We are obsessed with the idea of immortality—which is ironic because we spend most of our lives complaining about life. When somebody reaches the age of 100, we want to know their secret. Was it something they ate? Or didn’t eat? Was it exercise? Or geographic location? We are even fascinated with old animals. Last month, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources caught what they claim is the oldest female muskie fish in Iowa.
The grand old lady of the Okoboji lake chain is 25 years old — which is pretty long in the tooth for a muskie (and they do have teeth!). She’s also 46 inches long and about 50 pounds. The DNR knows she’s 25 because she was caught and tagged 20 years ago. And this is the curious thing about her. Between 2002 and 2020, the DNR has done nearly 2,000 net sets and somehow in that whole time, she was never caught once. Normally a fish that old would have been recaptured many times. Muskies are famous for eluding humans, but this old girl is especially antisocial. They let her go back in the lake and now there’s no telling when or if they’ll ever see her again.
The honor of being Iowa’s oldest animal has to go to Barnaby, the tortoise. He is also the oldest resident of Des Moines’ Blank Park Zoo. Barnaby was around before World War II and was among the first residents when the zoo opened in 1966. The septuagenarian Aldabra tortoise weighs 500 pounds and is everybody’s favorite at the zoo. Although the species can live to be 120 years old, Barnaby isn’t the young whippersnapper he used to be. He gets around as fast as he ever did — which is really, really slow. But his handlers no longer let visitors ride on his back the way they did in the 1960s. What’s Barnaby’s secret of long life? He eats nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables — greens, carrots and especially yams. A human would probably live longer if he stuck to Barnaby’s diet (and also kept people off his back).
Iowa’s old person is Bessie Hendricks of Carroll County who was born on Nov. 7, 1907. Bessie graduated from high school in 1926 and was married in 1930. She’s got nine grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren, 42 great-great grandchildren and seven great-great-great grandchildren. Few people ever achieve that kind of greatness. She’s never been seriously ill and takes only a couple of medications. Bessie once taught country school and kept busy working on their farm. One summer, she processed 500 chickens.
Speaking of chickens, Australia’s oldest man Dexter Kruger claims his secret for having reached the age of 111 is eating chicken brains. “People eat too much,” he told ABC News. “They eat themselves into the grave.” Dexter is careful not to overeat, but he does enjoy the occasional chicken brain.
“You know, chickens have a head,” explained Dexter, a former veterinary surgeon, “and in that is some brains. And they are delicious little things. There’s only one bite.”
Dexter may be on to something here. But I’d still rather try Barnaby’s diet than his.