|Geographical Range||New Zealand's offshore islands|
|Habitat||Coastal forests, scrublands|
|Scientific Name||Sphenodon punctatus|
This lizard-like reptile has many interesting features. One is its "third eye," which has a lens and retina but no iris. In adults, skin thickens over the eye in opaque scales. The purpose of the eye is not known.
Tuataras have a slow metabolism. They breathe about once every seven seconds, but they can go for an hour without a breath. Perhaps that's why they can live to be more than 100 years old.
Tuataras also take it slow when it comes to breeding. After courtship and mating, nearly 10 months pass before a female lays eggs. An additional 12 months of incubation are necessary before the young hatch!
These reptiles are found only in New Zealand, where they fared well until the arrival of humans. People and their cats, dogs, rats and mice spelled disaster for tuataras. By the late 1800s, they were eliminated from the New Zealand mainland and were then confined to a number of small offshore islands.
Today tuataras are strictly protected by the government of New Zealand. All of their inaccessible islands are classified as wildlife refuges. For this reason, IUCN (an organization that determines species' Conservation Status) considers the species to be at low risk, or common. Still, the future of the tuatara is uncertain.
Did You Know?
Tuataras are the last surviving members of the order Rhynchocephalia, or beak-heads. These ancient reptiles once flourished as long ago as 225 million years, before dinosaurs. About 70 million years ago they became extinct everywhere except New Zealand.