What Type of Lizard is Leo? How Long do Tuataras Live?

Netflix’s ‘Leo’ is an animated comedy film directed by Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel, and David Wachtenheim about the titular anthropomorphic lizard. In the film, Leo, who has spent most of his life as a class pet at an elementary school in Florida, decides to make a positive impact after learning he has little time left to live. Given how the life expectancy of Leo’s species sets the film’s events in motion, viewers must be curious to learn what type of lizard Leo is and how long his species’ lifespan is. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Leo Is a Tuatara

Leonardo, aka Leo, is the film’s anthropomorphic protagonist, with actor Adam Sandler voicing the character. Sandler’s best-known voice-acting role is arguably as Count “Drac” Dracula in the ‘Hotel Transylvania‘ franchise. In ‘Leo,’ the titular character is a jaded lizard who is stuck in a classroom at an elementary school in Florida. Based on the physical attributes he depicts in the movie, Leo hails from the Tuatara family of reptiles. The species is defined by its greenish-brown and grey skin and spiny crest on the back, with the latter attribute drawing its name from the Māori language.

The Tuatara species originate from the order Rhynchocephalia but are not considered lizards despite their close resemblance. Moreover, the Tuatara species is endemic to New Zealand and are not readily seen outside the country. While the film is predominantly set in Florida, where Leo also interacts with other Tuataras. the species is known to be absent from the state’s ecosystem. Despite some discrepancies about Leo’s species, the writers make the creature likable and relatable, thanks to a strong internal conflict.

Tuataras Have a Long Lifespan

In the film, Leo spirals when he discovers that the average lifespan of a Tuatara is seventy-five years. Moreover, Leo deduces that he was born in 1949, meaning he is already 74 years old as of 2023. Therefore, Leo has very little time left in the world and wants to make the most of it. While Leo initially dreams of exploring the world outside his container in the school, he later decides to help the 5th graders in his class overcome their issues. However, by the film’s climax, Leo learns that his species can live up to 110 years after meeting some older Tuataras.

In reality, Tuataras are known for having an exceptionally long lifespan. According to some sources, the average lifespan of a Tuatara is somewhere between 60 to 100 years of age. However, some Tuataras are known to have lived for almost 100 years, similar to what we learn in the movie. Furthermore, research was conducted in 2022 at the Victoria University of Wellington, where the aging of 4 Tuatara was studied. According to the study results, Tuataras are believed to have a lifespan of close to 137 years. As a result, it is safe to say that Tuataras have a very long life expectancy. The film uses this attribute to explore the themes of growing up and aging. At the same time, his long lifespan also allows Leo to develop insights into human behavior, which he then uses to help the children in his class.

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