World's 'Oldest Living Sheep' Falls Off Cliff, Dies

Methuselina in 2009. Credit: BBC
Methuselina in 2009. (Image credit: BBC)

A ewe that is believed to have been a contender for the title of "oldest living sheep" lives no more. With a name to match her lofty age, Methuselina has fallen off a cliff to her death on the Isle of Lewis and Harris near the coast of Scotland.

An ear tag on the blackface sheep showed that she was just shy of 26 years old. Methuselina's owner, John Maciver, spoke of her life and death with BBC News.

"The sad news is Methuselina is no more," he said. "She passed away and I wouldn't say peacefully. I found her at the bottom of a rock. She had gone over a cliff and met her demise that way at the grand old age of 25 years and 11 months."

Methuselina was never recognized by Guinness World Records, as Maciver did not apply for the recognition during the ewe's lifetime. Guinness had been searching for a contender for the title since the death of Lucky, a Polwarth-Dorchester cross from Australia that died in 2009 at age 23.

According to the record-keeping organization, the oldest age ever recorded for a sheep was 28 years and 51 weeks. That ewe died in Wales in 1989, after giving birth to her 40th lamb just the year before. The average life expectancy of sheep is 10 to 12 years.

As for Methuselina, Maciver attributes her longevity to the lasting health and presence of her teeth, which allowed her to graze easily into her old age. Still, she was always a scrawny sheep, he said. "You wouldn't even probably get a sandwich out of her."

That also helped. He tried to auction her off twice in the 1980s, and both times, she didn't sell.

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Natalie Wolchover

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.