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Tuatara
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Sphenodon punctatus
ORDER: Rhychocephalia
FAMILY: Shenodontidae
RANGE: Islands off of mainland New Zealand
HABITAT: Scrubby patches on small, rocky islands
DIET: Hatchling birds and invertebrates, such as the endangered Weta
ENEMIES: Introduced rodents prey on eggs and young
Status: Endangered due to pressures from introduced species

Although they superficially resemble a lizard, the two recognized species of Tuatara are actually the last remaining representatives of the “beaked reptiles”. Some notable traits that make the Tuatara unique are its affinity for cooler temperatures, slow growth rate, and a third eye. All vertebrates have a pineal body that is located between the two eyes, but the Tuatara’s is complete with a rudimentary lens and retina and is capable of discerning light from dark.

When humans arrived to New Zealand, they brought with them Norway Rats that preyed heavily on the eggs of the Tuatara, contributing to their extinction from the mainland. The reproductive strategy of this species makes it a prime candidate for extinction. The female lays relatively few eggs (6-10), which take up to 16 months to hatch. This extended time of heightened vulnerability as eggs gives the rats more time to find and eat the next generation. Also contributing to their vulnerability, generation times are long, with sexual maturity reached in 15-20 years. It mat take a hatchling approximately 10-15 years to reach sexual maturity. Tuatara are reported to have a maximum life span of over 100 years in the wild.