Tuatara, New Zealand, up to 60 cm (2 ft) long The tuatara is a reptile from New Zealand. It has no external ears, one of the characteristics of lizards, which it otherwise closely resembles. It is not related to lizards, but is the only member of an order of reptiles that lived on Earth in the early years of the dinosaurs, for which it is described as a "living fossil". It has a crest of skin down its back that can be raised as a threat. This feature gives it its name which, in the Maori language, means "peaks on the back".
The tuatara lives in burrows on about 30 small islands off the coast of New Zealand. Although tuataras can dig their own burrows, they often take over those made by petrel seabirds. They bask in the sun during the day and feed at night, hunting insects, worms and small lizards. They also eat the eggs and chicks of petrels. Some will even eat their own young.
Like lizards, tuataras can shed their tails when in danger and later regrow them. Males sometimes lose their tails in fights with other males during the breeding season.
Like turtles and tortoises, the tuatara is very long-lived. It becomes an adult at 20 years old, continues to grow until about 35 and may live for over 120 years. It probably has the slowest growth rate of any reptile.
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