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Mata Mata. Discover this Strange Turtle

La tortuga mata mata es una extraña tortuga que habita en América.

The mata mata, mata-mata or matamata (Chelus fimbriata) is a species of freshwater turtle found in South America, mainly in the Amazon and Orinoco basins. It is one of two extant species of the genus Chelus, the other being Chelus orinocensis.

Mata mata was first described by the French naturalist Pierre Barrère in 1741 as a “large land tortoise with pointed and striated scales”,

Características de la tortuga mata mata.

The mata mata is a large, sedentary tortoise with a large, triangular, flattened head with many tubercles and skin flaps, and a “horn” on its long, tubular snout. Three barbels appear on the chin and four additional filamentous barbels on the upper jaw, which has no hooks or notches.

The brown or black, oblong carapace of the mata mata can measure up to 95 cm (37 in) in adulthood. The full weight of the mata mata is 21 kg (46 lb).

The plastron of the mata mata is reduced, narrow, unhinged, shortened towards the front and deeply notched at the rear with narrow bridges, which may allow the turtle to resemble a piece of bark, camouflaging itself from potential predators. [The plastron and bridges are cream to yellow or brown.

The head, neck, tail and limbs are grayish brown in adults. The neck is longer than the vertebra under the carapace and is bordered with small flaps of skin along both sides.

Hatchlings show a pink to reddish tinge on the lower edge of their carapaces and plastrons that gradually fades as they grow.

Each foreleg has five webbed claws. Males have concave plastrons and longer, thicker tails than females

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La tortuga mata mata habita en las cuencas del Amazonas y el Orinoco.

The mata mata inhabits slow-moving blackwater streams, stagnant pools, swamps and marshes throughout northern Bolivia, eastern Peru, Ecuador, eastern Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas and northern and central Brazil

It is a strictly aquatic species, but prefers to stay in shallow waters where its snout can reach the surface to breathe.

The appearance of the mata mata’s carapace resembles a piece of bark and its head resembles fallen leaves. Remaining motionless in the water, the fins on its skin allow it to blend in with the surrounding vegetation until a fish approaches

The killifish sticks its head out and opens its large mouth wide, creating a low-pressure vacuum that sucks prey into its mouth, known as suction feeding. It closes its mouth, the water is slowly expelled and the fish is swallowed whole; the mata mata cannot chew because of the way its mouth is constructed.

The mata mata is carnivorous and feeds exclusively on aquatic invertebrates and fish. When the stomach contents of 20 wild mata mata turtles were examined, they consisted exclusively of small fish.

The turtles feed predominantly at night in muddy waters with limited visibility. However, the turtle is well adapted to hunting in these conditions. The mata mata has very fine eyesight with light-reflecting eyes, similar to other nocturnal reptiles. In addition, the flippers on the skin of the neck are also extremely sensitive and help the mata mata to detect nearby movement.

Mata mata tortoises use a specific method to capture prey. They carry the prey to shallower areas of the water, encircle it and shake their front legs to prevent it from escaping. Once surrounded, mata mata turtles open their mouths and contract their pharynx, causing a rush of water to push the prey into their mouths.

Males display to females by extending their limbs, thrusting their heads toward females with their mouths open, and moving the lateral flippers of their heads. Nesting occurs from October to December in the Upper Amazon. The 12 to 28 fragile, spherical eggs, 35 mm in diameter, are deposited in a clutch.

La tortuga mata mata se cría en cautividad.

Mata mata tortoises are readily available in the exotic pet trade and are quite expensive to obtain. Because of their unique appearance, they make interesting display animals. They also grow quite large. However, mata matas are not active hunters, so, like the alligator snapping turtle, they need less space than a large, active species.

As with all aquatic turtles, water quality is one of the keys to successfully keeping this species in captivity. It is best to use warm, acidic water with a high tannin content, which should be maintained throughout the year. Moderate to strong filtration is recommended

Author David Fogel finds his mata mata tortoises in captivity to be quite intelligent. For example, he has observed one turtle position itself near the aquarium spray bar at feeding time so that floating food is pushed below the water surface where the turtle can more easily pick it up.

Alejandra Roig

Alejandra Roig

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