The Tuatara is a fascinating animal which comes from the kingdom of Animalia, which is one the broadest classifying group. To start to become more specific this animal belongs in the phylum Chordate and are classified as a Reptile meaning they are related to crocodilians, snakes, and lizards. (Morrison, 2009). The Tuatara is the only surviving species of a complete reptilian order the Rhynchocephalia which is a significantly small order and belongs to the family of Sphendodontia. (May, 2014). This animals Genus is simply the Tuatara themselves and within the genus, there are two separate species of Tuatara, Sphenodon Guntheri which lives on Brothers island and Sphenodon Punctatus which lives on many other islands within New Zealand (Zug, 2018).
The Ancestors Tuatara originally achieved global distribution through the years of the Mesozoic Era which occurred over 64 million years ago. During that time it’s ancestor order the Rhynchocephalia inhabited South America for the majority of their life. (Zug, 2018) Tuatara once inhabited all of Midland New Zealand but shortly started to only inhabit animals. Being on islands help to decrease the number of mainland animals especially the animals that prey and compete with the Tuatara themselves (Docs ). On these islands the Tuatara uses burrow systems to create their habitat, the interconnected tunnels create a network of different areas where a maximum of 6 Tuatara will live. In order to make these burrows the soil needs to be soft and have very little roots within them. Each burrow must be many meters long in order to keep these territorial animals separate in the same common area. As well as the burrow being long it must include multiple entrances so it is easy for animals to come and go as they please without interfering with the other animals. (Zug, 2018).The Tuatara inhabits islands that have colonies of seabirds as they contribute to they help provide the Tuatara with the animals they need to survive through their mutualistic relationship. (Encycolopedia, 10). These animals need to inhabit islands that are typically free of large mice or rodents and other introduced predators. This is mainly due to the fact that these animals typically prey on the eggs and the young of the Tuatara, as well they seem to compete with the same food (Docs). For the Tuatara to thrive it needs a well-designed burrow, seabirds to help them and little to no predators and competitors.
The Tuatara is a small to medium sized reptile that has four feet and has a vestigial third eye in the middle of the forehead, as it is vestigial it doesn’t have any use to the animal.(Docs). The eye itself includes a nerve ending, lens, and a retina but it does not use for the animal to see. Due to the fact that these animals don’t use there third eye the Tuatara lose there third eye within the first 10 years as there skin grows over. Male and female Tuatara are typically different sizes with the “male measuring up to about half a meter in length and weighing up to 1.5 kg when fully grown” (Docs ) and females tend to be half that size and weight. Males also have a crest of spines running along the back and neck which are used to attract the woman when males are fighting with one another. The color of the animal ranges from olive green, brown and orange-red, these colors might change thought out the life of the Tuatara as they shed their skin every year (sandeiego zoo). All of these features are common along reptiles but it is the third eye in the middle of the forehead and the crest of spines that give this animal a unique look.
As a species, the Tuatara our extremely clumped animals as they only inhabit islands in New Zealand and have not been found to live anywhere else, as they fail to survive in other places throughout the world. This inability to survive elsewhere is most likely due to the presence of other animals found in mainland area such as mice and rodents that compete and prey on Tuatara eggs and young. Since islands are offshore these animals cant access them making them a perfect isolated habitat for them (Zug, 2018). Even though the Tuatara’s as a species tend to be solitary and territorial animals who keep to themselves they normally share there burrows with five-six other Tuatara in order to utilize space and common areas. The social structure of these animals is similar to other reptiles as they use there skin color and body display in order to protect themselves (…). As a species, it is ironic how this animal lives in a clumped social distribution but are solitary and territorial animals.
The Tuatara uses behavioral adaption and structural Adaption in order to survive in their environment. Firstly they plan out there day in order to stay warm as they come out of there burrows in order to warm up to aid their stomach in digestion. The active body temperature of this animals is only about seven degrees which allows them to hunt and survive in colder climates which is beneficial for them as they are nocturnal animal and temperatures drop at nighttime. They also move slowly in order to retain as much energy as possible. Secondly, these animals use there structural adaptations such as their single row of teeth on the there lower jaw and there peek like snout in order to survive in their habitat. They use there to peek in order to build there burrows as it makes it easy to push the soil away and dig into the ground, in addition, the peek the lower row of teeth help the Tuatara pull apart their prey to get it ready to eat (Morrison, 2009).. Even though these animals have well adapted themselves in order to survive since they inhabit an island they are extremely vulnerable to natural changes of the island such as fires, and floods (Docs).
In order to obtain food, the Tuatara uses its relationship with another animal in order for both animals to successful get there needed amount of food. The Tuatara is an effective animal that could most likely survive on its own but its relationship with the sooty shearwater (bird) that helps this animal thrive in its environment. When the Tuatara is asleep during the day and leaves the burrow in order to hunt at night and the sooty shearwater hunts during the day and sleeps at night in the same burrow providing shelter for both animals. The Tuatara eats the insects during that night that pose a threat to the birds as they could infect it and the birds loosen the soil in order to encourage more insects to inhabit the soil near the burrow, providing the Tuatara with more food supply (Encycolpedia 10). On their own, the adult Tuatara hunt at night because their food is most readily available at that time. These animals tend to only eat insects and smaller birds since there teeth tend to break down so older Tuatara only eat soft food (Tobin, 2018). Overall the Tuatara uses its mutualistic relationship with the sooty shearwater and its ability to hunt at night in order to collect the most amount of food.
Throughout the years the Tuatara have developed many mechanisms to defend themselves from there predators. Firstly they have become nocturnal animals which allows them to hunt at night concealing themselves from there predators. By hunting in the dark the Tuatara is able to see it’s predators before they can see them which gives them the ability to hide or prepare (Sandegio zoo ). Another adaptive measure that these animals gained in order to protect themselves is their ability to change their skin color, though shedding it this allows them to blend into there surrounds to hide from predators. They also have the ability to drop there tails when attacked and it will slowly grow back. This allows them to escape if there predator have hold of there tail.(Bates, 2013). Overall the Tuatara has worked hard to ensure that they are hidden and shielded from there predators in order to survive in their environment.
In order to reproduce the male and female Tuatara will mate with one another to create gametes. The mating season for these animals starts in January and lasts until March, during this time the males compete with one another in order to win the females attention (Moore, 2009). There is a very large threat when it comes to the Tuatara population, due to the lack of genetic diversity it continues to make it more difficult on the future generations to cope in a changing environment (Docs). Female Tuatara typically reproduces every two to four years and can continue to reproduce until they are fifty-five to sixty years and normally live to be sixty years old. Females must migrate to new nesting sites in order to lay proper healthy eggs. By migrating it puts these animals in danger as they have to leave their normal burrows, and since these animals are iteroparous reproducers they go through this process multiple times throughout there life (Tobin, 2018). The Tuatara are known to have difficulties with their reproduction strategies for many reasons, firstly these animals take up to twenty years to reach an age where they can begin to reproduce. Secondly similar to humans it takes nine months for these animals to lay there eggs and even after their eggs are laid it takes 13 months for these eggs to hatch, during these 13 months the eggs become the target to many predators. The Tuatara only lays four to six eggs meaning they fall under k-strategist as they lay little offspring but after they are hatched there living conditions are fairly stable. After these animals hatch they are lead to fend for themselves, as they aren’t cared for by there parents (Tobin, 2018). “Hatchling tuataras are believed to be active during the day to avoid the cannibalistic adult tuataras that come out at night”(Bates, 2013). Overall the reproductive strategies if these animals tend to be slow and fairly dangerous for both females and their eggs.
The Tuatara doesn’t play a very large role in their own habitat but its key role in today’s environment as they are the only living member of Rhynchocephalia, one of the six major amniote clades. This makes them an extremely important to the world’s biodiversity as a whole and it remains an important species to study the evolution and development of this kingdom (Zug, 2018). In order for this species to make a living this animal burrow, and grazes on surrounding insects in order to survive. Within its own localized habitat if these animals were to become over popularized it would lead to a severe decline in the insect population, similarly, if the population of this animal was to go down it would increase the insect’s population. This is evident because of the predator and prey relationship between them, other than this relationship the Tuatara doesn’t play too little a role in order to drastically change their own environment. Humans have been working extremely hard to keep these animals alive as they tend to become extinct in many places due to there predators and they are an important species to research. Lastly, they can’t cause many issues in new environments due too the fact that they most likely won’t be able to survive in any other territory other than New Zealand(Science Learning Hub). Overall this animal does not play a large role in their environment and doesn’t have the ability to largely affect any other species and habitat. But it is important to the world’s biodiversity that this animal continues to reproduce and survive.