tuatara is an ancient lizard-like reptile that has been around since
the Lower Triassic period, about 200 million years ago. It is the
only surviving member of the Order Rhynchocephalia - the rest are
name, tuatara, is a Maori word that means "peaks on the back".
Sphenodon, its generic name, means "wedge tooth".
differences between lizards and tuataras are in their skeletal structure.
They have an extra bone on the side of the skull that nachors the
bone to which the lower jaw is hinged. Furthermore, they have no copulatory
Rhynchocephalia thrived during the Triassic and Jurassic periods,
but while the dinosaurs were growing in numbers, this order was diminishing.
However, unlike the dinosaurs, the tuatara survived, though only in
New Zealand and surrounding islands. By the middle of the 19th century,
the tuatara was extinct on the main islands of New Zealand and now
lives only on the waterless islands offshore.
museum has both mounted tuataras and a skeleton.
a Quicktime movie from the TV New Zealand
Natural History Unit (850 kB)