Definition of tuatara in English:



  • A nocturnal burrowing lizard-like reptile with a crest of soft spines along its back, now confined to some small islands off New Zealand.

    • ‘At some point, the researchers do not know exactly when, an unknown factor allowed lizards and snakes to rise to dominance in South America, relegating the sphenodontids to the relic tuataras in isolated New Zealand.’
    • ‘New Zealand's tuataras were in a group of their own, and seem not to have changed at all.’
    • ‘Finally, today's snakes, lizards, turtles, the tuatara, and crocodiles do enjoy a surprisingly broad latitudinal distribution.’
    • ‘The tuatara are a powerful reptilian race, and their methods of battle are savage beyond compare.’
    • ‘A negative relationship between body size and rate of molecular evolution was found for phylogenetically independent pairs of reptile species spanning turtles, lizards, snakes, crocodile, and tuatara.’


Late 19th century: from Maori, from tua on the back + tara spine.