Tuatara biology

Welcome to the Tuatara Biology website at Victoria University of Wellington.

You will find information here about the tuatara and the tuatara research programmes we are involved at Victoria.

This website was developed using generous donations from Red Seal Natural Health.

About the Tuatara

Tuatara are a taonga (treasure) of New Zealand.  As the sole survivors of an entire order of reptiles, they are of enormous interest to science.

Tuatara are amongst the most primitive living reptiles, having undergone few evolutionary changes in anatomy during the past 200 million years.

Did you know?

Tuatara reach sexual maturity in their early teens and can live at least 91 years, but probably live for over 100 years. Males can reproduce each year, and females reproduce on average only once every four years.

Tuatara mate during late summer (March). The eggs are laid in spring (October/November). Females lay clutches of 1-19 eggs in holes that they dig in the ground, and then carefully cover over. The eggs have tough, leathery white shells and incubate in the ground for around 11-16 months. The temperatures that the eggs experience during incubation determine the sex of the hatchlings.

Like all reptiles, tuatara are ectothermic, yet they are active at very low temperatures, maintaining normal activity at temperatures as low as 7°C. The optimal body temperature range is 16-21°C, the lowest of any reptile. Tuatara have the lowest metabolism of all reptiles.

Tuatara research

Scientists at Victoria University of Wellington began researching the tuatara in the late 1940s.

Our research continues today, studying its population ecology, disease ecology, community relationships, temperature-dependent sex determination, and the likely effects of climate change on the tuatara.

Please visit the Reptile Conservation Research Group for more information about our current research.


We would like to thank the following organisations. Without their help, we could not undertake this important research.

We also thank all the researchers who have published their data, enabling us to collate the information here.

This website was developed using generous donations from Red Seal Natural Health. Their new Phyto Shield Ankle Biters is a range of natural botanical toothpaste for kids and reflects Red Seal’s philosophy of providing New Zealanders and the rest of the world with natural products that are good for the human body as well as the environment.

Research sponsors