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All about the herpetological world.

Baby lizard-like Tuatara found on NZ

Posted by Miqe on August 13, 2007

After nine years New Zealand scientists are excited by the unexpected hatching of a baby tuatara – a native reptile so rare it’s in danger of becoming extinct.

The discovery of the lizard-like creature has proved tuatara are breeding on Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington Harbour – with one baby hatching last week and a sibling possibly on its way.

The baby tuatara came from an egg found on the island and is the first known offspring of 54 Brothers Island tuatara transferred to the island nine years ago.

There may be a sibling to follow – the egg was one of two taken from a buried nest on the island in May to be incubated at Victoria University school of biological sciences.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) and tuatara experts from the university had long suspected the island’s “robust and healthy” tuatara were breeding, but are happy to now have proof.

The tuatara is a reptile, not a lizard, and is particularly significant because it is the last remaining member of the ancient group of reptiles, Sphenodontia.

Tuatara is a Maori word meaning “peaks on the back” and the creatures resemble lizards, but are equally related to snakes.

The reptiles lead secretive lives, burying their tiny eggs in the ground, so there was no tangible evidence until the chance discovery of eggs beside a track on the island.

“The island ranger found two eggs which appeared to have been scratched from a burrow by another tuatara,” DOC biodiversity program manager Peter Simpson said.

“We would have been surprised if they hadn’t been breeding, but their buried nests are usually well concealed.”

Experts were quickly alerted and a probe of the burrow revealed six more eggs, two of which appeared to be viable. They were carefully monitored by Victoria University staff, who were thrilled to discover a fully formed, miniature tuatara had emerged from the egg last Wednesday.

Its sex has yet to be determined.

“We’ve been waiting for this for nine years. It’s fantastic,” said researcher Sue Keall.

The tuatara will be returned as soon as possible to join others in the wild on Matiu/Somes Island, a DOC-managed historic and scientific reserve.

“We’ll look after it until it gets more robust but in nature parents desert the eggs in the nest as soon as they are laid. And from the moment they hatch, tuatara are very active and quick, and well able to fend for themselves,” Ms Keall said.

“We’re all very excited.”

From The Age

2 Responses to “Baby lizard-like Tuatara found on NZ”

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