Matamata Fact File
Matamata are very flat turtles. Their shell features a rough, knobbly surface as a result of the three keels which run from the front to the back. On the carapace (top of the shell) they are colored dark brown. On the plastron (underside) it is colored yellow or brown. Due to the low amount of activity they undertake their shell is often covered with algae. Their appearance helps them to blend in with leaf and plant debris on the bottom of the rivers they call home.
Their skin on the head, legs and tails is grayish brown. The tail is flat and triangular shaped with frills of skin on the neck and tubrecules extending from the front of the head. At the front of their head is the long, snorkel like nose. This is an adaptation which allows them to breathe without having to move to the surface. The ear is large and they can sense sound well.
They have webbed feet. On the front feet there are 5 claws while the back has 4.
Males and females have some slight physical differences. The tail is longer in males and they have a concave plastron.
A matamata may measure up to 45cm (18in) long and weigh 17.2kg (38lbs).
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The matamata is a carnivore. Their diet consists of fish and invertebrates. On a rare occasion they may eat a small bird, amphibian or mammal that has entered the water.
To catch food they will spend their time sitting on the bottom of the water course they call home. When prey swims past the mouth will open and suck in water drawing the prey item in with it.
South America is the native home of the matamata. Here they can be found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
They spend most of their time in the water in rivers, streams, swamps and marshes. Matamata tend to favor water courses with a muddy bottom.
Nesting takes place from October to December. Males initiate courtship by extending his head to the female and then opening and closing the mouth repeatedly. They will also move the flaps on the head.
Females leave the water to nest. They make this nest in the vegetation at the edge of a forest.
A clutch is made up of 12-28 eggs. The shell of the egg is brittle. Their incubation is relatively long at around 200 days. The female leaves after egg laying and has no further involvement with the young.
The matamata turtle is primarily nocturnal.
Adult turtles rarely swim. Instead they mostly walk along the bottom of the river they call home. Juveniles will swim awkwardly for the first few years of their life.
Predators and Threats
Large snakes will prey upon the matamata.
Their main defense against predation is the hard shell and their camouflage.
Humans reduce the population of matamata turtles mainly through poaching for the illegal wildlife trade as they are sought after by hobbyists. Previously they were hunted in large numbers for food but other species have become popular over the years and this has reduced.
Matamata translates to “it kills, it kills” in Spanish.
By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=439537
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=209310
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