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noun, plural: tuatara or tuataras

A nocturnal lizard-like reptile of the genus Sphenodon that is native to New Zealand


Tuatara resemble lizards with spines at the back. Their name is derived from Māori language and it means spine or peak on the back. Their distinctive features are their spiny crest made of triangular skin folds, having greenish brown and gray skin coloration, typical length of 80 cm from head to tail tip, a unique dentition wherein one of the two rows of teeth in the upper jaw overlaps with a single set on the lower jaw, possessing a well-developed parietal eye ("third eye"), ability to hear though lacking in external ear, with sprawling legs and clawed feet. They show sexual dimorphism. The males are larger and the spiny crest at the back is larger in males.

Tuatara are reptiles of the genus Sphenodon. There are two extant species of tuatara: Sphenodon punctatus (Northern Tuatara) and Sphenodon guntheri (Brothers Island Tuatara). Tuatara are native to New Zealand and are threatened by habitat loss and predation.

Word origin: Māori tua (back) + tara (spine, peak)

Scientific classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Rhynchocephalia
  • Family: Sphenodontidae
  • Genus: Sphenodon [Gray, 1831]

Scientific name:

  • Sphenodon punctatus
  • Sphenodon guntheri

Other common name(s):

  • sphenodon

See also: