tu·​a·​ta·​ra ˌtü-ə-ˈtär-ə How to pronounce tuatara (audio)
plural tuatara or tuataras
: a large spiny quadrupedal reptile (Sphenodon punctatum) of islands off the coast of New Zealand that has a vestigial third eye in the middle of the forehead representing the pineal gland and that is the only surviving rhynchocephalian

Illustration of tuatara

Illustration of tuatara

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Similar in appearance to a stout, stocky iguana, this species — commonly called a tuatara — forms one of the only avenues for scientists to study the winnowing down of the rhynchocephalians. Sam Walters, Discover Magazine, 15 Sep. 2022 The rendering also revealed that the rhynchocephalian species looked surprisingly similar to the surviving tuatara, despite being around five times smaller. Sam Walters, Discover Magazine, 15 Sep. 2022 The audio recordings used in the research document the tuatara’s distinctive crackly vocalizations. Zoe Sottile, CNN, 13 Nov. 2022 Fossils of small creatures have been filling in what the world of the Morrison Formation was really like, including a new fossil reptile with ties to the modern tuatara. Riley Black, Smithsonian Magazine, 15 Sep. 2022 Many different tuatara relatives existed alongside each other during the time the Morrison Formation was being formed. Riley Black, Smithsonian Magazine, 15 Sep. 2022 The aging rates for lizards and snakes were scattered but were remarkably low in certain crocodiles, salamanders and the enigmatic tuatara. New York Times, 23 June 2022 In addition to turtles and crocodiles, reptiles in the study included lizards, snakes and tuatara, the only living member of a lineage that evolved in the Triassic period approximately 200 to 250 million years ago. Doyle Rice, USA TODAY, 27 Apr. 2022 Also, Barbara’s (Sheryl Lee Ralph) favorite zoo animal, a tuatara, has been retired because of old age in the season finale of the workplace comedy. Los Angeles Times, 12 Apr. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tuatara.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


borrowed from Maori

First Known Use

1890, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tuatara was in 1890

Dictionary Entries Near tuatara

Cite this Entry

“Tuatara.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tuatara. Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


tu·​a·​ta·​ra ˌtü-ə-ˈtär-ə How to pronounce tuatara (audio)
: a large spiny reptile of the islands off the coast of New Zealand that looks like a lizard

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