A 111 year old Tuatara fathers 11 offspring

tuatara-male128763115_a1b78f9cde_oA captive tuatara, an ancient reptile from New Zealand has surprised his keepers by becoming a father at the ripe old age of 111 years. He had been a crotchity old guy rather hostile to the ladies until after he received treatment for cancer. Seems cancer sort of put him out of the mood. But this centenarian tuatara, named Henry, seemed to regain his natural drive not with Viagra, but out of pain Mother Nature simply took over again. Though his keepers seemed to think he was too old to mate -one cannot keep a healthy good man down.He mated with a female named Mildred last March and on January 26, 2009, eleven babies were hatched at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery. This birthing will provide a badly needed boost to the tuatara’s genetic diversity, said the gallery’s tuatara curator, Lindsay Hazley. (1)

There are two species of tuatara and are the only living members of the order Sphenodontia, which flourished around 200 million years ago. The tuataras most recent common ancestor is the squamates (lizards and snakes). This makes the tuatara important for two reasons one to better understand the evolution of lizards and snakes, and two to help reconstruct the appearance and habits of the earliest diapsids. This ancient group also includes birds and crocodiles besides the tuatara.

Tuatara are greenish brown, and measure up to 80 cm (32 in) from head to tail-tip with a spiny crest along the back, especially pronounced in males. They have a unique jaw formation. Two rows of teeth in the upper jaw overlap one row of teeth on the lower jawno other living species that we know of has this formation. They are further distinguished by having a pronounced parietal eye, the “third eye”, whose current function is unknown. They are able to ear, but possess no external ear apparatus. Their skeleton, some of them apparently evolutionarily retained from fish. Although tuatara are sometimes called “living fossils”, recent taxonomic and molecular work has shown that they have changed significantly since the Mesozoic era.

The tuatara has been classified as an endangered species since 1895 (the second species, S. guntheri, was not recognised until 1989). Tuatara, like many of New Zealand’s native animals, are threatened by habitat loss and the introduced Polynesian Rat (Rattus exulans). They were extinct on the mainland, with the remaining populations confined to 32 offshore islands, until the first mainland release into the heavily fenced and monitored Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in 2005. (2)

Resources

Reptile Becomes Dad at Age 111, Ray Lilley, A. P. January 26, 2009. as reported in Discovery News January 26, 2009. dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/01/26/tuatara

1. Excerpts courtesy of Discovery dsc.discovery.com/news/tuatara

2. Excerpts and image courtesy of wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuatara

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