A Living Fossil

The tuatara is one of the rarest creatures on earth. Tuataras are the only living members of an ancient group of reptiles called rhynchocephalians, or “beak-heads.” They are sometimes referred to as living fossils, because they have lived on Earth ever since the time of the dinosaurs. Tuataras are only found on a few small islands off the coast of New Zealand. They look fierce, but are actually very sleepy and slow-moving. This living fossil is so lazy, in fact, that it would rather move into the burrow of a bird called the sooty shearwater, than dig its own underground home.

Vocabulary

  • ancient: Very old.
  • fossil: The remains or traces of a plant or animal from an earlier age.

Back to Top

Activity

  1. Where does the tuatara find shelter?
    [anno: The tuatara finds shelter in the burrow of the sooty shearwater bird.]
  2. Why do you think this reptile is called a “living fossil”?
    [anno: They are called “living fossils” because they have lived on the Earth for so long.]
  3. Why do you think the tuataras are found only on the islands around New Zealand?
    [anno: Answers will vary but could include that they became extinct in other places, or that these islands are the only places that have the right kinds of things that the tuataras need to live.]