What Are the Main Foods That Tuataras Eat?

By Rob Harris

Lizardlike natives of New Zealand, tuataras are opportunistic carnivores. They like to hunt at night, and they eat a variety of foods that are close by or easy to grab. Insects are a favorite, but these reptiles commonly eat eggs and even the leftover scraps from a seabird's meal. Tuataras grow slowly, reaching maturity at about 13 to 20 years old; this slow growth is part of a slow metabolism, meaning they eat less often than other reptiles.

Insects

Insects are plentiful in a tuatara's natural habitat, making them favorite meals of the reptile. A tuatara crawls close to the insect closely, then pounces quickly to grab the insect in his mouth. He's not picky, eating insects such as earthworms, beetles, grasshoppers, centipedes and flies. A tuatara often shares a burrow with seabirds, and he takes advantage of the nearby bird droppings that tend to attract insects. The tuatara also makes a tasty meal of a large New Zealand insect that resembles a cricket, although it's about the size of a mouse: a weta.

Reptiles and Amphibians

As opportunistic feeders, tuataras won't turn down an easy meal, even if it means cannibalizing young tuataras. This is a particularly bad habit, considering that tuataras are considered endangered; the length of time it takes to reach maturity makes it difficult for the species to grow their numbers when the reptiles prey on the younger generation. Tuataras can eat lizards, geckos and skinks, when they come in close contact with them. Tuataras also are known to eat frogs.

Birds

Sharing living quarters with birds makes birds an obvious dinner choice for tuataras. The reptiles tend to stick with young or small birds, sometimes breaking into bird eggs before they hatch. The reptiles have strong teeth that are fused with their jaws, making it easy for them to crack through even thick eggshells.

Leftovers

In addition to attracting insects with their droppings and providing easy access to eggs and chicks, seabirds play another vital role in the diet of tuataras. Seabirds catch fish and crustaceans and bring them back to their burrows. Tuataras snag fallen pieces of meat or pieces of the catch that the seabirds discard. This helps keep the burrows clean while the tuataras get an easy meal.