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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Tuatara

Tuataras (Sphenodon Punctatus) are a unique nocturnal cornivorous species found only in New Zealand. They are remnants of an ancient ancestral reptile group that was around during the time of dinosaurs.  They are reptiles, but they are not in the same family as lizards, despite their appearances.


Although tuataras are relatively small- 30 inches long, most of that tail, and up to 2 pounds- they can live extremely long lives.  They mature between 15-20 years of age and can live up to 100 years old!!  Females will reproduce every 2-5 years.  About 8-9 months after fertilization she will lay 6-10 eggs.  It takes another 11-16 months (yes, really!) for the eggs to hatch.  Tuataras have TSD or Temperature- based Sex Determination.  The warmer the soil around the eggs, the more males they'll get.  The cooler, more females.  And in this case warm v. cold is only a matter of a few degrees.


Although native to the main islands of New Zealand, tuataras are now extremely rare there.  The main reason for their serious long-term decline  is the introduction of predatory mammals to the islands, including dogs, cats, rats, and stoats.  These animals not only eat the tuatara, they eat their eggs as well.  Add to this their extremely slow life histories, and tuataras can easily be wiped from existence.

The conservation of this species is of great importance to New Zealand and to the world because of their historic genealogy.  A main method of conservation has been the translocation of animals from the North and South Islands to smaller outlying islands which have been removed of predators.  Here the tuataras are free to roam and reproduce at their own pace.