Strange New Zealand Reptile Chews Food

You may have heard the old saying that you should chew your food 32 times for good health. Like most mammals in the world, we humans tend to chew our food to aid in digestion. A commonly held theory has been that the ability to chew food is linked directly with high resting metabolisms observed in mammals. However, a new study suggests that this perception may not quite be a reality. Scientists from the University College of London observed chewing in a New Zealand reptile called the Tuatara.

Tuatara (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Most reptiles use repeated bites to break down food or in the case of snakes, simply swallow their food whole. This unique lizard however, uses a very complex chewing method to break down its food. One of the surprising discoveries with this reptile was that its ability to chew seemed to have no bearing on its metabolism. It uses its bottom jaw to push food in between two rows of upper teeth and then is able to move the lower jaw in sort of a sawing motion.  The researchers produced a video describing this process. See below to watch it in motion.

[Video Link]


Lead author Dr Marc Jones, UCL Cell and Developmental Biology, said, “The slicing jaws of the tuatara allow it to eat a wide range of prey including beetles, spiders, crickets, and small lizards. There are also several grizzly reports of sea birds being found decapitated following predation by tuatara.” The tuatara is actually a descendant of reptile that existed during the time of dinosaurs. Though its jaws are a rarity in today’s animals, there is fossil evidence showing that this system of chewing was once widespread among its ancestors. The study was published in the The Anatomical Record.


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Darrin Jenkins

Darrin is an IT manager for a large electrical contractor in Louisville KY. He is married and has 3 kids. He loves helping people with their technology needs. He runs a blog called Say Geek!