Native New Zealand Animals

There are many species of animals such as lizards, frogs and invertebrates found only in New Zealand. New Zealand’s only native mammals are bats and marine mammals. Below is a list of the most well known native animals.


Tuataras are a reptile with associations to the dinosaur. Tuataras are uncommon, medium-sized reptiles found only in New Zealand. Tuataras grow up to 24 centimetres in length and are not a threat to humans.

The tuatara is the only beak-headed reptile found in the world. The tuatara has lived 65 million years longer than the other species of its reptile family.

One Tuatara can live for over 100 years, originally they were found all over New Zealand now they are only found on protected offshore islands. About 30,000 live on Stephens Island in the Marlborough Sounds. Because of their unique history and links to dinosaurs Tuataras are of huge international interest to biologists.

Whales and Dolphins

New Zealand has a copious amount of diverse and unique marine life. Dolphin swimming and whale watching are very popular with visitors. Many different types of dolphins and whales can be seen around the New Zealand coast. Some of the whales live in New Zealand waters year round and others are on their seasonal journeys.

The two main types of dolphin species are the Maui and Hector dolphins.


Maui dolphins are the world's smallest dolphin and are found only on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. There are less than 150 left in the wild which makes them New Zealand's rarest dolphin.


Hector's dolphins are also small as they grow no more than 1.5 metres in length. Only found in New Zealand's waters, this distinctive dolphin is the most easily recognised species of dolphin in New Zealand. There are a number of spots in the South Island where you can see Hector's dolphins close up such as the West coast and around Christchurch.


New Zealand's native frogs (pepeketua) belong to an ancient and primitive group of frogs called the Leiopelma. In 70 million years the native frogs of New Zealand have changed very little. They are small, nocturnal, and are hard to see as they camouflage themselves well. Three of our remaining species live on land in shady, moist forested areas, and one is semi-aquatic, living on stream edges.


Lizards belong to the group of animals known as reptiles. This group includes crocodiles, turtles, snakes, tuatara and lizards. There are many different types of lizards in the world, but in New Zealand there are only geckos and skinks.


Bats are New Zealand's only native land mammals. There are three species: the long-tailed bat, the lesser short-tailed bat, and greater short-tailed bat. Greater short-tailed bats are thought to be extinct, while long-tailed bats and short-tailed bats are classed as threatened. They are in danger of extinction in the medium term if nothing is done to reverse their population declines. Therefore, these species are a high priority for conservation.

Bats - Long tailed bats

Long-tailed bats were common throughout New Zealand in the 1800s and were recorded in colonies of 'scores', 'hundreds', and 'thousands'. By 1900-1930 they were becoming rare in many districts. They were once common in Dunedin, Invercargill and Christchurch, where they roosted under the wooden bridges across the Avon River until 1885.

Bats - Short tailed bats

The endangered lesser short-tailed bat is an ancient species unique to New Zealand and is found only in a few locations.


Seals belong to a group of mammals known as 'pinnipeds'. All pinnipeds have streamlined bodies and limbs modified into flippers. Pinnipeds are divided into three families: walruses, true seals and eared seals. Eared seals are most common in New Zealand and include fur seals and sea lions. They have external ears, hind flippers they can turn forward under the body and no fur on their flippers.

Sea Lion

New Zealand sea lions are only found in New Zealand. Also known as Hooker's sea lions, they are one of the rarest species of sea lion in the world and arguably the most threatened because of their restricted breeding range.

Kekeno - (New Zealand fur seal)

Kekeno are the most common seals in New Zealand waters. Kekeno are very good swimmers and weaned pups will turn up almost anywhere around New Zealand. A fur seal pup tagged on the west coast of South Island has even been recorded in Australia. On land they sometimes become disoriented and have been found in unusual places such as back-yards, drains and streets.


An invertebrate is an animal, such as an insect or mollusc that has no backbone or spinal column. New Zealand has a diverse and interesting population of invertebrates. They play a vital role in maintaining many of New Zealand’s native bird populations and are fundamental to ecosystem processes. Some well known New Zealand invertebrates include:

Freshwater Crayfish

The koura, or freshwater crayfish, is dark green and mottled like the stones it lives amongst on stream bottoms. It is hard to see as it is so well camouflaged. Often it’s waving feelers and black beady eyes are all that can be seen because they stay hidden during the day, moving around mostly at night.

Flax Snail

Growing as big as 115 mm, Flax snails/Pupurangi (Placostylus spp.) are not your average garden snails. They belong to the group of northern giant land snails, which contain some of New Zealand's largest snails. Other snail species include the kauri snail and Powelliphanta snails.


Weta are incredible looking creatures. They range in size, but with their big bodies, spiny legs, and curved tusks, they are one of New Zealand's most recognisable creepy-crawlies.