Amy Whitehead's Research

the ecological musings of a conservation biologist

Wildlife Wednesday: Tuatara


Henry the tuatara

Today is Waitangi Day, a day when New Zealanders commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.   Given that I featured an iconic Australian species for Australia Day last week, I thought it best to go for something with a uniquely kiwi flavour this week.  I’ve deliberated over this for a while– there are so many species that are only found in New Zealand and (almost) all of which are extremely photogenic.

In the end, I decided to go with the tuatara, a unique reptile that is the only living member of the order Rhynchocephalia.  This group of reptiles was abundant around 200 million years ago and is most closely related to snakes and lizards.  Like many of New Zealand’s species, tuatara are threatened by habitat loss and introduced mammalian predators and their distribution is limited to a few predator-free islands and mainland sanctuaries.  However, captive rearing programmes have successfully raised and released juvenile tuatara into the wild and eggs were found at Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary wildlife sanctuary in 2008, the first nesting attempt on the mainland in over 200 years.

Tuatara are nocturnal and feed on invertebrates, frogs, lizards, and bird eggs and chicks.    They are slow-growing and long-lived.  Henry, the handsome fellow above, lives in captivity at the Southland Museum and just reached the ripe old age of 116!  He has been somewhat of a media star in the past few years after he bred for the first time at the age of 111 following surgery to his nether regions.  Sadly, however, it looks like he might be infertile.