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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Hatteria \Hat*te"ri*a\ (h[a^]t*t[=e]"r[i^]*[.a]), n. [NL.] (Zo["o]l.) A New Zealand lizard, which, in anatomical character, differs widely from all other existing lizards. It is the only living representative of the order Rhynchocephala, of which many Mesozoic fossil species are known; -- called also Sphenodon, tuatara, and Tuatera.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

New Zealand lizard, 1844, from Maori, from tua "on the back" + tara "spine."


n. Either of two reptiles, ''Sphenodon punctatus'' or ''Sphenodon guntheri'', native to New Zealand, that resemble lizards.


n. only extant member of the order Rhynchocephalia of large spiny lizard-like diapsid reptiles of coastal islands off New Zealand [syn: Sphenodon punctatum]


Tuatara are reptiles endemic to New Zealand and which, although resembling most lizards, are part of a distinct lineage, the order Rhynchocephalia. Their name derives from the Māori language, and means "peaks on the back". The single species of tuatara is the only surviving member of its order, which flourished around 200 million years ago. Their most recent common ancestor with any other extant group is with the squamates (lizards and snakes). For this reason, tuatara are of great interest in the study of the evolution of lizards and snakes, and for the reconstruction of the appearance and habits of the earliest diapsids (the group that also includes dinosaurs (which include birds) and crocodilians).

Tuatara are greenish brown and gray, and measure up to from head to tail-tip and weigh up to with a spiny crest along the back, especially pronounced in males. Their dentition, in which two rows of teeth in the upper jaw overlap one row on the lower jaw, is unique among living species. They are even more unusual in having a pronounced photoreceptive eye, the "third eye", which is thought to be involved in setting circadian and seasonal cycles. They are able to hear, although no external ear is present, and have a number of unique features in their skeleton, some of them apparently evolutionarily retained from fish. Although tuatara are sometimes called " living fossils", recent anatomical work has shown that they have changed significantly since the Mesozoic era. While mapping its genome, researchers have discovered that the species has between five and six billion base pairs of DNA sequence.

The tuatara Sphenodon punctatus has been protected by law since 1895. A second species, S. guntheri, was recognised in 1989 but since 2009 its use has been discontinued. Tuatara, like many of New Zealand's native animals, are threatened by habitat loss and introduced predators, such as the Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans). They were extinct on the mainland, with the remaining populations confined to 32 offshore islands, until the first mainland release into the heavily fenced and monitored Karori Sanctuary in 2005.

During routine maintenance work at Karori Sanctuary in late 2008, a tuatara nest was uncovered, with a hatchling found the following autumn. This is thought to be the first case of tuatara successfully breeding on the New Zealand mainland in over 200 years, outside of captive rearing facilities.

Tuatara (comics)

Tuatara is a fictional superhero in the DC Comics universe.

Tuatara (band)

Tuatara is a Seattle-based instrumental music group featuring members of R.E.M., The Minus 5, Critters Buggin, The Chills and the Screaming Trees.

Tuatara (album)

Tuatara – A Flying Nun Compilation is a compilation of previously released songs by artists on New Zealand based Flying Nun Records. It was released as a vinyl album by Flying Nun in 1985 (catalogue number FN045) and on CD with additional tracks. The Chills track was mistakenly attributed to "The Cills".

Tuatara (disambiguation)

Tuatara may refer to:

  • Tuatara, a kind of lizard-like reptile.
  • Tuatara (band), a Seattle-based instrumental music group.
  • SSC Tuatara, an automobile.
  • Mount Tuatara, summit of the Churchill Mountains in Antarctica

Usage examples of "tuatara".

INCLINE to the belief that Tuatara, if it had ever been abundant on the South Island, would still be there.

Intelligence is an adaptation that has proven very useful to our species, but many other species, from bacteria to ants to dinosaurs to the three-eyed tuatara of New Zealand have gotten along quite successfully for tens and even hundreds of millions of years without a human level of intelligence.

These marine birds nest in burrows which they dig, but the Tuataras move in on them.