Just Another Guy with Opinions

111-Year-Old Tuatara to Become a Dad

Posted by shadmia on August 8, 2008

His name is Henry and at 111 years old he is the oldest known tuatara to become a father. His much younger mate, Mildred, who at between 70 and 80 years old, has become a mommy, laying 12 eggs, 11 of which are still viable. It will be 12-16 months before the young are born.

Henry arrived at Southland Museum in the South Island city of Invercargill, New Zealand in 1970. Since living in captivity for almost 40 years, Henry had not shown any interest in the opposite sex. It is not known if he had ever mated in the wild. When introduced to females at the museum, Henry showed very aggressive tendencies. Twenty-five years ago he twice bit off the tail of his female companion. He had been held in solitary confinement for 17 years. See a video clip of Henry the Tuatara here.

In 2002, veternarians discovered a cancerous growth in Henry’s genital area. They removed it and Henry’s aggressive attitude began to change…..and his libido began to kick in. In March 2008, Henry mated with Mildred who produced 12 eggs from the union.

Since privacy is non-existent in the museum, Henry’s rendezvous with Mildred was captured on camera and can be seen here.

“I say that he had a personality transplant at the same time,” curator Lindsay Hazley said. “If I had a tumor underneath my [genitals], when girls were passing by, I’d be a very grumpy boy too.”

Healthy hatchlings would be a boost for the tuatara, who are the only living descendants of the order Sphenodontian, which flourished 200 million years ago. The tuatara are rare lizard-like creatures that descended from dinosaurs and have been endangered since the 1890s. They are only found on a handful of New Zealand’s offshore islands. They have spiny ridges along their back suggesting their prehistoric parentage but are much smaller than their ancestors.

Tuatara probably have the slowest growth rates of any reptile, continuing to grow larger for the first 35 years of their lives. A fully grown tuatara measures only about 32 inches from head to tail. Males weigh up to 1 kg (2.2 lb), and females up to 0.5 kg (1.1 lb). They are thought to be able to live over 200 years.

The word “tuatara” is derived from a Maori word meaning “spiny back.” In Maori legend, they are messengers of Whiro, the god of death and disaster, and they were featured on one side of a New Zealand five-cent coin that was phased out in 2006.

In the wild tuatara reproduce very slowly, taking ten years to reach sexual maturity. Mating occurs in midsummer; females mate and lay eggs once every four years. Males do not have a penis. Tuatara reproduce by the male mounting the female, positioning her with his hind legs and tail to align their reproductive openings for the transferal of sperm as shown in this clip.

Tuatara eggs have a soft, parchment-like shell. It takes the females between one and three years to provide eggs with yolk, and up to seven months to form the shell. It then takes between 12 and 15 months from copulation to hatching. This means reproduction occurs at 2 to 5 year intervals, the slowest in any reptile. The sex of a hatchling depends on the temperature of the egg, with warmer eggs tending to produce male tuatara, and cooler eggs producing females. Because of warming temperatures, scientists predict that, without intervention, within 80 years no females will be produced.

As for Henry, museum curator Lindsay Hazley said he was confident Henry would continue to make the most of his new lease of life and was already showing interest in the other two females in his enclosure, Lucy and Juliet.

“He’s definitely up for it, he’s become a real Jack the Lad since he lost his virginity,” he said.

But he warned it was probably too early to start further prenatal celebrations.

“With these guys, foreplay might take years,” he said. “One has to be patient.”

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