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6 Amazing Animals That Practically Lived Forever

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Here are six legendary animals that lived a lot longer than most pets.

1. Adwaita the Tortoise (1750-2006)

Even with the long life expectancy of giant tortoises, an Aldabra Giant Tortoise named Adwaita blows all others away with a life lasting around 255 years. Estimates put his birth date around 1750, making him an entire generation older than the United States of America.

The tortoise was originally owned by a man named General Robert Clive, an important member of the East India Company, who got addicted to opium and killed himself in 1774. Barely a toddler at that time, Adwaita bummed around for a bit before eventually being transferred to an Indian zoo in 1875, where he spent the rest of his life eating and...that's pretty much it. After his death in 2006, carbon dating on his shell confirmed his age, making him quite possibly the oldest living creature ever, and almost certainly the oldest living vertebrate.

2. Lin Wang the Elephant (1917-2003)

The average lifespan for an elephant can be anything from 50-70 years, but the oldest elephant ever was named Lin Wang, who died in a Taiwanese zoo at the ripe old age of 86. But he managed to fit a whole lot of awesome into his life before then.

During World War II, the young pachyderm was recruited to move supplies for the Japanese army before being captured by the Chinese along with a dozen other elephants. At the end of the war, Lin Wang managed to survive the trek back to China from Burma, which was so difficult that it killed six of the other elephants. For the next few years, he was used to build monuments and joined a circus.

When China fell to the Communists in 1949, many people fled to Taiwan, and they brought Lin Wang along with them; within two years he was the only elephant out of the original 13 captured during the war that was still alive. Once safely in Taiwan he was finally placed in a zoo to live out his retirement in peace.

As he grew older, Lin Wang became famous and received the absolute devotion of the Taiwanese. Starting in 1983, his birthday was celebrated every year. Even his transfer from one zoo to another brought thousands of people out to watch. When he finally died in 2003, tens of thousands of people left cards and flowers outside the zoo, including the then President of Taiwan.

3. Big Bertha the Cow (1944-1993)

While most cows consider 25 years to be extremely old age, Big Bertha was born while World War II was still raging and died after most of the people reading this were born. In between, she managed to fit in a lot more excitement than a normal cow. Besides pushing out 39 children, for which she was awarded a Guinness World Record for most calves from one cow, she also managed to help raise $75,000 for cancer by making celebrity appearances at cattle fairs.

Being a true Irish lass, Bertha regularly led her local St. Patrick's Day parade, but since the noise and all the people were a bit much for her, her owner always calmed her nerves by feeding her whiskey beforehand.

Bertha was eventually awarded her second Guinness honor for Oldest Ever Cow. When she died, the locals held a wake for her in her favorite pub, which was "packed to suffocation" with people toasting her memory. If you ever want to go see her, her stuffed body is on display at a farm in Ireland.

4. Charlie the Macaw (1899(?)-present)

Charlie is a crotchety old blue macaw that may have already lived through three centuries and is still going strong. While it’s impossible to know the exact date he was born, estimates put it around the very end of the 19th century, and even if those estimates are off by a few decades, he has still lasted a lot longer than the average 50 year life span of normal macaws.

His current owner claims he was a favorite pet of Winston Churchill’s, who supposedly acquired Charlie in 1937 after the macaw had already managed to outlive two previous owners. While the Churchill claim is hotly debated, what is certain is that whoever did own Charlie during World War II taught him to say some very dirty phrases, mostly about Hitler and the Nazis.

His speech is so vulgar that his current owner, who says he purchased Charlie from the Churchill estate after Winston died in 1965, was forced to keep him instead of selling him in his pet shop as he had originally intended.

5. Tish the Goldfish (1956-1999)

Remember those fair games where you could win a goldfish? These are an important part of childhood, because they teach kids about the briefness of life, when the fish inevitably dies 3 days later. If you are lucky it might live a year or two. That's probably what Mr. and Mrs. Hand where expecting when they let their son Peter try to win a pair of fish in 1956. Little did they know they would be taking care of one of those fish into their 70s.

After a few suicide attempts in his youth, Tish settled down with his bowl mate Tosh. That carnival worker must have been feeding all of his fish something pretty amazing, because Tosh didn’t expire until 1975. Normally that would be pretty impressive for a goldfish if his friend Tish hadn’t made lasting 19 years look pathetic, by living until the ripe old age of 43.

A year before he died, Tish was awarded the title of Oldest Goldfish by the Guinness Book of World Records.

6. Matilda the Chicken (1990-2006)

Keith and Donna Barton bought Matilda for $10 at a fair in 1990. Instead of putting her in a chicken coop or eating her or any of those normal things you expect people to do with chickens, they put Matilda to work as a part of their magic act.

They probably expected to replace their poultry assistant a lot sooner than they did, though; while most chickens only live 7-8 years, Matilda was still kicking after 15. She never laid a single egg in all that time, an abnormality that some chicken experts think may have directly contributed to her long life.

In 2001, Matilda became the first chicken to place in the Guinness Book of World Records as "World's Oldest Living Chicken." This led to the second horrible thing her owners put her through: a spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

In her later years, Matilda used her celebrity for good, attending many charity functions. She died in 2006.
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Kathy Benjamin's new book Funerals to Die For: The Craziest, Creepiest, and Most Bizarre Funeral Traditions and Practices Ever is coming in April. Here are just a few of the amazing funerary facts we can look forward to:

The remains of a loved one can be launched into deep space for only $1,000.
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In Taiwan, strippers are hired to entertain funeral guests throughout the ceremony.
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Undertakers for the Tongan royal family weren't allowed to use their hands for 100 days after preparing a king's body.
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In the late 1800s, New Englanders would gulp down a cocktail of water and their family member's ashes in order to keep them from returning as vampires.

You can preorder pre-order the book here or here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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