February 8, 2011

Weekly Beast: The Tuatara

Sometimes called a "living fossil" the Tuatara is a very rare reptile that lives only in New Zealand. It is fascinating for many reasons. First, though it looks like a lizard it is from a different group called Sphenodontia which are related to both snakes and lizards. Second, they have two rows of teeth on top that close over a single row of teeth on the bottom. No other living species on earth has this strange tooth configuration! Third and perhaps most intriguing the tuatara has a third eye on top of its head. It's function is not really known but it is theorized that it uses this eye to sense the position of the sun for navigation and/or to absorb sunlight to form vitamin D. The tuatara along with many other species native to the secluded islands of New Zealand was nearly wiped out when human travelers arrived bringing new diseases and new animals, especially Rattus exulans the Polynesian Rat.

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