Scientific classification: Tuataras make up the genus Sphenodon of the family Sphenodontidae, order Rhynchocephalia. They are classified as Sphenodon punctatus and Sphenodon guntheri.
The Tuatara is the common name for a two species of lizardlike reptiles, the only surviving species of an order that flourished about 200 million years ago during the Jurassic period. Tuataras are found only on about 30 islands off the coast of New Zealand. Stocky and big-headed with a strong tail and a spiny crest down the back, they differ from lizards in having a complete lower temporal arch on the skull behind the eye. Tuataras may grow to a length of about 60 cm (about 24 in), usually taking 20 years to reach maturity tuatara lizard. They are solitary, burrowing reptiles, feeding mostly at night on insects, lizards, snails, and bird chicks and eggs.
Like all vertebrates, reptiles have a central nervous system and a well-developed brain. Most have two lungs, although many snakes have lost their left lungs over the course of evolution. All reptiles but crocodiles and their relatives have three-chambered hearts. In the crocodile group, the heart has four chambers, like the hearts of mammals and birds. The reptile digestive system is much like that of other vertebrates, but in reptiles, tuatara lizard the gut and the ducts of the urinary and sexual organs empty into a posterior chamber called the cloaca. In many reptiles, particularly those inhabiting hot, arid environments, wastes from the kidneys are passed to the cloaca, where water is absorbed back into the body for reuse. The remaining wastes leave the body through a muscular opening in the cloaca, located at the base of the tail.
Conservation measures to preserve reptiles must include the protection of habitats along with the protection of the animals themselves. Many species of reptiles and other wild creatures will soon disappear unless people are willing to set aside the necessary land and stop exploiting the animals to an extent that prevents the animals from replacing their populations. Many countries have passed laws to protect rare species, and an international agreement called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), effective in 1975, tuatara lizard has helped curtail international commerce in threatened reptile species. Nevertheless, the problem of exploitation continues, especially in developing countries, where reptiles may bring high prices or simply provide easy meals to impoverished people. Laws and conservation plans are rarely effective without the support of the people living near wildlife habitats.