Friday, December 12, 2014

Name that...Animal!

Hint: it is NOT a lizard.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license
Click "read more" to find out the answer!

This is a tuatara, a rather unusual reptile. Despite the superficial resemblance, it is most decidedly not a lizard. In fact, the two groups diverged so long ago and are different enough that tuataras are in their own separate order (Rhynchocephalia) while lizards and snakes are similar enough to be in the same order (Squamata). Indeed, there are a number of anatomical features that set the tuatara apart. Their teeth are unusual, with a double layer on the upper jaw and somewhat specialized front teeth, all of which are fused with the jaw. They are very long lived reptiles that are slow to mature and reproduce, with one of the longest incubation times seen in a reptile. 

Despite being far more common millions of years ago, there are now only two species of tuatara (thought this is debated as some believe them to be subspecies) that are found on islands off the coast of mainland New Zealand. Like the vast majority of New Zealand natives, the species are at risk of being preyed upon or out-competed by introduced species, especially rats. 

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