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Conservation of the Tuatara

Tuatara Conservation

Tuatara Tours are proud to be actively involved in Tuatara Conservation.

Tuatara Tours is proud to have formally adopted “BP”, a male juvenile tuatara who resides at Orana Park in Christchurch and is part of the conservation programme to ensure the safe future of these amazing reptiles.
"BP" showing off in the sun.
"BP" features prominently in education.
"BP" is the largest of the Tuataras in the Orana Park conservation programme.


I am ageing very well.

Tuatara, What Are They?

Often called a “living fossil”, the Tuatara's dinosaur relatives died out 60 million years ago. They are among the most primitive living reptiles, having undergone few evolutionary changes in anatomy during the past 200 million years. Biologists classify them in an order of its own having an equal rank to the turtles, crocodilians, lizards and snakes.
Tuatara are members of a unique group called Sphenodontia.
Sphenodontia roamed the earth during the age of the dinosaurs about 200 million years ago and Tuatara are the only survivors of that group. In the teaching about ancient life forms Tuatara are therefore of huge international interest.

Tuatara, Where Are They Found?

They live in sanctuaries on Stephens Island in Cook Strait and other islands in the Marlborough Sounds as well as islands in the Hauraki Gulf, off Northland, the Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Plenty.

When Europeans arrived in NZ, Tuatara were found only on offshore islands. These islands are occupied by colonies of breeding seabirds whose presence greatly attributes to the number of food sources for the Tuatara.

There is estimated to be around 100,000 surviving Tuatara and they only survive on islands that are free of introduced predators.
Don't try it!
I'm too fast for you.

Tuatara, Weird and Wonderful Facts.

Scientists have found that some tuatara populations have very skewed sex ratios with many more males than females. They suspect this could be because of rising temperatures and are concerned that global warming could potentially cause the extinction of tuatara. Once a population has too many more males than females, not enough young can be produced to replace old animals that die and extinction is inevitable. Further research is being conducted to determine if tuatara will be able to somehow adapt to a warmer climate, or if more drastic management measures will be needed to protect the species.

Did You Know?

  • The tuatara is native to New Zealand
  • Tuatara are reptiles – but they’re not lizards. - They are only found in New Zealand.
  • Tuatara were around before the dinosaurs and have survived for almost 200 million years
  • The tuatara is the sole survivor of the beak-heads which is a group of very ancient reptiles
  • The tuatara is the most ancient of all living reptiles.
  • The tuatara was one of New Zealand’s first native species to be fully protected by law in 1895. Before then, hundreds of specimens were shipped overseas for museums and private collections. Poaching is still a problem today, although diminished by the tuatara’s legal protection and remote locations.
  • Tuatara (meaning ‘spiny back’ in Mäori) are New Zealand’s largest reptile, with adult males measuring up to about a half metre in length and weighing up to 1.5 kilograms when fully grown. The male has a distinctive crest of spines running along the neck and down the back, which he can fan out to attract females or when fighting with other males.
  • The male is much bigger than the female
  • Adults are between 30 and 75 centimetres long,
  • They weigh between 250 and 1,200 grams.
  • Tuatara have a gland beneath the skin on the head, which contains a simple ‘third eye’. The ‘third eye’ is visible under young tuatara’s skin and becomes covered with scales after four to six months. The purpose of this ‘eye’ is still largely a mystery, although theories suggest it may help absorb vitamin D from sunlight or function as a biological clock.
  • They can hold their breath for an hour!
  • They grow very slowly and only stop growing when they are 35 years old.
  • They can live to be over 100 years old.
  • Like other reptiles, tuatara are cold-blooded, which means their temperatures change with the air temperature. The scientific name for cold-blooded is ‘poikilothermic’.
  • The sex of baby tuatara is determined by soil temperature; warmer temperatures produce predominantly males and cooler temperatures mean females.
  • Tuatara are far more sensitive to temperature than other reptiles. Just one degree change means the difference between a boy or a girl. At 21°C, all of the young born are females, whereas a one degree rise to 22°C means all of the young are male.
  • Tuataras are unusual reptiles because they like cool weather. They do not survive well over 25 degrees centigrade but can live below 5 degrees, by sheltering in burrows.
  • Tuatara mate differently from other reptiles. The male tuatara does not have a penis; he mounts the female and passes sperm straight from his cloaca to hers.
  • Tuatara are nocturnal and prefer cool weather. However they will often bask in the sun to warm their bodies – but they are careful not to over-heat.
  • On warm nights they come out to hunt for food. Their diet consists primarily of invertebrates such as beetles, weta, worms, millipedes and spiders, and the remainder is made up of lizards, seabird eggs and chicks and even, on occasion, their own young. This seems to be why juveniles are active during the day while adults are in their burrows, and hide at night when the adults come out to feed.
  • Young tuatara hunt for food during the day – to avoid being eaten by adult tuatara at night!
  • Tuatara have a single row of teeth in the lower jaw that fits between two rows of teeth in the upper jaw. This helps tuatara tear apart hard foods such as wëtä.
  • The colour of tuatara ranges from olive green to brown to orange-red, and they can change colour over their lifetime
  • They shed their skin once a year
  • They often live in old burrows previously dug by seabirds but they aren’t likely to share with the birds. A tuatara might bite off a baby bird’s head if it is hungry – which doesn’t make it a very good house guest!
  • Tuatara use their ‘egg tooth’, a spike on the end of their snout, to break out of their egg. The ‘egg tooth’ will fall off during the first three weeks of life.
  • The major threats to tuatara today are habitat destruction and introduced mammalian predators, especially rats. Rats prey on young tuatara and eggs and also compete with adults for food. Because tuatara only survive on islands, they are very vulnerable to changes in the islands’ habitat (such as fires) and to the loss of genetic diversity within their small, isolated island populations.
  • Tuatara are amazing creatures. If we protect them they will survive and not become extinct.
"BP" enjoys the sun at Orana Park.
Minutes after this photo was taken "BP" decided that the grass was not for him and he ran off with amazing speed. The keepers were ready for this and he was captured after a quick sprint.

Tuatara, Where Can I See Them?

You can see tuatara at places such as the Southland Museum (Invercargill), Willowbank and Orana Park (Christchurch), Natureland (Nelson).
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  • Tourism Industry Aotearoa
  • Department of Conservation
  • Tourism Industry

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