The Clock Inside You

You probably wear a wristwatch to tell the time of day, but did you know that you have a built-in clock, too?

In fact, the bodies of all living things have ways of keeping track of time. These inner, or biological, clocks control how long to sleep and be awake, when to grow into an adult, and how long to live. They tell birds when to fly south and bears when to hibernate. They let tadpoles know when to change into frogs. They even tell flowers when to blossom. In all forms of life on Earth, biological clocks are marvelous mechanisms that keep life running on time.

See how some inner clocks tick!

there is a picture of a butterfly

A butterfly's inner clock lets it know when to change from a caterpillar into a butterfly.

there is a picture of a parrot

Pet parrots can live to be 100 years old—which is nothing to squawk about!

there is a picture of a hamster

Pet hamsters have 3 or 4 years to run on that wheel! And they do keep busy: females can have 18 babies a year!

there is a picture of a dog

Dogs live from 7 to 12 years or more. Big dogs develop more slowly than small ones, but small dogs tend to live longer.

there is a picture of a duck

From fuzzy duckling to old age, ducks live 7 to 12 years. Within 36 hours of birth, they can run, swim—and quack!

there is a picture of a tarantula

Some female tarantulas live 30 years, though a male's life span is shorter.

there is a picture of a goldfish

Goldfish can live as long as 10 years!

there is a picture of a horse

Horses live from 20 to 30 years.
All racehorses have their official birthdays on January 1, regardless of their real birthdates.

there is a picture of a girl in a yellow sweater

On average, people live into their 70s. The oldest person on record lived to be 122 years old!

there is a picture of a tortoise

The tortoise may be the longest-lived animal; some live well past 150. Let's hear it for life in the slow lane!


  1. As you read in this article, different kinds of animals live to be different ages. Think about the similarities amongst the animals who live to be about the same age. Can you find any patterns? Why might a horse and a tarantula have about the same average life span? Explore your ideas in a short paragraph.
    [anno: Answers will vary. Students might have theories, about the size of an animal or the number of offspring, relating to the animal's longevity. In relation to a horse and a tarantula, the tarantula is a predator and this might help its survival. The horse is a large mammal that eats only vegetation.]