Mata mata

The mata mata (binomial name Chelus fimbriatus) is a freshwater turtle found in South America, primarily in the Amazon and Orinoco basins.


The mata mata was described for the first time by French naturalist Pierre Barrère in 1741 as a "large land turtle with spiky and ridged scales". It was first classified as Chelus fimbriatus by German naturalist Johann Gottlob Schneider in 1783. It was renamed 14 different times in 2 centuries, finally being renamed Chelus fimbriatus in 1934 by Robert Mertens and Muller.

Anatomy and morphology

The mata mata is a large sedentary turtle which has a large triangular flattened head characterized with many tubercles and flaps of skin and a "horn" on its long and tubular snout. There are two barbels on the chin and two additional filamentous barbels at the upper jaw, which is neither hooked nor notched.

The mata mata's brown or black oblong carapace can measure up to 45 cm (18 in) at adult age. The full adult weight is 15 kg (33 lb). The mata mata's plastron is reduced, narrowed, hingeless, shortened towards the front, and deeply notched at the rear with narrow bridges. The plastron and bridges are cream to yellow or brown.

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

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


The mata mata inhabits slow moving, blackwater streams, stagnant pools, marshes, and swamps ranging into northern Bolivia, eastern Peru, Ecuador, eastern Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, and northern and central Brazil. The mata mata is strictly an aquatic species but it prefers standing in shallow water where its snout can reach the surface to breathe.


The appearance of the mata mata's shell resembles a piece of bark, and its head resembles fallen leaves. As it remains motionless in the water, its skin flaps enable it to blend into the surrounding vegetation until a fish comes close The mata mata thrusts out its head and opens its large mouth as wide as possible, creating a low-pressure vacuum that sucks the prey into its mouth. The Matamata snaps its mouth shut, the water is slowly expelled, and the fish is swallowed whole; the mata mata cannot chew due to the way its mouth is constructed.


Males display for females by extending their limbs, lunging the head toward the female with mouth agape, and moving the lateral flaps on the head. Nesting occurs from October through December in the Upper Amazon. The 12 to 28 brittle, spherical, 35 mm diameter eggs are deposited in a clutch. Hatchlings are more colorful than adults with pink and red colors on the face and shell.


The mata mata is carnivorous, feeding exclusively upon aquatic invertebrates and fish.


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