Reptilian scales are mainly composed of alpha- and beta-keratins. Epidermis and molts from adult individuals of an ancient reptilian species, the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), were analysed by immunocytochemistry, mono- and bi-dimensional electrophoresis, and western blotting for alpha-and beta-keratins. The epidermis of this reptilian species with primitive anatomical traits should represent one of the more ancient amniotic epidermises available. Soft keratins (AE1- and AE3-positive) of 40–63 kDa and with isoelectric points (pI) at 4.0–6.8 were found in molts. The AE3 antibody was diffusely localised over the tonofilaments of keratinocytes. The lack of basic cytokeratins may be due to keratin alteration in molts, following corneification or enzymatic degradation of keratins. Hard (beta-) keratins of 16–18 kDa and pI at 6.8, 8.0, and 9.2 were identified using a beta-1 antibody produced against chick scale beta-keratin. The antibody also labeled filaments of beta-cells and of the mature, compact beta-layer. We have shown that beta-keratins in the tuatara resemble those of lizards and snakes, and that they are mainly basic proteins. These proteins replace cytokeratins in the pre-corneoum beta-layers, from which a hard, mechanically resistant corneoum layer is formed over scales. Beta-keratins may have both a fibrous and a matrix role in forming the hard texture of corneoum scales in this ancient species, as well as in more recently evolved reptiles.