One of seven baby tuatara at Natureland. Photo: Sara Hollyman.

Seven baby tuatara surprise Natureland

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Seven baby tuatara have hatched at Natureland – possibly for the last time at the wildlife park.

Manager Stephen Standley says the tuatara hatched in late November and came as a welcome surprise, although they do not plan on breeding any more.

“It was a completely natural incubation and definitely a first since the Natureland Wildlife Trust started operating Natureland in 2013,” he says.

Zookeeper Toni Gordon is tasked with monitoring the new additions and has been measuring and weighing them monthly.

At the seven-month check they weighed in at between 4 and 6 grams and lengths varied in size from 115 to 120mm.

Female tuatara only breed once every two to five years, taking up to three years to provide an egg with yolk and another seven months to grow the shell. They then dig a hole in the ground, lay their clutch, and bury them them for another 12 to 15 months before hatchlings emerge and dig their way out of the ground.

It was only at this point that Natureland staff realised they had the new additions – Toni saying it was an “interesting surprise”.

“I was feeding the locusts to the adults and one jumped out of my hand, in the corner of my eye I saw movement and assumed it was the locust but when I looked closer it was a baby tuatara.”

“I counted three that day and thought ‘wow, that’s great’, but by the end of the week we had found the seven.”

She says they searched everywhere in the enclosure for signs of where they had hatched but could not find the site.

The females have since been separated from the male, and the new-borns have their own enclosure, which is on display to the public.

The gender of the hatchlings is determined by the heat at incubation. Cooler soil temperatures will produce females and warmer temperatures produce males. It is for this reason that tuatara are increasingly threatened by human-induced factors, such as global warming.

The tuatara at Natureland are cared for in partnership with Ngāti Koata for education and advocacy purposes and, while they have been in brumation for the winter, you can expect to see the young group out and about during the day as the weather warms.