How Often Do Tuatara Breathe {Explained!}

If you’ve been learning about the tuatara, chances are, you’re fascinated by some of the facts you’ve discovered. The more you learn, the more you want to know. Today’s question, how often do tuatara breathe? Can they hold their breath for extended periods of time? Can they breathe underwater? Keep reading as we answer these questions and more!

How Often Do Tuatara Breathe?

how often do tuatara breathe

Tuataras are impressive reptiles. They can go for up to a year without eating and can survive much colder temperatures than other reptiles; turns out, they can also go without breathing for surprisingly long periods.

Tuatara apparently don’t need to breathe very often to stay alive; on average, they take one breath every 7 seconds or so. But they can go much longer than that without air; they can hold breath for up to an hour.

Which begs the question, why? Why would a tuatara hold its breath like that?

There are a few possible reasons. A tuatara might choose to hold its breath when trying to avoid predators or conserve energy, or it might hold its breath as a natural response to slowing its metabolism for other reasons.

The tuatara’s slow metabolism is the reason its breathing is so slow in the first place. 

Tuatara have very slow metabolisms and therefore do not need to breathe very often. Slowing their metabolism further, as they do during periods of brumation or to survive a food shortage, reduces the need to breathe even more. 

Can Tuatara Breathe Underwater?

Tuatara are land-dwelling reptiles; therefore, they have no need to breathe underwater. In fact, they don’t even need to drink water, as they receive all the hydration their bodies need from the foods they eat.

If a tuatara were to be held down and submerged underwater, it would technically be able to hold its breath and survive in the water for up to an hour. But it would not be able to breathe in the water, and if it could not escape, it would eventually drown.

Other Interesting Facts About the Tuatara

Other Interesting Facts About the Tuatara

So, we now know that tuatara can go for long periods of time without breathing or eating, can tolerate cold temperatures, and doesn’t need to drink water. That’s a pretty impressive list of accomplishments.

But tuataras are unique creatures with many other interesting traits as well.

What are some of these interesting traits? Let’s find out:

  • They are only found in New Zealand: These reptiles are not widespread at all. Though they used to live all over the mainland of New Zealand, they are now found only on remote, uninhabited islands of the nation. There are thought to be about 55,000 tuatara left in the wild, with a few more kept in captivity in zoos and sanctuaries.
  • They have a naturally low body temperature: Part of why tuatara are more cold-tolerant than most other reptiles is that their body temperature is surprisingly low. Their average temperature fluctuates between 41 and 52 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning they can easily survive temperatures down into the 40s, and even colder when they are brumating (hibernating).
  • They have some unique physical features: Tuatara are the only animals in the world to have a third eye. This eye, located on top of their heads and covered by scales, isn’t used for sight, but is thought to help with telling the time of day, setting bodily rhythms and cycles, and perhaps absorbing UV radiation.

They are also the only animal to have three rows of teeth which fit together like scissors–the bottom row fits nicely in between the two top rows. The teeth are part of the jawbone and cannot grow back once they are worn down or broken.

  • They are the last of their kind: Tuatara belong to the reptilian order Rhynchocephalia, which has existed for more than 250 million years. The tuatara is the only remaining species belonging to this order, as all the others died out around 60 million years ago.
  • They have a slow reproduction cycle: Female tuatara lay eggs only once every 4 years or so. Once the eggs are laid, it can take another year to year and a half before the eggs are ready to hatch, and young tuatara don’t reach sexual maturity until they are about 10 to 20 years old.

Check out this video for more information about the tuatara.


Tuatara are strange and unique lizard-like creatures. They have slow metabolisms, which means they only have to breathe about once every 7 seconds and can hold their breath for up to an hour if necessary.

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