Comparison of the fatty-acid compositions of prey items and yolks of Australian insectivorous scincid lizards
Tuatara (Sphenodon) are rare reptiles endemic to New Zealand. Wild tuatara on Stephens Island (study population) prey on insects as well as the eggs and chicks of a small nesting seabird, the fairy prion (Pachyptila turtur). Tuatara in captivity (zoos) are fed diets containing different insects and lacking seabirds. We compared the fatty acid composition of major dietary items and plasma of wild and captive tuatara. Fairy prions (eaten by tuatara in the wild) were rich in C20 and C22 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), especially the n-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In contrast, items from the diet of captive tuatara contained no C20 and C22 PUFA and were higher in medium-chain and less unsaturated fatty acids. Plasma from wild tuatara was higher in n-3 PUFA [including alpha-linoleic acid (C18:3n-3), EPA and DHA], and generally lower in oleic acid (C18:1) and palmitic acid (C16:0), than plasma from captive tuatara in the various fractions (phospholipid, triacylglycerol, cholesterol ester and free fatty acids). Plasma from wild adult tuatara showed strong seasonal variation in fatty acid composition, reflecting seasonal consumption of fairy prions. Differences in the composition of diets and plasma between wild and captive tuatara may have consequences for growth and reproduction in captivity.