For a full list of New Zealand herpetofauna, click here. For the DOC threatened listings, click here.
New Zealand is justifiably renowned as the home of the so-called ‘living fossil’, the tuatara (Sphenodon) – sole survivor of the reptilian order Sphenodontia. What is not so well known is that New Zealand has a surprisingly rich amphibian and reptile fauna including some of the world’s most anatomically primitive frogs and geckos.
Amphibians and reptiles have had a long evolutionary history in New Zealand. The tuatara, frogs and geckos have their origins in Gondwana and were in the New Zealand region before its separation from West Antarctica 80 million years ago.
The tuatara is sometimes portrayed as being essentially unchanged since the Late Triassic-Early Jurassic, 230-200 million years ago when sphenodontians were abundant. One species of frog (Leiopelma hochstetteri) is unique amongst vertebrates for the bizarre chromosome arrangements it possesses. With just one exception (Oligosoma suteri), all New Zealand's lizard species bear live young.
Since its isolation in the New Zealand region, the lizard fauna has evolved spectacularly and is now recognised as being of comparable diversity to the land bird fauna. The remarkably high population densities reached by many of the reptiles and amphibians means their role in the New Zealand ecology is significant.
Dramatic changes in the habitat and the impact of introduced mammalian predators since humans colonised New Zealand over 1000 years ago have caused the extinction of at least three species of frog and two species of lizards, possibly including the world’s largest gecko, the 60 cm kawekaweau (Hoplodactylus delcourti).
The populations of many other reptiles and amphibians have been decimated and several species are regarded as seriously endangered. Because the factors which have brought about this situation are still present the continued survival of many reptile and amphibian populations will only be possible if conservation measures are implemented.
Rainbow Skink (Lampropholis delicata
Green and Golden Bell Frog (Litoria aurea
)Southern Bell Frog (Litoria raniformis
)Whistling Frog (Litoria ewingii
Gill, B.J. and A.H. Whitaker. 2001. New Zealand Frogs and Reptiles. David Bateman Limited, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand.