Free radical damage is currently considered a main determinant of the rate of aging. Unsaturated fatty acids are the tissue macromolecules most sensitive to oxidative damage. Therefore, the presence of relatively low degrees of fatty acid unsaturation is expected in the tissues of longevous animals. In agreement with this prediction, fatty acid analyses of heart phospholipids in eight mammals ranging in maximum life span (MLSP) from 3.5 to 46 years showed that their total number of double bonds is negatively correlated with MLSP (r = -0.78, P < 0.02). The low double content of longevous mammals was not due to a low polyunsaturated fatty acid content. Instead, it was mainly due to a redistribution between types of polyunsaturated fatty acids from the highly unsaturated docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3) to the less unsaturated linoleic acid (18:2n-6) in longevous animals (r = -0.89, P < 0.003 for 22:6n-3 and r = 0.91, P < 0.002 for 18:2n-6 versus MLSP), where n = number of different animals in each species. This redistribution suggests that one of the mechanisms responsible for the low number of fatty acid double bonds is the presence of low desaturase activities in longevous animals, although other causing factors must be involved. In agreement with the low degree of fatty acid unsaturation of longevous mammals, the sensitivity to lipid peroxidation (r = -0.87; P < 0.005) and the in vivo lipid peroxidation (r = -0.86, P < 0.005) in the heart were also negatively correlated with MLSP across species. These results, together with previous ones obtained in rodents, birds, and humans, suggest that the low degree of tissue fatty acid unsaturation of longevous homeothermic animals could have been selected during evolution to protect the tissues against oxidative damage.