Jul
10
2008

Going, going, gone?: Will global warming doom the tuatara?
Going, going, gone?: Will global warming doom the tuatara?Courtesy Andrew_mrt1976

The tuatara looks like a lizard, but it ain’t. It actually split off from the lizard family tree some 200 million years ago, frolicked with the dinosaurs, and is considered a “living fossil.”

How much longer it will go on living is a matter of some debate. Restricted to a few small islands off New Zealand, the tuatara has long been classified as a vulnerable species. But some researchers feel it faces a new threat: global warming.

Many reptile reproductive systems are tuned to temperature. If the weather is warm, a male hatches. If the climate is cold, the egg produces a female. Some researchers fear that warming temperatures will lead to nothing but male tuataras within 75 years, ending the species’ 200-million-year run.

Most of the article is hidden behind a subscription wall, so I don’t know if the researchers ever get around to explaining how the tuatara survived the much, much warmer temperatures of the Mesozoic, and the much, much cooler temperatures of the Ice Ages, without going extinct then, too. But I’m sure it’s a beautiful explanation, though.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I was just reading about the tuatara the other day (oddly enough)...

The thing has a freakin' third eye! It's got a lens and retina and everything, but it's only visible in hatchlings before it's covered up by scales! Aah!

I wonder if the danger to the tuatara has to do with it's current range? During the Mesozoic it probably wasn't restricted to New Zealand (it looks like New Zealand only separated from the supercontinent about 99 - 24 million ya) and so it could have survived in slightly chillier than average regions. And during the ice age it looks like NZ was only a few degrees colder. A few degrees can be a big deal to ecosystems, but this page suggests that the island's north south orientation allowed animals to migrate to more suitable regions during the ice age. Just thinking out loud (typing).

posted on Thu, 07/10/2008 - 2:13pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Animals with restricted ranges are always in greater danger.

Hey, according to this site, the tuatara has been a protected species since 1895 -- that's 113 years ago!

Third eye? Kill it before it grows!

posted on Thu, 07/10/2008 - 10:19pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Have to tell the primary class students more about tuataras....any more info on it?

posted on Mon, 08/11/2008 - 3:34am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Yes! There's a 111-year-old tuatara in New Zealand that just mated for the very first time! Whoa! But more on that later...

posted on Mon, 08/11/2008 - 9:25am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Here's a link. If the animals can mate so late in life, then worries about population imbalances over the next few decades would seem to be overblown.

posted on Fri, 08/15/2008 - 3:19pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

That's what I was thinking. But then again... if it's at all common for them to not mate until that late in life, that's no good.

Also, if the issue is that a changing climate is causing mostly males to be born (or hatch, whatever), then it might not matter so much how much they mate.

posted on Fri, 08/15/2008 - 3:46pm
shoeface's picture
shoeface says:

people should just chillax about everything you know?

posted on Sat, 08/16/2008 - 4:20pm

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