can remain unhatched for years.
Because the rainy season is so short, the natural lifespan of an African Turquoise Killfish is incredibly short. They must mature and lay eggs before the waters they swim in dry up, killing them trough complete, and total desiccation. To that end, they reach sexual maturity after 14 days of hatching.
Their lifespan is entirely dependent on the length of the rainy season. The average fish will live for a little over a month, but in rare cases, where the water remains for longer periods, they can live for as long as a year. This is rare, and the typical puddle these fish call home dries up within a month.
Average Life Span: 59 Days
The Pygmy Goby, Eviota sigillata, is the shortest-living vertebrate species known to exist. There are 113 species of Pygmy Goby, and all of them live for very short periods of time. On average, they will stick around for, at most, 59 days.
The various species of Pygmy Gobi live throughout the Indo-Pacific region and are spread as far north as Japan and as far south as Australia. Laterally, they can be found along the coast of Africa to Pitcairn Island, and the species with the shortest lifespans tend to live in the tropics.
Once these fish reach sexual maturity, they must lay their eggs for fertilization, or their short lives will have been for nothing. A single female can lay up to 400 eggs.
Average Life Span: 120 – 180 Days
Dragonflies have been around for more than 325 million years, but that doesn’t mean they live for very long. There are numerous species of dragonflies spread around the world, and all of them have relatively short lifespans.
The majority of a dragonfly’s life is spent as an aquatic nymph, and from that phase, they will molt as many as 15 times, depending on the species. The largest species can remain in this stage for as many as five years, but for the smaller ones, it’s closer to two to three months. For those, their entire life-cycle lasts only about four to six months.
Average Life Span: 137 Days
Most reptile species live relatively long lives, and the average life of a Chameleon is around 5 to 11 years. That’s not the case for Labord’s chameleon, Furcifer labordi, which holds the distinction of having the shortest lifespan of any four-legged animal.
A Labord’s chameleon will live for only about four to five months. Their eggs hatch when the first rains hit in November in their native Madagascar, and they experience a rapid growth from that point. By January, they breed, and in February or early March, they will lay their eggs, which won’t hatch until the rains come the following year.
Once the eggs are laid, every member of the population dies, leaving only the eggs to carry on their genetic code to keep the species going. Labord’s chameleon is the only species of tetrapod, which has exhibited such a short and limited lifespan.
Müller’s Giant Sunda Rat
Average Life Span: 180 Days
Small mammals typically live fast and die young, but the one that has the shortest lifespan of them all is Müller’s Giant Sunda Rat, Sundamys muelleri, which is found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Their name is apt because, while they look like your average rat for the most part, they can reach up to 25.5″ from the tip of their tails to their noses. Their lifespans depend greatly on their environment, and while they can live for a little more than a year in captivity, in the wild, they rarely live for longer than six months.
Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain
Average Life Span: 365 Days
Shrews are small mole-like animals that look somewhat similar to a long-nosed mouse. They’re different from mice and other similar species, as they aren’t rodents. They are far closer in relation to hedgehogs and moles than they are rodents.
Shrews can be found all over the world (except Antarctica), and are incredibly well-adapted to their various environments. They may not be rodents, but they too live fast and die young.
Shrews have a gestation period of 17-32 days, and a single female can have as many as 10 litters in a lifetime. They spend their lives reproducing the next generation, and females can become pregnant within one day of giving birth. They lactate while pregnant, so it’s all about reproducing for the shrew!
They typically live for a year, though in captivity, and other ideal conditions, they can live for as much as 30 months. Some species of shrew live longer than others, but the overall average sits at only one year of life.
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