Tuatara are among the longest-lived cold-blooded animals, new research into reptiles and amphibians has found.
The study, which looked at the ageing rates of 77 of the cold-blooded four-legged animals, found tuatara had a 137-year life span, Te Herenga Waka–Victoria University of Wellington said in a statement.
In comparison, turtles lived for about 39 years, crocodiles for 21, salamanders for 10, and frogs for eight years.
Data on tuatara are from a 60-year study of a population of the reptiles on the small, rocky North Brother Island in Cook Strait.
“Once tuatara are of adult size, they are very slow to age,” study co-author Nicky Nelson, professor of conservation biology at Te Herenga Waka–Victoria University of Wellington, said.
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Gathering the data involved a huge effort by researchers, including nights spent searching for tuatara and catching them by hand, Nelson said.
Findings of the international study may help researchers understand the ageing rates of New Zealand’s other reptiles.
“We have a large number of these animals, including 126 species of lizard, and we still have a lot to learn about them,” Nelson said.
The research highlighted the importance of long-term studies, particularly for species such as tuatara that live for more than 100 years.
“We’ve studied the population on North Brother Island for decades. Several generations of researchers have contributed to the work and it’s given us one of the longest datasets used in this international comparison,” Nelson said.
Results of the study suggested the rate at which reptiles aged increased with mean environmental temperature, which was an important finding given global warming.
Long life was also associated with physical or chemical traits, such as having a shell or producing venom. The study authors found such “protective traits” enabled animals to age more slowly and live longer.
The research is published in the journal Science.