Pick up virtually any textbook on vertebrate evolution and you will find mention of the curious reptile known as tuatara (Sphenodon). The special evolutionary status of tuatara as the last of the rhynchocephalians – one of the four orders of living reptiles – is unquestioned. Wild members of the sole living species are now restricted to a few dozen remote islands around the New Zealand coast, where for several centuries they have been observed and studied by humans. But are tuatara really unchanged 'living fossils', or close relatives of dinosaurs, as sometimes portrayed?
This is the first detailed monograph for decades about this enigmatic reptile, and the first to be illustrated in colour throughout. The evolution, natural history and conservation of tuatara are covered in comprehensive detail, providing a valuable resource for the specialist yet in a style accessible to a wide readership. The special place of tuatara in Maori and popular culture is also considered. Tuatara have survived alongside humans for more than 700 years, though with their numbers much reduced; what are their future prospects in a globally changing world?
Conventions, units and abbreviations 17
Part One: Origins
Chapter 1. Evolution: last of the rhynchocephalians 21
Chapter 2. Isolation: Zealandia adrift 59
Chapter 3. Turmoil: the arrival of humans and other 87
Chapter 4. Ngārara: tuatara and other reptiles in Māori tradition 119
Chapter 5. Discovered by science: the first 200 years 163
Part Two: Biology of Tuatara Today
Chapter 6. Island populations and histories of study 213
Chapter 7. Ecology, feeding and behaviour 268
Chapter 8. Reproduction and life history 321
Chapter 9. Environmental relations: temperature, oxygen, water and light 402
Part Three: Future Survival
Chapter 10. Conservation: past, present and future 437
Chapter 11. Latest developments 505
Glossary of scientific terms 519
Glossary of Māori terms 523
Scientific bibliography 535
Alison Cree is an associate professor of zoology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. For nearly 30 years she has researched the biology of the tuatara – a distinctive New Zealand reptile – and contributed to its conservation management. An author of more than 100 scientific publications, she has also studied the biology of New Zealand lizards and frogs.