Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
Category Hairy lizard
Proposed scientific names
Other names Hairy lizard, karara, mokolaulu, mokotuahuruhuru
Country reported New Zealand, Niue
First reported 1855[1]
Prominent investigators • Herries Beattie

The mokohuruhuru (Maori: "hairy lizard") is a cryptid reported from New Zealand, particularly offshore islands such as Green Island and the Muttonbirds, and from Niue island, where it is called the mokolaulu.[2] It is described as a relatively small lizard, covered in hair rather than scales.


Missionary and writer Richard Taylor heard reports of hairy lizards in Greenstone Lake or Lake Rotopounamu on North Island. Unlike in other accounts, these lizards were said to have been amphibious, and of medium length.[1]

Writer Herries Beattie collected several accounts of hairy lizards, and many other New Zealand cryptids, during his extensive ethnological surveys among the South Island Maori.[3][4] It was sometimes jokingly called "the lizard with trousers on." A detailed description was received from a Maori naturalist, who generically called it karara ("lizard"). He claimed it was found only on Green Island or Papatea, off the southern coast of South Island, where it had once been abundant. George Newton had allegedly sent one to naturalist Charles Traill.[3] Informants in Canterbury also knew the mokohuruhuru as a hairy lizard.[4]

Hairy lizards are also reported to exist on Niue, a small island almost 1700 miles (2800 km) northeast of New Zealand, where they are called mokolaulu.[2] Anthropologist Edwin M. Loeb regarded the mokolaulu, shark, turtle, and whale as the most tapu, or sacred, animals of Niue. The hairy lizard, which was "regarded with horror," was the only one of these sacred animals which was never eaten. It was considered a bad omen, but was sometimes killed as a sacrifice.[2] It has been listed as an ordinary animal of Niue.[5]

Although a "hairy lizard" also appears in the beliefs of Fiji, particularly in the mountains, it has only ever been described as an ancestral spirit, not an animal.[6]


Although Taylor described the hairy lizards of Greenstone Lake as about 4 ft (1 m 20 cm) in length,[1] those of the offshore islands are reported to be smaller. The integument of the animal has been described simply as hair[3] or "down,"[1] and is generally said to be black.[3] The hairy lizards of Greenstone Lake were said to have been amphibious.[1]

The hairy lizard of Niue was described somewhat differently. Described in one source as a "gecko,"[7] it measured approximately 8 in (20 cm) in length,[5] and was covered in white hair.[7]


An elderly informant of Beattie claimed that he had once seen a hairy lizard on one of the Muttonbird Islands. It measured 5 in (12 cm) in length and was covered in short black hair, but also had a "double tail." Another elderly man identified it as a mokohuruhuru, and yet another, who "remarked that hairy lizards were repulsive," as mokotuahuruhuru.[4]

According to Taylor, a Greenstone Lake settler named Hawkins had once captured one of the lake's hairy lizards, which he kept on a dog chain. However, Hawkins also claimed he had captured a "night emu" standing almost 3 ft (90 cm) high, and had killed a waitoreke.[1] Beattie regarded the story as a "whalers' yarn".[3]


Ethographer Elsdon Best believed that the definition of the mokohuruhuru as a hairy lizard was a misleadingly literal translation of its name: it was described to him as a caterpillar,[8] and some other sources identify it as a caterpillar[9] or a glowworm.[10] The mokolaulu of Niue has also been described as both "a lizard"[5] and "an insect".[2]

Beattie criticised this interpretation, noting that his informants unambiguously described the mokohuruhuru as a lizard with hair rather than scales. His Maori naturalist informant told him that "it is hairy and is said to be the only hairy lizard in the world as other kinds have scales or smooth skins."[3] On Niue, it is also sometimes explicitly described as a kind of hairy gecko.[5][7]

See also[]

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Taylor, Richard (1855) Te Ika a Maui, or, New Zealand and Its Inhabitants
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Loeb, Edwin M. (1926) History and Traditions of Niue
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Beattie, Herries (1954) Our Southernmost Maoris
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Beattie, Herries (1990) Traditional Lifeways of the Southern Maori
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Smith, S. Percy (1983) Niue: The Island and Its People
  6. Brewster, Adolph (1922) The Hill Tribes of Fiji
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Sperlich, Wolfgang B. (197) Niue Language Dictionary
  8. Best, Elsdon (1924) The Maori, Vol. 1
  9. Alpers, Anthony & Hanly, Patrick (1964) Maori Myths & Tribal Legends
  10. Ell, Gordon (1993) Nature Lore of the Maori