After decades of work by a dedicated team at Chester Zoo in England, the first tuatara hatchling has been born outside of its native New Zealand.
“Breeding tuatara is an incredible achievement,” says Isolde McGeorge, the zoo’s tuatara keeper since 1977. “They are notoriously difficult to breed and it’s probably fair to say that I know that better than most as it has taken me 38 years to get here.”
BBC Earth reports:
Weighing in at a tiny 4.21 grams following a 238-day incubation period, the newcomer hatched on 5 December 2015, but its arrival was only announced to the world this week. After a second egg failed, the zoo wanted to make sure the hatchling was going to survive.
“It was a very, very anxious time,” says McGeorge.
Tuatara once lived throughout the mainland of their native New Zealand, but thanks to introduced mammalian predators they only survive on 32 offshore islands.
“Tuatara lived before the dinosaurs, they lived with the dinosaurs and they survived after dinosaurs had died out. They really are a living fossil and an evolutionary wonder,” said McGeorge.
The name tuatara means “spiny back” in Māori. But their most extraordinary feature is in the middle of their heads.
The tuatara’s “third eye” is equipped with a lens, retina, cornea and connective tissue leading to the brain, but it is not used to see. Instead it is thought to be used for setting the tuatara’s circadian rhythms.