Hind limb of Tuatara
About the animal
The name “tuatara” comes from the Maori for “peaks on the back.” Tuataras have spiny crests along their backs made from soft, triangular folds of skin. These spines are more prominent in males, who can raise them during territorial or courtship displays. The tuatara may look like a lizard, but it’s unique. The tuatara is not a lizard; it is the only living member of the order Rhynchocephalia, which flourished around 200 million years ago. All other members of the order became extinct 60 million years ago, in the late Cretaceous period. Mature tuataras usually measure between 12 and 30 inches long and weigh between 0.5 and two and a half pounds. Their skin is greenish gray and is sometimes speckled. Tuataras make their homes in coastal forest and low scrub, preferring areas with crumbly soil in which they can burrow.