Tuatara: is it the longest-lived reptile in the world?



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Tuatara: is it the longest-lived reptile in the world?

The tuatara lives exclusively on the small islands off the North Island in New Zealand. Originally widespread on all the New Zealand islands, it was exterminated by the advent of rats, stone martens, weasels and dogs, which were introduced during human colonization starting with the Polynesians up to the Europeans; today there are just 60,000 copies.

Currently, the species has been declared protected, and reintegration into the wild is being studied; thanks above all to the zoos of Hamilton and Wellington, it will perhaps be possible to repopulate the islets where the tuatara was once present.

Mount Bruce National Wildlife Center, an important New Zealand wildlife reserve, is also studying a captive mating program for these reptiles. Over the past 150 years, Tuataras have become extinct on ten New Zealand islands due to the destruction of their habitat and the introduction of alien species by humans.

Of the 30 remaining populations, 8 are threatened by a type of rat introduced by humans. Despite this, the number of tuatara today is stable also thanks to the intervention of the New Zealand government, which for example has cleaned up a series of islands from predators for the conservation of these reptiles.

Tuatara: is it the longest-lived reptile in the world?

Tuatara are among the longest-lived animals, in fact males can live for more than 100 years. The tuatara is the reptile with the longest growth period: this reptile increases its size up to 35 years of age.

Tuataras are nocturnal animals, which live in burrows that house only one specimen, and are particularly active between 17 ° C and 20 ° C. Their activity is also regulated by atmospheric agents. The tuatara spends the hours of the day in the hollows of the rocks, which it often shares with a petrel.

Since space is limited, the two animals have learned to live together: the petrel builds the nest and the tuatara, a formidable insect eater, takes care of keeping it clean. Thus two very different animals can coexist in harmony.

During the night, however, this animal hunts for its prey in the middle of the rocks or on the beach; to dig out food, it digs the sand with its front legs or moves hidden rocks. These reptiles eat a little of everything: nestlings, eggs and adults of many seabird species, as well as many insects, such as the weta, a large grasshopper species very common in New Zealand.

The sphenodon hunts by stalking, capturing the first edible prey that passes in front of it: if this is small, it grabs it with its tongue, swallowing it whole, while if it is larger and leathery it dismembers it with its teeth.

This reptile, in fact, is equipped with a single row of teeth in the jaw that fits with a double row of teeth in the jaw; unique feature among living animal species. During the winter and spring it hibernates, only to wake up at the beginning of June.