Order Rhynchocephalia

The order Rhynchocephalia (RlNG-koe-suh-FAY-lee-uh) is an ancient one that contains only the tuataras of the genus Sphenodon. Tuataras inhabit only a few small islands of New Zealand. The Maoris of New Zealand named the tuataras for the conspicuous spiny crest that runs down the animal's back, seen in Figure 41-18. The word tuatara means "spiny crest". Tuataras grow to about 60 cm (24 in.) in length. They usually hide in a burrow during the day and feed on insects, worms, and other small animals at night.

Since arriving in New Zealand about 1,000 years ago, humans have radically changed the landscape and introduced predators such as rats and cats, which feed on tuataras and their eggs. As a result, tuataras have disappeared from most of their original range.

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