Definition of tuatara in English:



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

    • ‘Finally, today's snakes, lizards, turtles, the tuatara, and crocodiles do enjoy a surprisingly broad latitudinal distribution.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘New Zealand's tuataras were in a group of their own, and seem not to have changed at all.’
    • ‘The tuatara are a powerful reptilian race, and their methods of battle are savage beyond compare.’
    • ‘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.’


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