January 27, 2009—A captive tuatara in New Zealand has unexpectedly become a father at the ripe old age of 111 after receiving treatment for a cancer that made him hostile toward prospective mates.
The centenarian tuatara, named Henry, was thought well past the mating game until he was caught canoodling with a female named Mildred last March—a consummation (pictured above) that resulted in 11 tuatara babies being hatched on Monday. (See video of Henry the Tuatara.)
Tuatara are indigenous New Zealand reptiles that resemble lizards but descend from a distinct lineage of reptile that walked the earth with the dinosaurs 225 million years ago, zoologists say. (See related story: "'Living Dinosaur' Is Fastest-Evolving Animal" [March 31, 2008].)
The rare creatures, which are estimated to number about 50,000, can reach up to 250 years of age.
Henry was at least 70 years old when he arrived at the museum, "a grumpy old man" who attacked other tuataras—including females—until a cancerous tumor was removed from his genitals in 2002, said Lindsay Hazley, tuatara curator for the Southland Museum and Art Gallery.
"I went off the idea he was good for breeding," Hazley told the Associated Press, but once the tumor was removed, "he was no longer aggressive."
The new hatchlings, born at the gallery, will provide a badly needed boost to the tuatara's genetic diversity, Hazley added.
—Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand
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