Home Science & Technology Tuatara has steak-knife teeth and chews like no other land animal

Tuatara has steak-knife teeth and chews like no other land animal

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, a reptile living in , has a unique way of chewing its food, say scientists who have studied its in detail.

This beak-headed reptile uses a “steak-knife sawing motion” as it chews.

This could help explain how the species has continued to adapt to a changing world – and changes in available prey – over more than 200 million years.

A computer model of the tuatara, recreating its jaws as it munched on prey, has revealed that it chews like no other land animal.

This seems to allow it to “slice up” food that is too big for its mouth.

Tuatara a reptile living in New Zealand has a unique way of chewing its food say scientists who have studied its jaws in detail photo

Tuatara, a reptile living in New Zealand, has a unique way of chewing its food, say scientists who have studied its jaws in detail

In their paper in the journal The Anatomical Record, the researchers describe how the teeth of the tuatara’s lower jaw close between two upper rows of teeth “before sliding forward to slice food apart like a draw-cut saw”.

Lead researcher Marc Jones from said this was very unlike any living lizard or snake, which used “more of a simple opening and closing” motion.


The UK-based researchers were able to observe and film chewing tuataras at Chester Zoo.

Dr. Marc Jones and his colleagues from the universities of Hull and York then used this footage to accurately digitise and simulate the creature’s characteristic chomp.

He said that the “slicing jaws” of the tuatara allowed it to eat a wide range of prey including beetles, spiders, crickets and small lizards.

But he added that this study helped to explain some rather gruesome discoveries in the reptile’s habitat.

“People have described finding seabirds with their heads sawn off,” said Dr. Marc Jones.

“Tuatara will tend to go for hatchlings if they can, but as far as I can make out [they] do sometimes take small adults.

“[We think] they change their diet seasonally – eating lots more seabirds during the summer.”

Although the tuatara looks very much like a lizard, it actually belongs to a group of animals commonly known as beak heads, or Rhynchocephalia in the formal terminology.

The reptile, found wild only in New Zealand, is the last surviving species of its group. Its relatives died out more than 200 million years ago.

At that time, the creatures were spread throughout the globe; scientists have found some the fossilised remains of the tuatara’s extinct relatives in the UK.

It is not entirely clear how and why the rest of these ancient reptiles became extinct, but the tuatara’s ability to saw up its food could be a secret to its continued survival.

 

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James is a professor in Science. His writing skills brought him to BelleNews. He enjoys writing articles for the Science and Technology category. James often finds himself reading about the latest gadgets as the topic is very appealing to him. He likes reading and listening to classical music.