Matamata Turtle

Range:
Northern South America including Amazon and Orinoco River drainages.

Habitat:
Prefers the still waters of lakes and ponds, but also found in rivers. Can survive extended periods of time in brackish water.

Description: Flattened yet rugged shell, rough skin, fringe-like appendages which gives the head a triangular appearance when viewed from above. Likely covered with algae.

Size: Up to 18 inches in carapace length

Coloring:
Shell - dark brown or black
Skin - orange-brown to grey-brown

Sexual dimorphism:
Male Matamata turtles have slightly longer tails, and females are larger with wider necks.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
Tube-like proboscis, tiny eyes, conical knobs on each scute of the shell

Diet in Zoo: Fish
Diet in Wild: Various small fishes

Gestation/Incubation:
Matamata Turtles reach sexual maturity at age 5. Nesting occurs between October and December, and incubation is about 208 days.

Offspring:
8 to 28 eggs per clutch. Mothers leave young to fend for themselves.

Method of Temperature Regulation:
Ectothermic

Longevity:
Approximately 35 years in captivity. Little is known about longevity in the wild.

Predators:
Mainly humans, although so unattractive in appearance that it discourages human consumption even where other turtles are eaten.

Behaviors:

  • Don’t chew well.
  • Remain motionless underwater until fish comes close.
  • Then opens mouth and sucks in fish and water like a vacuum cleaner. When it closes its mouth water is expelled and fish are swallowed whole.
  • Poor swimmers, usually found walking along the bottom.

Matamata is Spanish for “I kill, I kill” and is considered an appropriate name for this efficient hunter.

Conservation Status:
Not Threatened/Least Concern