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Name: Duane
Status: Student
Grade:  6-8
Location: KY
Country: United States
Date: March 2005

Does the life span of an animal have anything to do with how long it takes it to grow up?

In general animals with shorter life spans grow to adulthood faster, but I do not believe there is a direct correlation.

J. Elliott

Dear Duane:

There's a fairly widely held theory that animal lifespan is coordinated to some extent w/ their period of active reproduction. The idea is that the lifespan of the parents should be long enough to provide care for any offspring until they reach independence. I believe that there are examples to support this involving shorter lifespans for animals that don't provide much care for their developing offspring, as well as lifespans extending considerably beyond the typical period of active reproduction for animals that provide longer periods of care for developing offspring, such as humans.

So one might expect those animals reaching adulthood, & consequently reproductive maturity, earlier to have a shorter lifespan. But based on the theory above, their lifespan should actually depend more upon how early their active reproductive period ends, as well as the amount of care that their offspring require for maturation.

But it should also be noted that this theory of aging is not universally accepted or proven, & exceptions can also be found. For example, the average human lifespan actually extends well beyond the end of the typical period of active reproduction, even when a normal offspring care period is included, although some believe that this is the result of improved medical care &/or the involvement of grandparents in offspring care.

In any case, it seems that lifespan does have some connection w/ how long it takes to reach maturity, but the exact details have yet to be worked out. Aging is currently a very exciting research field. Thanks for the great question,

Jeff Buzby, Ph.D.
CHOC Research Institute
Div. of Educational Programs
Argonne National Laboratory

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