Special Report

Photos of the World’s Oldest Living Things

Among the organisms documented by photographer Rachel Sussman are 80,000-year-old aspen trees and 600,000-year-old bacteria

Welwitschia mirablis (Rachel Sussman)

Antarctic Moss

(Rachel Sussman)
Some of the oldest organisms live in the world’s most fragile ecosystems. This 2,200-year-old Antarctic moss (green, in the background) was photographed at Kanin Point, on South Georgia Island off of Antarctica. Climate change threatens local ecosystems around the globe, especially those at the poles. “The thing I am most concerned with is that even in these tucked away corners of the world, we are seeing signs of climate change,” Sussman says. “That’s the scary part.”

The oldest organism Sussman has photographed is a bacteria sample from the Siberian permafrost (not pictured) that has survived for 400,000 to 600,000 years. But the permafrost is thawing as the climate changes, so the world’s longest known survivor, she says, “may also be the most vulnerable.”

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