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article imagePrehistoric tuatara found alive and well

By Bart B. Van Bockstaele     Mar 19, 2009 in Science
Tuatara are lizard-like reptiles that can be traced back to the time of the dinosaurs. For the first time in 200 years, researchers have discovered a baby tuatara on mainland New Zealand.
Tuatara are a unique order. These lizard-like creatures are the last descendants from a reptile that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, around 225 million years ago. They were nearly extinct on the three main islands of New Zealand at the end of the 18th century, thanks to predation by introduced species, like rats. and they have a have been considered endangered since 1895.
Only two species still survive, Sphenodon punctatus and Sphenodon guntheri. The last of these two has only been recognized as a separate species since 1989. They were extinct on the mainland until a reintroduction programme was started in 2005.
Tuatara are very slow growers. They grow for about 35 years. While their average lifespan is about 60 years, they are known to live well beyond a century. Some people think they may be able to live for 200 years in captivity.
"We are all absolutely thrilled with this discovery," said Raewyn Empson, a conservation manager. "It means we have successfully re-established a breeding population back on the mainland, which is a massive breakthrough for New Zealand conservation."
The Telegraph reports that baby found is the offspring of one of the released animals. Empson thinks that the baby is about one month old and that it hatched from an egg laid about 16 months ago. They had found two egg nests last year, with eggs about the size of pingpong balls, and they were expected to hatch around this time.
"He is unlikely to be the only baby to have hatched this season, but seeing him was an incredible fluke," said Mrs Empson.
More about Prehistoric tuatara, New-zealand, Extinct
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