Genus Sphenodon

Fascinating Facts

  • Tuataras are the only living member of their order – they are called “living fossils” because the rest went extinct 60 million years ago!
  • An introduced population of rats are considered to be the greatest threat to tuataras.
  • They have two rows of teeth on the top, and one on the bottom.
  • “Tuatara” is a native Maori word meaning “spiny back”.
  • Tuataras have a “third eye” on the top of the head covered by scales with a retina, lens, and nerve endings that is sensitive to light.
  • Unlike lizards, tuataras have nocturnal habits, have a preference for cool weather, and lack external ears.


Tuataras find burrows created by other animals, and will often share them. They eat insects, lizards, birds, and eggs. Young tuataras will hunt during the day to avoid being eaten by adults, who hunt at night.

Status in the Wild

Cook Straight Tuatara – Least Concern, IUCN 1996

Brothers Island Tuatara – Vulnerable, IUCN 1994


Once throughout mainland New Zealand, they are now only found on 32 offshore islands.

Location in the Zoo

Reptiles and Birds Zone of the Sculpture Learning Plaza

Animals & Exhibits