Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 27 >> Tropical Forests to Twelfth Century >> Tuatara


zoological, worms and limbs

TUATARA, too-a-ta'ra, the native name of Sphenodon Ininctatum, a large lizard-like reptile formerly abundant on the mainland of New Zealand, but now restricted to some of the small islands off the coast and probably doomed to total extinction. It is the sole living repre sentative of the order Rhynchocepholia and be cause of its great zoological interest as a relic of that ancient group should be nreserved, and, Weed, it is protected by the Colonial govern went. It is about two to two and one-half feet long, with four strong, five-toed limbs, a loose fitting scaly skin and a fringed crest extending from the head to the tip of the tail. In color it has olive sides and limbs with minute white specks, beneath yellowish; the spines of the nuchal and dorsal crests yellow, of the caudal brown. The teeth are completely coalesced with the jaws and palate to form two tubercu late ridges on each side posteriorly in the upper jaw,. and a very hard polished beak in the front of the mouth. Most interesting skeletal features are the presence of two well-developed post or bital arches in the skull, the firmly-fixed quad rate bone, the long series of abdominal ribs and the presence of separate intercentra between the vertebral bodies. On the roof of the skull in

the parietal bones is a conspicuous opening, the seat of fhe pineal eye, which in this animal reaches a high degree of development, but is shielded from the access of light rays by a heavy curtain of pigment which covers it.

These animals live in burrows which ter minate in large chambers lined with grass. Cer tain species of petrels occupy the 4uataras' bur rows as nesting sites, and th•two are reputed to line peacefully together. During the day the tuatara sleeps in its nest but issues at night to seek its exclusively animal food, which consists of insects, lizards, frogs, small birds, earth worms, etc., or along the seashore of crabs, marine worms and small fishes. They are pug nacious but sluggish creatures, and are very fond of lying in water. Sometime during the summer, from November to January, about a dozen eggs are deposited in a hole in the ground, and there they remain for about 13 months when, during the following summer, they hatch. Consult Howes, 'Trans actions Zoological Society of (Vol. XV).