He is greenish brown, has dragon scales for skin, grows up to 32 inches and is the world’s last remaining lizard-like reptile that has a lineage dating back to about 225 million years when dinosaurs still roamed the earth—he’s a tuatara and he’s making a comeback. A species native to New Zealand, the tuatara was spotted nesting in a sanctuary close to Wellington last week, the first such sighting in 200 years. Staff at the 620-acre Karori Wildlife Sanctuary stumbled upon four white, leathery ping-pong sized tuatara eggs during routine maintenance work at the end of last week.
A rare find, the nest is the first concrete proof that tuatara are breeding again, said sanctuary officials of the species that, unlike other reptiles, has two rows of top teeth and a light-sensitive “third eye” on its forehead, which is visible for about six months when it hatches. In an effort to save the species that once flourished in the Mesozoic Era and almost neared extinction in the 1700s because of the introduction of predators like rats, the Karori Sanctuary created 70 tuatara in 2005 and another 130 in 2007, before releasing them into the wild. At the moment, tuatara can only be found living in the wild in 32 offshore islands that have been removed of possible predators.
Sanctuary officials said the eggs were most likely laid a year ago and that there could be more since an average nest usually contains around 10 eggs. If incubated properly, the eggs, which have been left at its original location to avoid any further disturbance, should hatch some time between now and March.