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Tuatara: Volume 19, Issue 3, August 1972

A Review of the Parasites of New Zealand Reptiles

A Review of the Parasites of New Zealand Reptiles

A Search through the ever-increasing literature on animal parasites indicates that there have been but a limited number of publications pertaining to parasites of New Zealand's endemic reptiles.

Doré (1919) recorded the presence of a blood-parasite, for which he proposed the name Haemogregarina lygosomarum, from the skink Lygosoma moco, collected from the Makara district. It now seems likely, in the light of McCann's (1955) work, that this skink was Leiolopisma zelandica. Doré notes that he was unable to find haematozoa from the geckos Naultinus elegans, Naultinus grayi (= N. elegans) and Dactylocremis* granulatus (= Hoplodactylus granulatus), and the tuatara Sphenodon punctatus, which of course is not a lizard as he incorrectly assumed.

The tuatara was later examined for blood parasites by Laird (1950), who discovered and named a new species, Haemogregarina tuatarae. McCann (1955) subsequently notes Dr Laird as having recorded haemogregarines from Hoplodactylus duvaucelli and H. pacificus.

A haemosporidian parasite has also been recorded. In heart-blood smears from Lygosoma moco (= Leiolopisma zelandica), Laird (1951) identified specimens of a new species, which he named Plasmodium lygosomae.

The only other protozoan parasite recorded from a New Zealand reptile is Trichomonas hoplodactyli by Percival (1941). This species was found in the hind gut of Hoplodactylus maculatus (= H. pacificus).

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Two nematodes have been recorded from New Zealand reptiles. Barwick (1959) noted the rectal infection of Leiolopisma zelandica by Pharyngodon sp., a genus with a world-wide distribution, while Chabaud and Dolllfus (1965) have recorded a new genus of the family Heterakidae from the intestine of the tuatara. Unfortunately the latter authors referred the tuatara to the genus Hatteria, which has for decades been recognised as a synonym for Sphenodon and treated accordingly. A consequence of this mistake lies in their naming of the parasite Hatterianema hollandei.

More recently, Allison and Climo (1969) have described a trematode, Paradistomum pacificus, from the gall bladder of Hoplodactylus pacificus.

Although ectoparasites had been noted from New Zealand reptiles for some years (Doré, 1919 and others), it was Womersley (1941) who first named and described any of the mites. Geckobia naultina and G. haplodactyli were described from Naultinus elegans and Haplodactylus duvaucellii* respectively. Not only is Womersley's error in the spelling of the generic name of Hoplodactylus perpetuated in the naming of the mite, but it is also listed accordingly in Biological Abstracts!

A few years later Dumbleton (1947) described two further mites, Acomatacarus lygosomae from Lygosoma grande (= Leiolopisma grande) and Trombicula naultini from Naultinus elegans. Since the locality of the latter is given as Invercargill, it seems highly likely that the host was in fact Heteropholis gemmeus and not N. elegans as stated.

A tick has been described from the tuatara by Dumbleton (1943), who repeated Doré's mistake by referring to the ‘tuatara lizard’. A specimen of this tick (Aponomma sphenodonti) is illustrated in a colour photograph in Sharell (1966). Sharell also mentioned the occurrance of mites (Trombicula spp.) on the tuatara.

Most obvious from this review is the naming, with one exception, of new parasitic species after the generic or specific name of the host. This has proven an unfortunate pursuit with regard to the New Zealand lizard fauna, when one considers the highly confused state of the nomerclature prior to McCann (1955). It would seem therefore, a much more worthwhile practice to base the naming of any hitherto undescribed parasites on the description of such, rather than on the hosts.


Allison, F. R., and Climo, F., 1969: Paradistomum pacificits n.sp. (A Dicrocoelid Trematode) from the gecko, Hoplodactylus pacificus. Rec. Canterbury Mus., 8 (4): 371-378.

Barwick, R. E., 1959: The life history of the common New Zealand skink, Leiolopisma zelandica (Gray, 1843). Trans. R. Soc. N.Z., 86 (3/4): 331-380. * Wermuth (1965) records the spelling of the specific name as duvaucelli.

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Chabaud, A. G. and Dollfus, R. P., 1965: Hatterianema hollandei n.g., n.sp., Nématode Hétérakide parasite de Rhynchocéphale. Bull. Mus. natn. Hist. nat., Paris, series 2, 37 (6): 1041-1045.

Doré, A. B., 1919: The occurence of Haemogregarina in New Zealand lizards. N.Z. J. Sci. Technol., B (3): 163-164.

Dumbleton, L. J., 1943: A new tick from the Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus). N.Z. Jl. Sci. Technol., 24 (4B): 185-190.

——, 1947: Trombidiidae (Acarina) from the Solomon Islands and New Zealand. Trans. Proc. R. Soc. N.Z., 76 (3): 409-413.

Hutton, F. W. and Drummond, J., 1904: The Animals of New Zealand. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd., Christchurch. 381 pp.

Laird, M., 1950: Haemogregarina tuatarae sp.n., from the New Zealand Rhynchocephalian Sphenodon punctatus (Gray). Proc. zool. Soc. Lond., 120(3): 529-533.

——, 1951: Plasmodium lygosomae n.sp., a parasite of a New Zealand skink, Lygosoma moco (Gray, 1839). J. Parasit., 37 (2): 183-189.

McCann, C., 1955: The lizards of New Zealand. Dom. Mus. Bull., no. 17: 1-127.

Percival, E., 1941: Trichomonas hoplodactyli n.sp. from a New Zealand gecko. Rec. Canterbury Mus., 4 (7): 373-375.

Sharell, R., 1966: The Tuatara, Lizards and Frogs of New Zealand. Collins, London. 94 pp.

Wermuth, H., 1965: Liste der rezenten Amphibien und Reptilien, Gekkonidae, Pygopodidae, Xantusidae. Tierreich, 80: 1-246.

Womersley, H., 1941: New species of Geckobia (Acarina, Pterygosomidae) from Australia and New Zealand. Trans. R. Soc. S. Aust., 65 (2): 323-328.

* Note the spelling error in the generic name. Hutton and Drummond (1904) refer to Dactylocnemis granulatus.