Tuatara Enclosure

Story by Miranda Williamson and Sophie King

Museum and Heritage Studies, 2015

Victoria's Tuatara

Tucked away on the third floor of the Murphy Building are four tuatara named Phoebe, Shorty, Hazel and Spiky. Although they are often hard to spot, these beloved reptiles bring joy to staff, students, and visitors who pass by the enclosure.

The Victoria University tuatara are of the Sphenodon punctatus Cook Strait variety. Punctatus is Latin for 'spotted'. In Māori, tuatara means 'peaks on the back'. To some, tuatara are considered to be messengers of Whiro, the atua (god) of death and disaster.

Crickets and locusts are the main food for Victoria's tuatara. The tuatara also enjoy eating weta when healthy ones can be sourced. Sometimes students bring these in especially for the tuatara.

The tuatara feeding schedule is dependent on the weather and occurs randomly. In the winter, the tuatara eat less as their body processes slow down.


  • <p>Phoebe</p>

Facts about Phoebe


Unknown. It is presumed Phoebe is rather old.


Phoebe was found by a lighthouse keeper in the wild on North Brother Island in 1990. In a weakened state, and expected to die, Phoebe was brought to Victoria University to be cared for. Thankfully Phoebe survived, and she has been here ever since.

Physical features

Phoebe's teeth have worn away. This is presumably due to her old age, and is linked to her inability to feed herself in the wild.

Unfortunately, Phoebe also suffers from a blocked nose, which means she often has to keep her mouth open to breathe.


Since her time in captivity, Phoebe has not produced any offspring.

Shorty, Hazel, and Spiky

  • <p>Shorty. </p>
  • <p>Hazel</p>
  • <p>Spiky</p>

Facts about Shorty, Hazel and Spiky


This unique trio all celebrate their 30th birthdays in 2017.


Shorty, Hazel and Spiky were collected as eggs from Takapourewa (Stephens Island). The three were incubated and hatched here at Victoria University in 1987.

The three tuatara are from a very strong and proud Ngāti Koata heritage that connects them back to Takapourewa.

Physical features

Shorty has vision problems. Although she can see movement, she struggles to see specific details. This is particularly evident during feeding times.

Unlike their pal Shorty, Hazel and Spiky have no unusual features.


Both Shorty and Hazel have produced offspring. Shorty has produced one juvenile, and Hazel has had seven.

Man about town

When he was young, Spiky spent some time living at Wellington Zoo. This means that he is familiar with handling, and he is often taken off site to meet education groups both young and old.

Tuatara hatching at Victoria University

  • Tuatara hatching at Victoria University of Wellington

Tuatara Enclosure

Level 3, Murphy Building, Kelburn Parade, Kelburn, Wellington 6012, New Zealand