Reptiles are vertebrates; they have a spine and most have four limbs and a tail. The notable exceptions are snakes which do not have limbs. There are no living snakes in New Zealand (except occasional sea snakes), although some education centres may display preserved specimens. Other key features of reptiles are: the majority lay eggs with leathery shells, most live on land, have lungs and have hard leathery scales.
Reptiles are described as ‘cold-blooded’, which means that they are not able to maintain a constant internal body temperature. Their temperature is determined by the temperature of the surrounding environment. To regulate their body temperature they need to sit in the sun to keep warm and hide in holes or in soil to cool themselves down.
We have a great Tuatara house and native reptile corner here at Hamilton Zoo. Move slowly and quietly near reptile enclosures otherwise you’ll find that everything hides from you! Most small reptiles rely on camouflage and quick escapes for survival.
Do not dump any unwanted pets into the wild. Dumping aquarium animals may also spread diseases which may affect our native animals. The SPCA or similar groups will try to find homes for all such animals. Most reptiles have long life-spans and require many years of care – be mindful of this when choosing your pet.
Please remember that all lizards are protected in New Zealand. You must have a permit to keep any of them, even one you find in your back yard or at the beach on holiday.