How would you like to live to be 200 years of age? Well, if you simply eat healthy everyday and transform yourself into a Tuatara, you might eventually make it…:-)

This extremely unique Lizard-like creature is found only in New Zealand,  and grows at the slowest rates among all reptiles. Its lifespan averages approximately 60 years, but the Tuatara Lizard-like can easily surpass 100 years of age. Some scientists even claim that captive Tuataras could live to be 200 years of age! Fascinating, isn’t it? You might say that Turtles can even live longer, as we covered in our post about the amazing research on the Painted Turtle. There are naturally debates between experts in this field of science, but one thing is sure: We can learn plenty from this spectacled lizard…

So who is the Tuatara Lizard-like Reptile?

tuatara lizard
A Tuatara Lizard by Phillip Capper. CC 2.0

It might look like most lizards, but the Tuatara is the only living species of a distinct order of reptiles called Rhynchocephalia. Once upon a time, this group included a large variety of species dating back to the Mesozoic Era, 252 to 66 million years ago. That’s one good reason why these lizards are so popular among scientists studying the wonders of evolution. Here are some quick Tuatara Lizard-like facts…

Where did it get its name from? Its exotic name originates from the Maori language, and it means “peaks on the back”.

How can it survive in New Zealand? The Tuatara evolved throughout the years and has uniquely adapted to cold weather. This, in contrary to its ancestors and most reptiles who live in warmer climates. The Tuatara can still run and hunt at temperatures of 41F (5C)! This adaptation is what enables the Tuatara to survive and thrive on the islands of New Zealand.

When was it classified? It was 1831, when the British Museum received a Tuatara skull, that it was originally classified as part of the lizard family.

How does it look? It’s a green-brown and gray lizard-like reptile which reaches lengths of 31 in (80 cm) and can weigh up to 2.9 lb (1.3 kg). The body colors of the Tuatara match its environment, but can change over its lifespan.

Can the Tuatara break off its tail? Its back and tail may look more like that of a crocodile, but the tuatara, like other lizards, can indeed break off its tail whenever its in danger. It can also regrow it later on.

Can it hear? The Tuatara Lizard-like reptile might not have any external ears, and its hearing organs might be extremely primitive, but it can definitely hear. It shows a frequency response from 100 to 800 Hz.

Could you believe this primitive lizard has some super high-tech capabilities? Well, it turns out the Tuatara has advanced eyes that are equipped with a duplex retina and two sorts of visual cells, for both day vision and night vision. Isn’t that cool?

How does it navigate? The Tuatara also has the unique “third eye” (also known as the Parietal eye) which very few lizards have. Scientists claim this “third eye” is used as a sun-calibrated compass, which helps them navigate and find their way.

What does it eat? The Tuatara Lizard-like reptile will mostly eat beetles, crickets, and spiders. However, it will also put on its menu some frogs, lizards or bird’s eggs.

Who is its enemies? The Tuatara’s main enemy, like that of most animals, is Man. Deforestation and habitat loss are among its most formidable enemies. However, also predators such as the Polynesian rat are among its fearsest foes.

How does it defend itself? The Tuatara might be old and primitive, but it will surely defend itself, and its territory. It will threaten and even bite any potential enemy, and the outcome of this bite can mean serious injuries. The bite can cause serious injury.

How does it reproduce? Very similarly to birds, the tuatara male will lift the female’s tail, place his vent over hers, and inject the sperm into her body. They reproduce every four years. The amazing fact about this lizard, is that it can be sexually active at very old age. There is one Tuatara in the Southland Museum and Art Gallery in New Zealand, who is called Henry. He is 111 years old and still reproducing!

Watch this rare Video of a Tautara hatching:


Why is it called a “living fossil”? It also has a few unique features in its skeleton, some of which were possibly sustained through evolution from fish. No wonder why they are sometimes called “living fossils”.

Which of its organs is the most primitive? The brain of the Tuatara lizard-like reptile resembles that of amphibians, while its heart is actually more primitive than the heart of any other reptile on the planet.

This fact will surely blow your mind: As you surely know, the skull of most extinct reptiles has changed and modified over the millions years of evolution. However, that’s not the case for the Tuatara. This unique reptile preserved all the original features of its skull, until this very day.

 

Tuatara Lizard
The Tuatara Lizard Skull. Drawing by Arthur Weasley

1 = premaxilla 2 = nasal 3 = prefrontal 4 = frontal 5 = maxilla 6 = postfrontal 7 = dentary 8 = postorbital 9 = jugal 10 = parietal 11 = squamosal 12 = quadrate

Can you pay with it? Until 2006, the Tuatara Lizard-like reptile was featured on the five-cent coin of New Zealand’s currency.

Is it God’s messenger? In some indigenous tribes across New Zealand, it is believed that the Tuatara is a messenger of Whiro – the God of death and disaster. In other places it is regarded as a special treasure. However, like many other exotic reptiles, the Tuatara is also in danger of future extinction…

Threats and Conservation

As mentioned, habitat loss and predators such as rats are threatening the existence of this remarkable reptile. The Tuatara, which is protected under the law since 1985, was once present on both the Northern and Southern islands of New Zealand. Today however, there are islands where it is hardly breeding and rare to find.

In 2012, one of the most complicated projects to repopulate the mainland of New Zealand with the Tuatara, took place. Approximately 260 Tuataras were relocated from Stephen’s Island to various locations across New Zealan, such as Cape Kidnappers, Young Nick’s Head, Orokonui and Maungatautari. It was the largest transfer ever performed for this ancient lizard-like reptile.

Watch this video about the Tuatara Relocation project:

Other than that, there are several breeding programs in New Zealand that are trying to conserve and breed the tuataras, such as the Victoria University of Wellington, the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, or the WildNZ Trust which has a a tuatara breeding enclosure at Ruawai. Let’s hope they all succeed in saving this unique reptile from extinction…

Want to know more about Lizards? Read our great Lizard Facts post…