Teaching Students About New Zealand Native Animals

New Zealand native animals can be found in this island country in the Pacific Ocean. New Zealand is known to be home to many native animals. These amazing creatures can be seen in the air, the sea, and the land, but some are so rare that just a few people can get a glimpse of them.

New Zealand broke away from the Gondwana supercontinent around 85 million years ago. The only way for animals to establish themselves was through flight, carried by the wind or floating over the ocean. Many New Zealand species adapted to their isolated, predator-free environment in unique ways.

That’s why many NZ native animals can’t be found anywhere else in the world. As a result, New Zealand is one of the countries that have the most native, unique animals.

What native animals live in New Zealand?

New Zealand is the home of many native birds, insects, reptiles, fish, and marine mammals. However, the only native land mammals in the country are bats. Here are some examples of native animals from all categories:


New Zealand has the most seabirds in the world, and some species of forest birds can be seen here. What makes these native birds so unique is that most of them can’t fly, and because there were not many land predators, they started to make their nests on the ground, not in the trees. Some popular NZ birds are:

  • Kākāpō are large, nocturnal, flightless parrots. They have green feathers, a pale face, and a large grey bill.
  • Kea is a large, intelligent parrot, the world’s only alpine parrot. It has an olive-green colored body, with orange under wings and a thin grey bill.
  • Kiwi is nocturnal birds that don’t fly and live on forest floors. It has hair-like feathers, strong legs, a long bill, and no tail. Kiwi is one of the most famous birds in NZ.
  • Morepork is the only NZ native owl. It’s a small owl with speckled brown feathers, a dark face, yellow eyes, and a short tail.
  • Pūkeko is one of NZ’s most recognized birds. Pukeko is a dark blue bird with a red bill and red eyes, and long, orange legs
  • Tūī has black feathers that have a blue-green sheen. Tui also has a small white under their chin called a poi.

Reptiles and frogs

New Zealand has four native frogs species:

  • Hochstetter’s frog
  • Archey’s frog
  • Hamilton’s frog
  • Maud Island frog

These frogs are all nocturnal. They are small and hard to see because they are good at camouflaging themselves. New Zealand’s frogs are different from others because they have no outside eardrums or round eyes and don’t croak often.

You can find three types of native reptiles that made NZ their home:

  • Tuatara is reptiles that are only found in New Zealand. They are medium-sized and grey-green with spines along their neck, back, and tail. There are two types of tuatara; the common tuatara and the Brothers Island tuatara.
  • Geckos are lizards with broad heads and large, bulging eyes. They have soft skin with small scales. There are at least thirty-nine species of gecko in New Zealand, divided into two main groups. The “hoplodactylus’ (brown) geckos are usually grey or brown with stripes or patterns and are mainly nocturnal. The ‘naultinus’ (green) are generally bright green or yellow and are active during the day.
  • Skinks are slender, fast, and shiny lizards covered in fish-like scales. They have slim heads and small eyes with lower eyelids so they can blink. There are thirty-three types of skink that are only found in New Zealand. New Zealand’s skinks all give birth to live young and not eggs.


Invertebrates have no backbone or spinal cord, and NZ has a diverse and significant population. They are essential for ecosystem conservation and are crucial for birds’ survival. Here are some examples of the most known invertebrates:

  • Freshwater crayfish, also named Koura, are dark green and blotchy. They are well camouflaged in the stones on the bottom of streams. Koura is covered in a hard shell. The shell splits when they grow too big, and the new skin hardens to make a new shell. They have four pairs of walking legs and two pincers on the front pair.
  • Flax snails, or Pūpūharakeke, are giant land snails. There are three species of flax snail in New Zealand. Flax snails have tall, pointy-spiraled shells that are brown and shiny.
  • Weta is the Māori name for a group of insects similar to crickets and grasshoppers. They have spiny legs, curved tusks, and no wings. There are over 70 weta species, and they are only found in New Zealand.

Marine mammals

New Zealand waters include tones of dolphins, seals, and whales. Half of the world’s cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) live around this country. Some of them are:

  • Maui’s dolphin is a subspecies of Hector’s dolphin. It’s the smallest and the rarest dolphin in the world. It has a rounded back dorsal fin, grey-black and white markings, and a short snout. Maui’s dolphins are usually found in the shallow waters on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand.
  • Orcas or killer whales are not whales. They are the most prominent member of the dolphin family. Orcas are black and white with large, paddle-shaped fins. Groups of orca are called pods. Orcas live all around New Zealand’s coastline but prefer more relaxed, deeper water.
  • New Zealand’s sea lions, or Rāpoka/Whakahao, are one of the rarest seals in the world. New Zealand’s sea lions look like most other sea lions but have short snouts and whiskers. Male sea lions are dark grey or brown, with a mane of thick fur around their neck. Females are lighter grey with darker flippers. Sea lions live on the coast of the South Island and around the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island.
  • Kekeno, the fur seal, is one of New Zealand’s most common seals. They are covered in two layers of fur: a dark grey/brown on most of their body and a lighter color on their stomach. Fur seals have pointy noses and long, pale whiskers. Fur seals are found on rocky shorelines throughout New Zealand.

Land mammals

The only land mammals that are native to NZ are bats. Two species of bats can be seen in the country:

  • The long-tailed bat, Pekapeka, is one of only two native New Zealand land mammals. It is a small dark brown bat with short rounded ears and a tail that is as long as its body. Long-tailed bats live in native forests throughout New Zealand.
  • The lesser short-tailed bat is a native New Zealand Life Swan mammal. It has pale grey-brown fun, long, pointy ears, and a short tail. Lesser short-tailed bats are found in native forests in only a few places in New Zealand. They roost in hollow trees, either individually or in groups.

What are New Zealand animals extinct?

Since the European settlement of New Zealand in the 19th century and the Maori arrival before that, the list of New Zealand’s extinct animals is unfortunately quite long. Here are some New Zealand extinct animals that are no longer native to the area:

  • Laughing Owl – Extinct since 1914. Their call has been described as ‘a loud cry made up of a series of dismal shrieks frequently repeated’.
  • Lyall’s Wren – Extinct since 1894. It is the best known of the four flightless passerines (songbirds) known to science, all of which were inhabitants of islands and are now extinct.
  • Eastern Moa – Extinct since the 16th century. Its feet were exceptionally wide compared to other moas, making it a very slow creature.
  • Haast’s Eagle – Extinct since the 16th century. It was the largest eagle known to have existed. Its massive size is explained as an evolutionary response to the size of its prey, the flightless moa.
  • Adzebill – Extinct since the 16th century. They were flightless and had extremely reduced wings, smaller than those of the dodo compared to the birds’ overall size.
Choose your Reaction!