- The Tuatara represents a reptile endemic to the country of New Zealand. Physiologically, the Tuatara remains the most primitive species of reptile known to man.
- Taxonomic studies also determined that it underwent numerous evolutionary adaptations over time. However, its physiology remains the closest to their Mesozoic Era ancestors of any known species.
- Currently, only two known species of Tuatara still exist. The second species was not identified until the year 1989.
- A third species, that existed previously, has now become extinct.
- Both extant species of this animal have now become functionally extinct on the New Zealand mainland.
- The only known population of this unique creature also resides within the confines of the protected and monitored Karori Sanctuary.
Tuatara Physical Characteristics and Distinctiveness
Both types of Tuatara display a degree of sexual dimorphism. The males typically grow about one-third larger than the females. Males average roughly 24 in (61 cm) long and 2.2 lb (1 kg) in weight. Females average nearly 18 in (45 cm) in length, and 1.1 lb (0.5 kg) in weight.
In color, the Tuatara generally appears a greenish brown. This will alter over time, however, to adapt to their specific surroundings.
The Tuatara possesses one unique physical characteristic because it actually possesses a third eye. This eye is known as the parietal eye and is on top of their heads.
It is only visible on the young, and after 4-6 months, it becomes covered in opaque, yet pigmented, scales. It retains its functionality, though its precise purpose remains unknown.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Reptilia
- Order: Rhyncocephalia
- Family: Sphenodontidae
- Genus: Sphenodon
Tuatara Behavior and Status
The adult Tuatara remains a terrestrial animal. It also appears primarily nocturnal in nature, though it will frequently bask in the sun. Hatchlings typically seem diurnal and spend the majority of their time hiding under logs and rocks.
Researchers believe that this behavior remains principally due to the fact that adult Tuatara often shows cannibalistic tendencies. Though not toxic, they also tend to be rather aggressive and possess a powerful bite for a creature of their size.
Aside from the Karori Preserve, it now appears to be extinct on the mainland, however. Its population now only inhabits 32 small islands which continue to be free of competing mammals.
However, it also still remains numerous on these islands. This is attributed to the fact that the islands are inhospitable and rarely visited by humans, aside from researchers.