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The tuatara is an iconic endemic species of New Zealand and the Australian region, whose existence has been recorded for over 200 million years. This remarkable reptile belongs to a unique family that is not found elsewhere in the world, making it one of the most ancient living creatures on Earth. In this article we will explore the fascinating biology and behavior of the tuatara, as well as its current conservation status and future prospects.

The body plan of tuataras has remained largely unchanged since their first appearance in fossil records; they have a distinct triangular head with two rows of spines along their back from neck to tail. Tuataras also possess a third eye on top of their heads which helps them regulate body temperature by sensing changes in light levels and responding accordingly.

They are usually dark brown or olive green in colour but may change shades according to environmental conditions.

Tuataras live primarily on small islands off the coastlines of New Zealand and Australia, where they can be seen basking in sunlight during daylight hours before retreating into burrows at night time.

Their diet consists mainly of insects such as beetles and weta (large ground-dwelling insect) supplemented by other invertebrates like spiders, earthworms, snails, lizards and even seabirds eggs when available. As they grow older they become more omnivorous, supplementing their diets with plant material like fruits and flowers.


Species Overview

Tuatara are the only living species of order Sphenodontia. They are reptiles endemic to New Zealand and have been around since the Mesozoic era, when dinosaurs lived. Tuataras can live up to 100 years old in the wild and they possess a unique combination of morphological, physiological and behavioral characteristics that make them interesting and distinct from other reptiles.

The tuatara species has two rows of large spines along its back which run all the way down their tail. The head is flat with small eyes covered by eye-lids made out of transparent scales while their body is elongated and cylindrical with olive green skin marked by yellowish stripes on the sides.

Their limbs are short but strong enough for digging burrows and climbing trees. They also have a third eye on top of their head known as parietal eye or pineal organ, which is sensitive to light changes even though it does not see pictures like normal eyes do.

Tuataras mainly feed on insects such as crickets, beetles, moths etc., although some larger individuals might eat lizards or carrion if available. During cold weathers they become torpid and remain inactive until temperatures rise again; however, during warmer months males become very active in search for food or mates.

When mating season arrives males will fight over females through ritualized displays or physical encounters using their sharp teeth. After successful copulation female lays her eggs in underground nest where she remains guarding them until hatching period starts at late summertime.

Anatomy And Physiology

The tuatara is an unusual reptile that has a distinctive anatomy and physiology. Its body is covered in scaly skin, and its head is cone-shaped with two eyes protected by distinct eyelids. The nostrils on the snout of the tuatara are located to either side of its nose. It also features well-developed legs for walking and digging, allowing it to easily move around its habitat.

The tuatara’s respiratory system consists of lungs, which allow it to breathe air while underwater or when hunting prey items. Its circulatory system includes both veins and arteries, as well as specialized organs such as hearts, livers, intestines, kidneys and glands. The digestive system processes food into energy through enzymes produced by the pancreas.

The reproductive organs of the tuatara include testes and ovaries which produce eggs that must be incubated externally before hatching occurs. Tuataras can live up to 100 years old in captivity due to their slow metabolism and ability to survive without food for extended periods of time. As one of the few surviving species from prehistoric times, the unique anatomy and physiology of this reptile make it a fascinating creature indeed.

Habitat And Distribution

Tuatara are endemic to New Zealand and can be found in the wild on offshore islands. Their natural habitat is rocky outcrops, sand dunes, lagoons, and coastal areas with a temperate climate. They prefer environments that offer plenty of cover from predators such as birds or cats. This species is also known for its ability to inhabit artificial habitats if necessary, including farm buildings and other structures that provide shelter from extreme weather conditions.

The tuatara distribution range covers most of New Zealand, apart from some parts of the North Island where they have become locally extinct due to introduced mammalian predators. Tuatara are restricted to only 32 sites throughout their native range; most of these occur on small islands off the mainland coast.

The largest population occurs on Stephens Island in Cook Strait and there has been an increase in numbers since predator control measures were implemented in 1989.

Most populations continue to decline primarily due to predation by mammals and loss/degradation of suitable habitat caused by human activities. To protect this species it is important that conservation efforts focus not only on safeguarding existing populations but also on creating new ones through translocation programs using captive-bred individuals.

Appropriate management should include large-scale habitat restoration projects which will benefit both tuatara and associated wildlife species inhabiting similar ecosystems.

Diet And Feeding Habits

The tuatara is an insectivorous species that feeds on a wide range of prey items including invertebrates and other small vertebrates. Its diet varies depending upon the availability of food sources in its habitat, as well as individual foraging behavior.

Tuataras primarily feed on insects such as beetles, cicadas, caterpillars, spiders and moths. They have also been known to consume baby mice and lizards when they are available. Other potential prey items include earthworms, crickets and centipedes. The size of the prey item consumed by a tuatara can vary significantly according to their location and environment.

In addition to predation, tuataras will scavenge for carrion or dead animals if there is no other source of food present. This enables them to take advantage of additional food sources which may not normally be available in their natural habitats. Tuataras can even locate food beneath rocks or logs where prey species hide from predators.

Tuatara diets reflect the environmental conditions within their particular ecosystems; thus providing valuable insight into ecological dynamics. In some cases, this dietary flexibility allows these reptiles to survive during periods with limited resources due to seasonal changes in climate or competition with other species for scarce resources such as water or shelter.

By understanding their diet and feeding habits more fully we can gain greater insight into how these creatures interact with their environments and adapt over time to different circumstances.

  • Diet:
  • Mostly Insects: beetles, cicadas, caterpillars, spiders & moths
  • Also eat baby mice & lizards (if available)
  • Can also scavenge carrion/dead animals
  • Food Sources:
  • Varies based on availability & individual foraging behavior
  • Can find food under rocks/logs where prey hides from predators
  • Ecological Dynamics:
  • Dietary flexibility allows them to survive despite resource scarcity
  • Insightful view of how they interact with their environment & adapt over time

Reproduction And Life Cycle

Tuatara have a unique and complex reproductive system, as they reproduce through sexual reproduction. A tuatara’s lifespan can be over 100 years, with the female taking an average of 11 to 12 years to reach sexual maturity and males reaching it between 8 and 10 years old. However, both sexes may not breed until at least 15–20 years of age.

The breeding season for tuataras starts in October and November each year; this is when the male will move around searching for potential mates. The female digs her nest in early spring, usually in March or April, laying 4-12 eggs which take approximately 9 months to incubate before hatching.

Sexual Maturity11 – 12 Years (Female), 8 – 10 Years (Male)
Breeding SeasonOctober – November
Egg LayingEarly Spring (March/April)
Incubation Period9 Months

After hatching the young go through several juvenile stages where they slowly grow into adulthood over time. During these juvenile stages their diet consists mostly of insects and small lizards which are abundant on New Zealand islands that provide suitable habitat for them such as offshore islands within Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. In comparison to adults, juveniles tend to prefer more humid habitats than drier areas like those preferred by adult tuataras .

No other reptiles share characteristics similar to that of the tuatara’s long egg incubation period making them one of the few species in the world with such adaptations allowing them survive environmental changes during its lifetime while still providing adequate protection for its offspring throughout their development.

Conservation Status

The tuatara is an endangered species and conservation of the species has become a top priority. In New Zealand, this involves several initiatives such as:

  • The Department of Conservation managing pest control on offshore islands
  • Tuatara Recovery Groups monitoring populations in mainland areas
  • Captive breeding programs at wildlife sanctuaries.

In addition to these management efforts, there are other issues that need to be addressed when it comes to conserving the species. For example, habitat loss due to human activity continues to threaten wild tuatara populations. As well, climate change may also have an effect on their survival rates by increasing temperatures and reducing food availability for adults and young alike.

To ensure successful conservation of the tuatara, a comprehensive approach must be taken which includes management strategies, research into the effects of environmental changes, public education about threats facing the species and continued funding from government agencies and private donors. By focusing efforts in these areas, we can help protect one of New Zealand’s most remarkable native species for future generations.

Interactions With Humans

Tuatara are highly elusive and shy animals, which typically avoid human interaction. Generally these interactions with humans occur when a tuatara is in captivity, such as those kept in zoos or pet stores. In some cases, tuatara may become accustomed to the presence of people if they are regularly exposed to them from an early age.

However, even when held captive for long periods of time, tuatara will rarely interact directly with their handlers; rather preferring to remain solitary due to their natural tendency for self-preservation. Although it can be difficult to observe any form of meaningful communication between the two species, there have been recorded instances of mutual recognition between the tuatara and its caretaker. These observations suggest that at least on some level, the animal acknowledges the human’s presence.

The few reports available document positive experiences while interacting with captive tuataras; however more research into this area is needed in order to gain a better understanding of how these animals behave in captivity and what type of interactions they experience with humans. Ultimately this would help inform decisions regarding appropriate methods for caring for these unique creatures both in captivity and in the wild.


The tuatara is an iconic and ancient species of reptile that has been a part of New Zealand’s biodiversity for centuries. It has adapted to its environment over time, including having unique anatomical features and specific habitats that provide it with the resources necessary for survival.

The diet consists mainly of insects and other invertebrates, which are actively sought out by these animals in order to sustain themselves. Reproduction occurs during a certain period each year and involves courtship rituals in order to ensure successful mating.

Tuataras were once widespread throughout their range but have now become endangered due to human activities such as predation, habitat destruction, and competition from introduced species. Conservation measures must be implemented in order to protect this important animal from further decline.

Tuataras play a vital role within their ecosystems; they help maintain healthy populations of prey species while also providing food sources for predators higher up on the food chain.

Additionally, through their physical appearance they represent an evolutionary link between lizards and crocodiles, giving us insights into our planet’s distant past. Finally, their presence serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving natural environments so that future generations can continue to benefit from the rich biodiversity found there.

In conclusion, the tuatara is an ecologically significant creature whose existence should not be taken for granted or overlooked. Its ancient lineage provides valuable insight into how some reptiles evolved over millions of years ago, while its current status highlights just how vulnerable many species are when faced with environmental threats imposed by humans.

Protecting this remarkable animal requires understanding its needs as well as acting upon them in ways that promote overall health and resilience within New Zealand’s native ecosystems.