Tuatara – Longtime resident Tuatara tawhito

The tuatara hasn’t changed much for at least 19 million years. 

He rite tonu te āhua o te tuatara ki ōna tūpuna i tērā 19 miriona tau. 


Sphenodon punctatus
Found on islands off northern North Island and in Cook Strait

Tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus. Te Papa (RE.002515)

Tuatara's ancestors have probably been here since the age of the dinosaurs, before New Zealand – Zealandia – split from the massive continent Gondwana.

Tuatara eggs and young survive on only about 30 offshore motu with few or no introduced predators. They grow slowly and live for about 60 years – but sometimes they can be 100!

Watch one male tuatara snaffle a wētā, and two males get in a scrap – they’re surprisingly speedy!

Footage by NHNZ Moving Images

Tuatara means ‘spiny back’. Males fan out their crest of spines to attract females or when fighting.

Tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus, photographed at Southland Museum, Invercargill, 2010. Photo by Bernard Spragg via Flickr. Public domain

This page is part of Te Ika Whenua | Unique NZ section of Te Taiao | Nature at Te Papa.