How long do they live? Tuataras can live 90 to 100 [1] years and likely much longer, but there’s not much lifespan research being conducted with these absolutely adorable reptiles. Supposedly a 119 year old male tuatara lives in the Southland Museum in New Zealand [5, 6], but I could not find any age verification data for him. See Figure 1 for proof of cuteness.

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Figure 1. This is what charming looks like.

Where are they found at? The islands off of New Zealand.

What do they eat? It seems like they will eat anything that will fit in their mouth. Just a few examples of their diet regimen includes bird eggs, frogs, and insects [2].

What do they look like? They are gray, dark-ish red, or olive in color and grow to be between 1.3 feet long to almost 2 feet long [2]. Females are smaller than the males. Tuataras have a “third eye” called a parietal eye on the top of their head that is part of the pineal gland and circadian rhythms [3]. They are considered a very slow growing species and they do not reach their maximum size until close to 35 years old. See Figures 1, 2, and 3.

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Figure 2. After a long night of rum and Hannibal reruns, this Tuatara is relaxing.

How do they reproduce? This ancient looking organism doesn’t hit sexual maturity until between 13 and 20 years old [1]. They are oviparous and lay up to 18 eggs, but only once every 4 years [2]. There is no information regarding reproductive senescence in the Tuatara, although they are known to continue reproducing well up to 60 years of age [4] and the male mentioned in the first paragraph became a dad at 111 years old [5]. Congratulations!

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Figure 3. Dear Tuatara, You win the trophy for cutest reptile on the planet.

How do scientists know how old they are? Like other reptiles on this website, you need to know when the animal hatched to know their age. Most estimates are based on the size of the animal.

So what are we lacking? A ticket to New Zealand so I can see these wonderful creatures. We also need more accurate lifespan data and reproductive senescence information. You can find the complete mitochondrial genome of Sphenodon punctatus  on the NCBI website, but there’s no nuclear genome information available.

Conservation status: Thankfully, the Tuatara species is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species.

 

  1. San Diego Zoo.org. Tuatara. http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/tuatara Accessed 10/14/2016
  2. Animal Diversity.org. Tuatara.  http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Sphenodon_punctatus/#food_habits  Accessed 10/14/2016
  3. “Parietal eye”. Tuatara Glossary. School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington. Accessed 10/14/2016
  4. Brittanica.com. Tuatara. Updated 2015.  https://www.britannica.com/animal/tuatara   Accessed 10/14/2016
  5. CNN.com. 110-year-old ‘living fossil’ becomes a dad.  http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/01/29/lizard.reproduces/index.html?eref=rss_latest   Accessed 10/14/2016
  6. Media New Zealand. Tuatara: New Zealand’s living dinosaur.  http://media.newzealand.com/en/story-ideas/tuatara-new-zealands-living-dinosaur/   Accessed 10/14/2016