Reptiles settle at Kiwi North

By Mike Dinsdale

Tuatara are known as living fossils, New Zealand's last surviving link to the age of the dinosaurs, and from the end of this month Northlanders will be able to observe two young "ancient reptiles" in their new home at Kiwi North.

Kiwi North, as it is now known, at the Maunu museum grounds, has been working since 1990 to get tuatara to display, but it was only with the opening of the state-of-the-art kiwi house last year that the plan could be finally implemented.

Two 21-month-old tuatara have now arrived at Kiwi North and are settling into their flash, new enclosure before they will make their grand public debut on September 29.

Kiwi North manager Allie Fry-Kewene said the late Marge Maddren was largely responsible for setting up what was then known as the Whangarei Native Forest and Bird Society which then established the first kiwi house at the museum grounds in 1990.

"She wanted to have tuatara as part of that, but because the building wasn't able to house them, we had to wait until we had a building able to provide the right environment so the new building has been the catalyst for us getting these two baby dragons now."

A competition to name the two tuatara is to be held by More FM, but as the sex of the tuatara won't be known for a while, in some cases several years, any submitted names should be uni-sex.

"We are delighted and just so excited to have the tuatara here now and we think they will be a huge hit with the public," she said.

For now they would be exhibited in an indoor enclosure, but in the future an outdoor section may be included too.

Mrs Fry-Kewene said tuatara fed on insects - beetles, weta, worms, millipedes and spiders - and Kiwi North bred its own supply of insects and bugs to keep all its occupants well fed.

Tuatara facts

  • While they look like lizards, tuatara are actually the only surviving members of a group called Sphenodontia that roamed the earth during the age of the dinosaurs about 200 million years ago. All of the other species in the group became extinct about 60 million years ago. Tuatara are therefore valuable in teaching us about ancient life forms.

  • Tuatara (meaning "spiny back" in Maori) are New Zealand's largest reptile. Adult males measure up to half a metre in length and weigh up to 1.5kg fully grown.

  • Average tuatara life span is about 60 years but they probably live up to 100 years.

  • The male has a crest of spines running along the neck and down the back, which he can fan out to attract females or when fighting other males.

  • Tuatara once lived throughout New Zealand but have survived in the wild only on 32 offshore islands.

  • The number of surviving tuatara is around 100,000, about half on Stephens Island in Cook Strait and the rest on islands of the Marlborough Sounds, Hauraki Gulf, Northland, Coromandel Peninsula and Bay of Plenty.


- Northern Advocate

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