Incubation of eggs of tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus



    1. School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Box 600, G.P.O. Wellington, New Zealand
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      Zoology Building (A08), School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia


Eggs of the tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus, were incubated either buried or half buried in vermiculite at constant temperatures of 15, 18, 20, 22 and 25 °C and constant water potentials between —90 and —400 kPa. Many clutches failed completely, possibly because they had been taken from females prior to proper shell development. Failed eggs were significantly smaller than successful eggs. Incubation is unsuccessful at 15 °C. Hatching success is high between 18 and 22 °C but low at 25 °C, but equally successful between 18 and 22°C. Incubation is strongly influenced by temperature, with mean incubation periods of 328 days at 18 °C, 259 days at 20 °C, 169 days at 22 °C and 150 days at 25 °C. Water potential generally has little influence on incubation time at a given temperature. Buried eggs hatch sooner than partially buried eggs at 20 °C but the large range makes significance dubious.

Eggs on the driest substrata at 18 and 20 °C lose water initially but then gain water through the rest of incubation. Eggs in all other conditions gain water throughout incubation, with the rate of i water absorption being maintained or increasing late in incubation. The suggestion that increasing rate of water absorption late in incubation facilitates explosive hatching is not supported. Egg mass at the time of hatching varies from 132 to 398% of initial values, depending on incubation conditions. Final egg mass is not affected significantly by incubation temperature. Hence, rates of absorption increase with temperature.

Water potential has no influence on hatchling size. However, hatchlings from buried eggs generally are significantly larger than those from partially buried eggs.