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May 2 is Tuatara Day

Today is Tuatara Day. On May 2, 1867, scientists first recognized that the tuatara, a reptile found only in New Zealand, is not a lizard (Squamata) as originally thought. Why is this important? Like Tigger and the Highlander, there can be only one. The tuatara is the sole surviving representative of its own group (Rhynchocephalia), which existed alongside dinosaurs.

tuatara on rock

Photo credit: Alison Cree

Although Rhyncocephalia is the closest living relative of Squamata, which includes both lizards and snakes, the two groups diverged about 250 million years ago. To put that family relationship into perspective, a human is more closely related to, say, a kangaroo, than the tuatara is to a lizard.

Tuatara Day evolutionary chart

Illustration: Marc E H Jones

Tuatara is a Māori name meaning “peaks on the back,” a reference to its spiny crest, and the species has been identified by the Māori people as a taonga (treasure). It is nocturnally active and spends its days basking in the sun or in a burrow. Although capable of digging the burrow itself, it prefers to use those made by birds.

Unlike a lizard, it has two rows of teeth on the top, which are fused to the jawbone. When feeding, the bottom row bites between the upper rows of teeth, then slides forward in a shearing motion that allows it to decapitate its prey, as evidenced by reports of birds’ headless bodies found outside their lairs. Not a nice way to treat one’s landlord, certainly.

Tuatara reach sexual maturity around age 14 and have been known to live up to 70 years in the wild and much longer in captivity. The male’s lack of external genitalia makes it useful to research into the evolution of the phallus in amniotes (mammals, birds, and reptiles). Because females only breed every two to five years, producing six to ten eggs that require incubation for up to a year, population numbers are low and protected, making it nearly impossible to obtain embryos for study.

In 2015, researchers used 3-D technology to virtually reconstruct an embryo from slides that had been prepared in 1909 and left in a collection at Harvard University ever since. Their finding that the embryo possessed genital buds suggests a single evolutionary origin of amniote external genitalia. As researcher Thomas J. Sanger wrote, “Without access to these museum specimens we would have no way of knowing the secrets of the tuatara penis.” Author’s note: As a layperson, while I found the subject fascinating, I began to feel I was, at the very least, invading the tuatara’s privacy, and at worst, straying into reptile porn territory. I’m pretty sure my Google search history has been flagged.

Once plentiful, tuatara numbers have decreased since the arrival of humans, dogs, and Pacific rats about 800 years ago. Rats, in particular, have decimated the number of tuatara, most likely due to competition for food and/or predation on eggs and juveniles. Rats, as well as possums and stoats, are being exterminated as part of a government initiative called Predator Free 2050 to save the tuatara and other native species from extinction. The cat, another introduced species, has apparently been exempted from the culling thus far. PETA remains strangely silent on New Zealand’s rodenticide.

Climate change is another threat to the tuatara, who exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination. The warmer an egg’s environment, the more likely the hatchling will be male. As temperatures rise, conservationists are taking steps, such as carefully relocating tuatara to milder areas to keep the ratio from skewing so male that the population collapses.

Although Tuatara Day was first celebrated in 2017 on the 150th anniversary of the scientists’ recognition, boasting its own hashtag, #150NotALizard, on social media, one tuatara had been making headlines since 2009. That’s when Henry, a tuatara living at New Zealand’s Southland Museum, achieved celebrity status after becoming a first-time parent at the ripe old age of 111.

His mate Mildred, a tuatara in her seventies, had apparently forgiven Henry for their disastrous first date 25 years earlier when he’d bitten off her tail, and she seemed unconcerned by their age difference. (We don’t like to use the phrase “robbing the cradle” since tuatara sometimes eat their young. It’s a bit of a sore subject.) Mildred laid 12 eggs and on January 25, 2009, after 223 days of incubation, 11 baby tuatara hatched.

Tuatara Day Prince Harry with Henry

Photo credit: Tim Rooke (Shutterstock)

Seven years later, Henry met Prince Harry on the then royal’s tour of New Zealand. There’s no mention of whether Mildred and the kids were in attendance, too. I was able to reach David Dudfield, Curator Manager at Southland Museum, who let me know that Henry is still going strong and recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his arrival there. He and Mildred have had so many more babies that the randy couple has been separated while staff work to find homes in the wild for some of their offspring.

No word on how he feels about Megxit.

Happy Tuatara Day!

Copyright 2020 Worldwide Weird Holidays

 

Sources:
Tuatara – Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 23
Evolution: One Penis After All – Current Biology, Volume 26, Issue 1
Not a lizard nor a dinosaur, tuatara is the sole survivor of a once-widespread reptile group – The Conversation
Reproduction of a Rare New Zealand Reptile, the Tuatara Sphenodon punctatus, on Rat‐Free and Rat‐Inhabited Islands – The Society for Conservation Biology
Resurrecting embryos of the tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus, to resolve vertebrate phallus evolution – Royal Society
Predator Free 2050 – New Zealand Department of Conservation
Predator Free 2050: New Zealand ramps up plan to purge all pests – BBC News
When a species can’t stand the heat – Science News for Students
Henry the tuatara is a dad at 111 – The Independent
Prince Harry strokes 118 year-old Tuatara reptile en route to New Zealand’s Stewart Island – The Telegraph

May 31 is Speak in Complete Sentences Day

speak in complete sentences dayToday is Speak in Complete Sentences Day. Celebrating this holiday may prove more difficult than you’d think.

The advent of text and email messages has led to an economy of words and a profusion of symbols, acronyms and slang. Sentence structure has been sacrificed on the altar of expediency. Emojis and acronyms are quick, convenient ways to express feeling or intent. Anyone who has hesitated before posting a status update, worried readers might misconstrue its tone, then added a winking face or “lol” can attest to the value of this form of shorthand.

Spell checking programs, if used at all, may lull writers into a false sense of security. Have the grammatical and spelling errors found on forums and blogs trickled up to professional sites? No matter its genesis, carelessness erodes our language skills each day we grow more accustomed and inured to it.

Today, honor your mother tongue by uttering and writing complete sentences. It could become a trend!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

May 30 is Water a Flower Day

Today is Water a Flower Day. We don’t know who started this day of observance, but we’re hoping that you won’t play favorites and show all your plants some love.

Dictionary.com defines a flower as:

water a flower day1. the blossom of a plant

2. Botany.

a. the part of a seed plant comprising the reproductive organs and their envelopes if any, especially when such envelopes are more or less conspicuous in form and color.

b. an analogous reproductive structure in other plants, as the mosses.

3. a plant, considered with reference to its blossom or cultivated for its floral beauty.

Pollen, when transferred between a flower’s male anther and female stigma, carries the genetic information necessary to create a new plant. Some flowers can pollinate themselves while others rely on cross-pollination by wind, insects or birds. The process produces seeds only when pollen moves between flowers of the same species.

Do your part to help Mother Nature today. If you need some inspiration, visit Geißkammen Museum in Geissen, Germany, devoted entirely to its collection of 1,087 watering cans. It is always working to expand the exhibit. Its website asks, “Would you like to donate a watering can and thus enrich our collection to another individual, horticultural aids for targeted artificial irrigation?” (Thank you to Google for that poetic translation.)

Happy Water a Flower Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

May 29 is Put a Pillow on Your Fridge Day

put a pillow on your fridge dayToday is Put a Pillow on Your Fridge Day, a new take on an old tradition.

Although we can find no origin for the practice, legend has it that at the turn of the 20th century, people in Europe and the U.S. placed a piece of cloth in their larders, cool spaces where they stored food before the advent of modern refrigeration.

Typically the cloth was taken from a blanket, sheet or nightgown in the superstitious belief that it would bring good fortune, bountiful food and abundant fertility to the household.

Larders were phased out as refrigerators became widely available.  General Electric’s popular Monitor-Top refrigerator, introduced in 1927, doomed the larder and the tradition as well.

In 2013, the practice was resurrected, with a twist. A pillow and refrigerator replaced the cloth and larder. (To be precise, the pillow would go inside the fridge, but that’s a minor quibble.)

Social media has helped raise awareness of the holiday. Today, you can tweet your support of #PutAPillowOnYourFridgeDay, buy a PAPOYFD pillow to put on your fridge (so meta) and upload photos of your pillow-topped fridges on the PAPOYFD Facebook page. Who knows? Maybe Likes will bring you luck!

Happy Put a Pillow on Your Fridge Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays