Matamata Turtle (Chelus fimbriata)

Chelus fimbriata (Matamata Turtle)

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Description of the Matamata Turtle

The matamata turtle may not be the cutest turtle but it certainly comes with unique attributes that are fascinating to say the least. First, it is a rugged turtle whose carapace looks like a bark with a neck that resembles a leaf.

Its neck is much longer than its vertebrae. It has a triangular flattened head which comes with skin flaps and a snout that is tubular. Its shell or carapace is brown or black in color.

Chelus fimbriata Matamata Turtle

The tail, head, neck and even limbs have a grayish brown color. It has five webbed claws on each fore foot. It comes with a plastron that is narrowed, reduced and hingeless; shortened in the front part.

At the rear, it is deeply notched with very narrow bridges. The hatchlings will have a pale pinkish hue on their underside although this gradually disappears as they grow.

The matamata turtle has been called lots of names including ‘needle nose’ and ‘leaf head’. In fact, this turtle has been renamed 14 times in 200 years; the most recent scientific name coming in 1992 being Chelus Fimbriatus.

Mata mata is a Spanish name that means ‘kill’ ‘kill’. On a lighter side, some people in South America will refer to unattractive women as ‘mata matas’. This is by no means degrading the exotic beauty of the matamata turtle; even if it will not win a beauty competition any time soon.

Matamata Turtle

Where is the matamata turtle found?

This weird-looking freshwater turtle is a native of South America. It is specifically found in the Amazon and the Orinoco basins. It enjoys living a sedentary lifestyle with little movement.

It thrives in black water streams, marshes, stagnant pools and swamps. In light of this, it will be found in northern Bolivia, eastern Peru, Ecuador, the Guianas Colombia, central Brazil and Venezuela.

This aquatic turtle will be found standing in shallow water with its snout out in the air to breathe.

Matamata Turtle Diet

Matamata Turtle (Chelus fimbriata)

The matamata turtle is carnivorous living on fish and other aquatic invertebrates. Because it cannot chew owing to the nature of its mouth, it has a unique way of catching prey; it uses suction feeding.

This is where the matamata thrusts its head and opens its large mouth creating low pressure vacuum; this literally sucks the prey into its mouth.

When it shuts its mouth, the water will leak slowly and the prey is swallowed whole. The turtle prefers walking on shallow waters rather than swimming.

Matamata Turtle Predators

These turtles will fall prey to large snakes in the wild. However, their biggest predator is the human who hunts them for the pet market. Cats and dogs can also prey on the turtle in a domestic environment.

Matamata Turtle Breeding

Matamata turtle Chelus fimbriata

First, matamatas will weight up to 33lbs and measure about 20 inches in length; meaning they grow quite large.

They nest from October to December in the Upper Amazon where they lay 12 to 28 brittle eggs which are deposited in a clutch. They can live 40 to 75 years and as pets, they can be quite expensive.

They thrive in warm acidic water and the higher the tanning content the better. This should be maintained all year round and moderate to heavy filtration will also be ideal for the turtle.

Hatchling Care

Hatchlings will thrive in shallow acidic waters. Acidity can be enhanced by adding sphagnum moss. 3 to 4 inches of water depth is ideal for the hatchlings.

The small turtles will not require a lot of room to move around but making sure filtration is right is the key. Artificial plants, small rocks and branches will help enhance the environment.

Temperatures should be kept high between 70 to 80 degree Fahrenheit. A basking light will be essential and it can be a 150 watt bulb placed just a foot above the basking spot.

Lastly, Matamatas need an environment that has a humidity level of 70%+. Though this is not commonly shared, dry air can occasionally cause them to contract respiratory infections.

Matamata Turtle Care Video


The Matamata is one of my favorite turtles! It has such a unique aesthetic look. What do you think? Let us know below in the comments!

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About the author

Brock Yates

Brock Yates has a passion for educating people about turtles & tortoises. He manages several websites and has a goal of getting everyone the best and most accurate information to help them with their turtle & tortoise care.


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