Fun Sphenodon Guntheri Facts For Kids

Tanya Parkhi
Nov 22, 2022 By Tanya Parkhi
Originally Published on Sep 02, 2021
Edited by Jacob Fitzbright
Here are some great Sphenodon guntheri facts that you will enjoy reading!
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.5 Min

The Sphenodon guntheri (common name tuataras) is a species of reptile that is endemic to the Brothers Island of New Zealand.

These olive-green, lizard-like reptiles belong to the genus Sphenodon and are one of the two last known surviving species of tuatara on the planet, closely related to the tuataras who walked the earth 250 million years ago.

These unique reptiles are known for the presence of a 'third eye' which is present in young individuals, but disappears as they age.

They are also quite long-lived, with the average lifespan of one of these tuataras being 60-100 years in range!

The name Tuatara comes from the native Maori, which means 'bearing spines', which is true of these large reptiles. They are a quite fascinating species and are sought by reptile lovers all over the world.

To learn more about these remarkable reptiles, read on! For more relatable content, check out these Texas horned lizard facts and brown tree snake facts for kids.

Sphenodon Guntheri Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Sphenodon guntheri?

The Sphenodon guntheri is one of two species of tuatara, a lizard-like reptile that is endemic to New Zealand.

What class of animal does the Sphenodon guntheri belong to?

The tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) belongs to the class Reptilia and order Rhynchocephalia.

How many Sphenodon guntheris are there in the world?

The current estimated population of this native tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) species is said to be a few hundred reptiles only.

Where does Sphenodon guntheri live?

The tuatara, Sphenodon guntheri, is endemic to the North Brother Island of New Zealand, located in the Cook Strait. It is one of New Zealand's two tuatara species, the other being the more widely known Sphenodon punctatus.

What is a Sphenodon guntheri's habitat?

The tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) can be found in cool, humid areas such as cliff sides, low-lying densely vegetated coasts on offshore islands, and burrowing in the cool soil. Due to their low body temperature, they are able to live in areas where most other animals cannot, which helps to evade predators.

Who does Sphenodon guntheri live with?

The tuatara, Sphenodon guntheri, is quite territorial in nature and prefers to live alone in burrows dug in the soil. However, these burrows tend to be quite close to each other, and females will occasionally let males in and vice versa.

Members of the same sex will act aggressively towards each other, with males of the species puffing their bodies and bobbing their heads to chase off other males.

How long does a Sphenodon guntheri live?

The lifespan of the Brothers Island tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) is quite high, with it being known to live for between 60-100 years in the wild!

How do they reproduce?

These reptiles reach sexual maturity between the age of 10-20 years old, and mostly lay eggs every four to five years.

The breeding season occurs between December to February in their native New Zealand, with the male and female mating in late summer. The female then lays the eggs 8-10 months in spring, laying a total of six to seven white eggs in holes dug in the soil near the edges of cliffs or on offshore islands.

After an incubation period of 12-16 months, the eggs hatch, and the young tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) reptiles emerge.

What is their conservation status?

The current conservation status of the Brothers Island tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) is Vulnerable, according to the IUCN Red List. This is due to their mostly male-dominated low birth rate, predation by invasive species such as brown rats and New Zealand falcons, and mostly due to human development which has led to habitat loss for these creatures.

Sphenodon Guntheri Fun Facts

What does the Sphenodon guntheri look like?

The Sphenodon tuatara is a species of tuatara that is endemic to the North Brothers Island of New Zealand. Its olive-green body is covered with yellow patches and spikes on the back.

Tuataras look quite similar to lizards, with their olive-brown, green, or gray scaly skin on their body and large heads. However, they do differ in the fact that their three rows of teeth are attached to the bone, having two jaws on the roof of their mouth and one on the bottom.

They are named tuataras after the peaks on the back of their bodies, which means 'bearing spines'.

Juveniles often have a third eye on the top of the other two called a parietal eye on their head, which is covered by a flap of skin as they grow.

They also have no external eyes, unlike lizards, though they are still able to hear. Their olive body is covered with yellow patches.

How cute are they?

Tuataras are actually very cute in appearance, with their large amber eyes and gaping mouths. Their larger size makes them look quite cuddly despite being a reptile species.

How do they communicate?

Tuataras are not very vocal, with the reptiles using a variety of gestures such as body inflation, head bobbing, and mouth gaping in order to drive off other tuataras when they are feeling territorial. During the breeding season, males may croak in order to attract females.

How big is the Sphenodon guntheri?

The adult Sphenodon guntheri is estimated to measure around 29.9 in (72 cm) in length. As far as reptiles go, it is quite big.

How fast can a Sphenodon guntheri run?

The average speed of the Brothers Island tuatara is 15 mph (24 kph), with the older tuataras being more slow-moving and sluggish in behavior than the younger reptiles.

How much does a Sphenodon guntheri weigh?

The average Sphenodon guntheri adult weighs around 31.7 oz (900 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

There are no specific names for either sex of this species, simply being called male and female tuataras.

What would you call a baby Sphenodon guntheri?

Baby tuatara reptiles are called hatchlings or neonates.

What do they eat?

The Sphenodon guntheri reptile species is mostly insectivorous in nature and will eat all sorts of invertebrates found in its surroundings such as spiders, millipedes, worms, weta insects, and beetles.

Are they dangerous?

Yes, tuataras are quite territorial and aggressive in nature. Despite being slow-moving creatures and non-venomous in nature, they have a quick bite and their sharp rows of teeth can cause deep wounds which they do not let go of easily.

It is also not susceptible to being held and will thrash and claw until it is let go of. Though at times it can be docile, it is a huge gamble to go in search of them and it is better to observe these animals from a distance.

Would they make a good pet?

No, being a Vulnerable native species, the trade and keeping of tuataras as pets is illegal by the Government of New Zealand. Due to their valuable status, they are sold illegally on the black market for as much as $4000!

Did you know...

Their brain, heart, and skeleton are very primitive, and not as advanced in genetic diversity as those of some modern lizard species.

The younger tuataras are diurnal in nature, however as they get older they remain active from dusk to dawn, retreating to their burrows during the day.

Both sexes look similar, however, the male has larger spines on its back and a narrower abdomen.

Tuataras of the order Rhynchocephalia have existed on the planet since 250 million years ago!

Their olive-brown body and spiny backs ensure that they stay camouflaged, and are able to evade predators this way.

These animals are able to conform to lower temperatures than most reptiles, being able to survive normally at a low body temperature of 48°F (9°C). They can usually be found in areas that are low in temperature and high in humidity, which works wonders for their long lifespan.

Their low body temperatures help to burrow in areas where other predators cannot reach them.

Like most lizard species, they can regrow their tails if broken off!

Tuatara has often been observed to live in the burrows of seabirds, often preying upon their eggs and sometimes the birds themselves.

The genus Sphenodon has only two known species with genetic diversity, one being the Sphenodon punctatus and the lesser-known Sphenodon guntheri.

Due to the low population and Vulnerable status of this reptile genus, New Zealand has undertaken conservation measures and declared it as a protected species, and has developed a recovery plan for the population to increase as well.

Why is Sphenodon called a living fossil?

Tuataras are the only surviving member of the order Rhynchocephalia, which has been recorded to walk the earth from as long as 250 million years ago.

Due to this, they have been termed as living fossils, though this is under debate as there have not been any continuous fossil findings in order to support the theory that they are the exact same creatures.

Is Sphenodon guntheri extinct?

No, this New Zealand native tuatara species is not extinct, however at the rate at which its population is decreasing this may end up being the case soon.

The tuatara population is currently listed as Vulnerable, with less than a few hundred of these individuals being found on Brothers Island in New Zealand. There are a number of factors contributing to the decline of this species, mostly being habitat loss by human development, predation by invasive species, and their slow birth rate which yields mostly males.

The New Zealand government has undertaken measures for its conservation and declared it as a protected species.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other reptiles from our Asian vine snake interesting facts and Caiman lizard surprising facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable Sphenodon guntheri coloring pages.

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Written by Tanya Parkhi

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya Parkhi picture

Tanya ParkhiBachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya is a skilled content creator with a passion for writing and a love for exploring new cultures. With a degree in Economics from Fergusson College, Pune, India, Tanya worked on her writing skills by contributing to various editorials and publications. She has experience writing blogs, articles, and essays, covering a range of topics. Tanya's writing reflects her interest in travel and exploring local traditions. Her articles showcase her ability to engage readers and keep them interested.

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