10 Fun Facts About the Mata Mata Turtle

The Mata mata is a breed of turtle that lives in certain areas of South America. This particular turtle species differs significantly from other species in the turtle family, both in its appearance and its nature. Their heads are particularly noticeable as they are large, triangular, and flattened. Here are ten interesting and fun facts that you probably didn’t know about the mata mata turtle.

1. They Do Not Live in Matamata

When people hear the name mata mata turtle, they often assume that the turtle must come from Matamata. This is a town in New Zealand. This is not the case as they come from South America and are usually found in the Orinoco and Amazon basins. The ones that live in the Amazon basin have dark markings on their head and necks and a rectangular shaped shell. The mata mata turtles from the Orinoco basin have pale necks and oval shells.

2. They Have a Lot of Names

Although mata mata is the name by which this species is usually known, they have also been known by other names. Its original taxonomic name was testudo fimbrata, which it was given in 1783. Since then, it has had a further 14 names. In Spanish, the name mata mata translates as ‘kill kill’.

3. The Live at the Bottom of Streams

Mata mata turtles prefer to live at the bottom of the stream in the midst of the leaf litter rather than in the more visible places in rivers and streams. This is because their shape and color allows them to camouflage against the leaf litter, so it is a great way for them to hide and avoid predators.

4. They Are Unique

This species of turtle is unique as it is the only extant species of its genus ‘Chelus’. This is just one of the facts that makes this turtle so interesting.

5. They Are Not Big Swimmers

As an aquatic animal, most people would assume that the mata mata turtle swims a lot. However, this is not the case as they rarely swim at all. Compared to other species of turtles, the mata mata is relatively sedentary. They prefer to walk along the bottom of the stream and usually only leave the water to lay their eggs.

6. They Are Not Great Pets

It is possible to buy a mata mata turtle and keep it as a pet. However, they are not a great pet to keep for several reasons. First, they are really expensive to buy. Second, they can grow up to two feet in length, so you need a large tank or pond to keep the turtle. Third, they live for a very long time, between 40 and 75 years, so you are making a lifelong commitment. Finally, they are not that interesting to watch as they don’t do much other than eat.

7. They Have Long Necks

The neck of a mata mata turtle is actually longer than its vertebrae and it can easily stretch it to the surface of the water while the rest of its body remains at the bottom of a stream. Some turtles can bend their necks and tuck it back into their shell.

8. They Suck Up Their Prey

Mata matas are carnivorous and live on a diet of predominantly fish and other invertebrates. They suck these in just like a vacuum. The lie with their mouths open waiting for the fish to come along and then suck them up before swallowing them whole and then expelling the water. They do this because the structure of their jaws means they are unable to chew.

9. There is a Mating Ritual

Like with many other animals, the male mata mata turtle puts on a display to attract a female mate. They extend their limbs, lunge their heads forwards, and move the flaps on the side of their heads. They hope by doing this that a female will want to mate with them.

10. October to December is Breeding Season

Mata Mata turtles will usually breed in October and then nest between then and December. A female will produce between 12 and 28 spherical eggs. These are brittle and measure approximately 35 mm in diameter. These eggs are deposited in a clutch that is close to the side of the stream.


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