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Taking Care of Your Pet Mata Mata Turtle

Updated on October 2, 2014

Matamata Turtle Sketch

Chelus Fimbriata Mata Mata turtle Sketch
Chelus Fimbriata Mata Mata turtle Sketch

Commonly known as the Mata Mata turtle, the Chelus fimbriata is a South American species of snapping turtle. They are commonly found in the Orinoco River and Amazon River basin. One of the weirdest types of turtles, the Mata Mata turtle looks roughly like a pile of dried and decayed wood and leaves.

It is characterized by a big triangular head, an elongated neck covered with scales, spikes and horns. Three barbels protrude under its chin and two sets of filamentous barbels jut out of the upper jaw. Its upper jaw is slightly angular and extends into a long snorkel-shaped muzzle. The snorkel muzzle is probably used in the same manner as a scuba diver's snorkel. The brown or black carapace (upper shell) is quadrilateral and can reach 18 inches in an adult. The carapace is flat with extensive keels and serration. Three keels run parallel along the stretch of its shell, growing from each scute and end into a lump like formation. A wide smiley face, complemented with such enigmatic structure makes it look quite villainous, almost like Batman's Joker. The plastron is unattached and smaller than its carapace. Chelus fimbriata hatchlings are vividly colored, identifiable by a brown shell and bright red-black stripes on their body.

A Matamata Turtle in its Aquarium

A Matamata Turtle in its Aquarium: A Simulation of its Natural Habitat
A Matamata Turtle in its Aquarium: A Simulation of its Natural Habitat

How to Prepare a Home for Your Mata-Mata Turtle

Mata Mata turtles inhabit slow moving rivulets and shallow ponds, marshes, stagnant pools, and wetlands around the Amazon River and tributaries in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. Though mata mata is an aquatic species it tends to avoid deep water bodies. Shallow water with plenty of natural debris and a little vegetation is ideal for them. Their physical structure has evolved to offer an impressive camouflage in such an environment. The Mata-Mata turtles are expert in just idling around. This is probably the reason they shun deeper water bodies, lest they might just doze off and sink to the bottom. They sit amid the debris, floating in the water and you will notice them only if they move, and THAT, my friend, rarely happens. These turtles sit still like rocks and rarely move. They are extremely cautious of movement in water. Even if they sense their favorite treat around them they will keep lounging. They will simply expand their neck and open their mouth sucking in the treat with some water. They swallow the treat, expelling the excess water. On such moments the lazy bugger will surprise you with incredulous speed.

The Chelus fimbriata prefer spending most of the day dipped in shallow water. A 300 gallon water tank, measuring 4`x4`, would be perfect for an adult male Mata Mata Turtle. The water depth should not exceed 8 to 10 inches. Although they aren't the most active species, you should provide enough space to permit free movement.

They belong to the Tropics; therefore it is advised to simulate a similar atmosphere in the aquarium. The ideal temperature for their simulated habitat should be around 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature at the basking area should be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is possible you should allow your turtles some time in the natural sunlight. In case this isn't possible it is advisable to fit a UVB light above the basking area.

Snack Time for Matamata Turtle

A Chelus Fimbriata: probably grinning for incoming food.
A Chelus Fimbriata: probably grinning for incoming food.

How to Feed Your Mata Mata Turtle

The Mata Mata turtles are violent carnivores and prefer to prey on live meat. Alive fish are their delicacy of choice. Mollies, goldfish, Minnows, guppies and sunfish also appeal to its taste-buds. Unlike many other turtles the Mata Mata isn't a gobbler, it eats only when it is hungry.

Adult Mata Mata Turtle Eating a Small Bream Fish


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