Tuatara

These New Zealanders can live to be over 100 years old, with their eggs taking at least a year to hatch!

VMJones

Stands as a living relic of prehistoric times, offering a glimpse into the ancient past of reptilian evolution. Endemic to New Zealand, these remarkable reptiles were once widespread across the mainland but are now restricted to a few islands, earning them the status of living fossils.

“Tuatara” originates from the Maori language, meaning “peaks on the back,” a nod to the distinctive spiny crest that adorns their backs. Despite their superficial resemblance to iguanas, Tuataras possess unique features that set them apart. They are nocturnal creatures, preferring to emerge under darkness to hunt for prey. While their diet primarily consists of insects, they may also opportunistically consume other small vertebrates and bird eggs.

Tuataras are renowned for their slow growth rate and delayed sexual maturity. It is estimated that females do not reach sexual maturity until they are at least 20 years old—a testament to their longevity and resilience. Reproduction is a slow process for Tuataras, with females laying just one egg every four years. This reproductive strategy, although seemingly inefficient, reflects their adaptation to the challenges of their environment.

Despite their resilience, Tuataras face significant threats to their survival, particularly from invasive species like rats. These predators pose a significant risk to Tuatara populations, preying on eggs, hatchlings, and even adult individuals. In response to these threats, conservation efforts have focused on rat eradication programs, captive breeding initiatives, and establishing predator-free sanctuaries on offshore islands.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
New Zealand
50,000
LC
2019
North Is., South Is.

Did you know?

  • Tuatara can regrow a lost tail
  • A male can fan out his spines to attract a female
  • Tuatara are the largest reptile in New Zealand

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No