It's official—tuatara are breeding on Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington Harbour.
Proof comes in the form of a tiny baby tuatara which emerged last week from an egg found on the island. It's the first known offspring of 54 Brothers Island tuatara transferred to the island nine years ago.
And there may even be a sibling to follow. The egg was one of two taken from a buried nest on the island in May to be incubated at Victoria University of Wellington's School of Biological Sciences.
The Department of Conservation and tuatara experts from Victoria University of Wellington had long suspected the island's "robust and healthy" tuatara were breeding. But because the reptiles lead such secretive lives, and bury their tiny eggs in the ground, they had no tangible evidence—until the chance discovery of eggs beside a track on the island.
"The island ranger found two eggs which appeared to have been scratched from a burrow by another tuatara," DOC biodiversity programme manager Peter Simpson said.
"We would have been surprised if they hadn’t been breeding, but their buried nests are usually well concealed," Mr Simpson said.
He quickly alerted the experts and a probe of the burrow revealed six more eggs, two of which appeared to be viable. They were carefully monitored by Victoria University staff, who were thrilled to discover a fully formed, miniature tuatara had emerged from the egg overnight last Wednesday. Its sex has yet to be determined.
"We’ve been waiting for this for nine years. It’s fantastic," said School of Biological Sciences researcher Sue Keall.
"It’s the biggest sign yet of the success of the translocation programme."
The tuatara will be returned as soon as possible to join others in the wild on Matiu/Somes Island, a DOC-managed historic and scientific reserve.
"We'll look after it until it gets more robust but in nature parents desert the eggs in the nest as soon as they are laid. And from the moment they hatch, tuatara are very active and quick, and well able to fend for themselves."
The Matiu/Somes tuatara hatchling is just the second confirmed tuatara produced by Brothers Island tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) transferred to offshore islands. The first, which was found by Victoria University researchers in January this year and is approximately 5 years old, was produced by tuatara transferred to Titi Island in the Marlborough Sounds 12 years ago. These were the only two transfers of Brothers Island tuatara, directly from the island and from eggs hatched at Victoria University and raised at Nga Manu Nature Reserve in Waikanae.
"It's taken a wee while to confirm they are breeding but now we can say for certain that they are," Ms Keall said.
"We're all very excited."
Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.