Tuatara - Sphenodon punctatus and Sphenodon guntheri
Distribution Offshore islands of New Zealand
General Tuatara are hatteria, as are snakes and turtles. Tuatara are the only member of order Sphenodontia. Tuatara once lived throughout the mainland of New Zealand but have survived on 32 offshore islands. The islands are usually occupied by colonies of breeding seabirds which contribute to the fertility of soil, and wealth of invertebrate and lizard fauna needed by tuatara who also consume young birds - as seen below.
Recent advances in both the ability to eradicate rodents from islands and the captive incubation and raising of tuatara have allowed the species to be translocated to a further four islands presumably inhabited by tuatara in the past.
It seems that there are likely to be sub species of Tuatara to be identified.
Concerns are that Tuatara produce only males when the temperature is higher so that in the event of global warming they may not survive in the wild.
Of the four reptile groups, there are the lizards and snakes in one, turtles & similar in another, crocodiles/alligators in the third and then Tuatara by itself in the fourth. So Tuatara are very unique.
Tuatara in Maori refers to the peaks on its back. Another interesting fact is that they have a simple 3rd eye which enables them to absorb vitamin D when young. Scales grow over this 3rd eye when the Tuatara reaches a few months old.
Photographs below © Dr Paddy Ryan
© Chris McLennan