26 October 2011

Keepers Isolde McGeorge and Karen Entwistle measure Red, a female tuatara, during a health check.

Often referred to as a ‘living fossil,’ the reptile is one of the oldest species on earth and must undergo bi-annual checks on their growth and development.

Chester Zoo is the only place in Europe that keeps the rare and unusual species and currently houses a breeding group of five females and one male.

Isolde said:

“We need to perform these checks to make sure they are healthy animals.

“The species has never before bred outside of its native New Zealand and so to try and make sure this group is the first to do so, we keep a very close watch on them”.

Tuatara can live for well over 100 years but now only occur on a few islands off the coast of New Zealand.

Isolde added:

“They really are amazing creatures as they belong to an order all of their own.

“Tuatara might look like lizards but they actually are not. Unlike lizards, they do not have ear holes and they have completely differently structured teeth, which are actually fused to their jaw bone.

“They have a third eye in the middle of their heads, which is equipped with a lens and a retina but is not used for sight but for taking in UV light.

“The males don’t have a reproductive organ and they are also incredibly slow creatures – taking only five breaths and eight heart beats a minute.”

The species has iconic status in its homeland because its ancestors were widespread at the time of the dinosaurs.