Meet the tuatara

Tuataras look like lizards, but they are the last living members of an ancient group of reptiles called sphenodonts. 

Stewart Nimmo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today tuataras live only in New Zealand, but their sphenodont relatives used to live all over the world. Some tuataras may live to be over 200 years old!

Tuataras eat insects, worms, and sometimes baby seabirds that live near the burrows where tuataras live. Scientists have found that when tuataras chew, their sharp teeth cut up their food like steak knives. Don’t put your finger near a tuatara’s mouth!

Tuataras have a third eye above their regular two eyes. This eye probably could see at one time, but now can only sense light. The eye is only seen in baby tuataras and in adults is covered by a scale. Tuataras are triclops!

A guy once broke into a museum and stole some tuataras. Fortunately he was caught, and the tuataras were safe. In parts of New Zealand, introduced predators like rats are being removed to help restore tuatara populations.  

Additional resources:
Video credit: TVNZ/New Zealand Department of Conservation

New Zealand Department of Conservation | Te Papa Atawhai: learn about tuataras

Written by David Brown


New Zealand Department of Conservation | Te Papa Atawhai

Smith, Jennie Erin. 2011. Stolen World: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery.  Random House Digital, Inc.

Thanks to Israel Didham

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