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(to͞o'ətär`ə) or


(–tā`rə), lizardlike reptilereptile,
name for the dry-skinned, usually scaly, cold-blooded vertebrates (see Chordata) of the order Reptilia. Reptiles are found in a variety of habitats throughout the warm and temperate regions (except on some islands), with the greatest variety in the tropics.
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, Sphenodon punctatus, last survivor of the reptilian order Rhynchocephalia, which flourished in the early Mesozoic era before the rise of the dinosaurs. Also called sphenodon, it is found on islands off the New Zealand coast and in Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, Wellington, New Zealand. The olive colored, yellow-speckled tuatara reaches a length of 2 ft (60 cm) or more. It is very lizardlike in external form, with a crest of spines down its neck and back. However, its internal anatomy, its scales, and the attachment of its teeth are quite different from those of lizards, and its body chemistry allows it to function at temperatures close to freezing. Like certain lizards, it possesses a vestigial third eye (pineal eye) on top of its head, but this organ is probably not sensitive to light. Tuataras usually inhabit the breeding burrows of certain small petrels. They feed on small animals, especially insects, and reproduce by laying eggs. Captive tuataras mature in about 20 years, and it appears that their life span may exceed a century by several decades.

Tuataras lived on the mainland of New Zealand before the arrival of the Maoris but either were exterminated by hunting or died out as a result of the altered environment. Their survival on the offshore islands was threatened by the introduction of sheep, which altered the vegetation by grazing; however, they are now under strict government protection, and their numbers are increasing. In 2005 tuataras were reintroduced on the mainland at the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

Tuataras are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Rhynchocephalia.



(Sphenodon punctatum), the sole surviving representative of the subclass Rhynchocephalia, known from the Triassic. Tuataras have biconcave vertebrae, two pairs of temporal fossae and two corresponding cranial arches, a quadrate bone immovably attached to the skull, a well-developed pineal body, and, as in fish, a sinus venosus in the heart. Externally, a tuatara resembles a lizard, with its massive body, large head, and penta-dactyl legs. On the back and tail is a low ridge of triangular scales. The body coloring is a dull olive-green.

Tuataras occupied both main islands of New Zealand prior to the arrival of the Europeans, but they were subsequently exterminated. They have survived only on rocky islets in the Bay of Plenty, where a special sanctuary was created for them. Tuataras live in holes approximately 1 m in depth, in which small petrels also frequently nest. They are active at twilight and at night. They feed on insects and other invertebrates and occasionally the eggs and nestlings of petrels. Mating takes place in January. From October to December, females lay eight to 15 hard-shelled eggs in the holes. Embryonic development lasts 12–15 months. Sexual maturity is not reached until age 20. Some tuataras have been known to survive as long as 50 years in captivity.



a greenish-grey lizard-like rhynchocephalian reptile, Sphenodon punctatus, occurring only on certain small islands near New Zealand: it is the sole surviving member of a group common in Mesozoic times
References in periodicals archive ?
Scientists say there are currently about 50,000 to 60,000 tuatara, but that the little dinosaurs may find themselves able to breed only in laboratories if temperatures continue to climb.
An eater of insects, the slow-moving tuatara can live more than 100 years.
The easiest way for the tuatara to survive would be for nesting female tuatara to change their behavior and modify the areas where they nest, such as laying eggs deeper in the soil," Moore says.
Although they won't try to bite you, tuataras have plenty of tiny, pointy teeth.
Tuataras have sturdy, sharp claws and can dig their own burrows.
Tuataras are very slow breathers--they usually take a breath about once every seven seconds.
The wines -- a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir -- are named after an endangered reptile, the Tuatara, which is found only on 30 tiny offshore islands in New Zealand.
Paleontological and morphological studies place turtles as either evolving from the ancestor of all reptiles or as evolving from the ancestor of snakes, lizards, and tuataras.
Turtles have been an enigmatic vertebrate group for a long time and morphological studies placed them as either most closely related to the ancestral reptiles, that diverged early in the reptile evolutionary tree, or as closer to lizards, snakes, and tuataras," said Crawford.
By showing that turtles are closely related to crocodiles and birds (Archosaurs) than lizards, snakes and tuatara (Lepidosaurs), the study by a team of Boston University researchers has challenged previous anatomical and Paleontological assessments.
Washington, July 30 (ANI): A new research by scientists has named mammals and many species of birds and fish as evolution's "winners", while crocodiles, alligators and a reptile cousin of snakes known as the tuatara are among the "losers".
The tuatara, which lives in New Zealand and resembles lizards has only two species.