Matamata Turtle

Northern South America including Amazon and Orinoco River drainages.

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

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

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

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

Method of Temperature Regulation:

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

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


  • 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