Our Oldest Inhabitants


by Alex Wall

Tuatara are sometimes referred to as ‘Living Fossils’ because the oldest fossils of Tuatara are found in rocks from the Jurassic age – 180 million years ago. That means that the ancestors of Rewa and Taku were around at the time of dinosaurs!

1) The Tuatara

Sphenodon punctatus

There are an estimated 100,000 tuatara left in world. All found right here in New Zealand across predator free islands and reserves such as Pūkaha.

The largest population (50,000) is found on Stephens Island, a small island in the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands.

2) Our Tuatara

It was from this population in 1986, that Pūkaha received two tuatara. Rewa and Taku. A breeding pair. Their ages are unknown but they are thought to be around 60-80 years old. They could live for well over 100 years as other tuatara have been known to do.

There are many things about tuatara that baffle scientists including how they have managed to evolve and survive through millennia when other species have become extinct. The fossil evidence suggests their phenotype – their physical appearance relating to their genes and environment – has changed very little meaning the tuatara that we see today are thought to be pretty much the same as they were million and millions of years ago. Speaking of seeing tuatara…

3) Winter Torpor

Since winter began, both Taku and Rewa have been in a state called ‘torpor’. A type of hibernation during cold periods where they stay inside their underground burrows. During this time they will rarely come out and breathe as little as once per hour! Their heart rate also slows to 10 bpm as opposed to 40-50 bpm in warmer months when they are awake. Torpor can last for up to six months and they may not eat throughout this entire time!

Fortunately the start of Spring has brought warmer weather, and in the last couple weeks Taku and Rewa have reappeared from their burrows and are back above ground for visitors to see.
Right we better go and find some more insects. Rewa and Taku will be hungry after awakening from their long sleep!

Want to know more?

Come visit us at Pūkaha! To make the most out of your visit, we recommend booking a Guided Tour so that you can go around the forest with one of our rangers who will be able to point out all the wonderful wildlife along the way. Have fun!