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Sphenodon punctatus

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The common tuatara of the genus Sphenodon that inhabits the Northern Islands of New Zealand


Tuatara are reptiles of the genus Sphenodon. The common name tuatara is derived from their distinctive spiny crest on their back. They are native to New Zealand. They are however in danger of extinction because of habitat loss and predation. At present, there are only two extant species of tuatara: Sphenodon punctatus (Northern Tuatara) and Sphenodon guntheri (Brothers Island Tuatara).

Spherodon punctatus is a reptilian species that belongs to the family Sphenodontidae of the order Rhynchocephalia. This species looks like lizard due to their appearance as well as having the ability to shed its tails through autotomy. This species though is distinct from lizards in certain important features such as in terms of skull and teeth morphology. They have a diapsid skull and have two sets of teeth on the upper jaw and one set on the lower jaw. They feed on arthropods, earthworms, snails, frogs, lizards, and other small animals.

Their population is estimated to be over 60,000.1 They were once widely distributed throughout New Zealand. However, they are now found on relatively inaccessible islands off the coast.

Scientific classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Rhynchocephalia
  • Family: Sphenodontidae
  • Genus: Sphenodon
  • Species: Sphenodon punctatus

Other common name(s):

  • Northern tuatara

See also:

1 Cree, A. (2002). Tuatara. In: Halliday, Tim and Adler, Kraig (eds.), The new encyclopedia of reptiles and amphibians, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 210–211.