Tuatara are the last surviving members of the order Rhynchocephalia, or beak-heads. These ancient reptiles once flourished as long ago as 225 million years, before dinosaurs.

Tuataras are ancient reptiles that once flourished as long ago as 225 million years, before dinosaurs existed.

Around 70 million years ago the species became extinct everywhere except New Zealand, where it now has iconic status. The tuatara is steeped in Māori culture and is highly revered, with the islands on which they live now protected and very few people given permission to visit.

Although the tuatara looks very much like a lizard, it actually belongs to a group of animals commonly known as beak heads, or Rhynchocephalia.

The reptile, found wild only in New Zealand, is the last surviving species of its group. Its relatives died out more than 225 million years ago.

Chester Zoo first began caring for tuatara in 1962.

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Interesting facts

Where they live: New Zealand

Size: Up to 80cm

Weight: Up to 1.3kg

Threats: Habitat loss and introduced predators

Species Information

Scientific name Sphenodon punctatus
Order Rhynchocephalia
Family Sphenodontidae
Genus Sphenodon
IUCN status Least Concern
Roles in the zoo

Research (ex situ): This species is part of applied research that leads to evidence-based decisions regarding in-zoo management.


Interdependence: This species helps demonstrate that all living things, including humans, live in ecosystems and depend on other living things for their survival.

Human Impact: This species helps demonstrate that human activities are causing serious environmental damage.

Chester Zoo: This species helps demonstrate that as a charity Chester Zoo’s mission is to be a major force in conserving biodiversity worldwide.

Husbandry Development and/or Skills Training: This is a species for which we’re developing particular husbandry methods to address an identified issue and/or helping to build staff capacity in specific husbandry or field conservation skills.

Visitor experience

Exhibit Enhancement: This species connects visitors with the geographic areas that they originate from and helps develop further understanding of the environmental issues facing the species in those regions.