The Tuatara Sphenodon puctatus

  • The 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 long extinct.
  • The name, tuatara, is a Maori word that means "peaks on the back". Sphenodon, its generic name, means "wedge tooth".
  • The 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 organ.
  • The 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.
  • The museum has both mounted tuataras and a skeleton.

View a Quicktime movie from the TV New Zealand Natural History Unit (850 kB)


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