The Mata Mata Freshwater Turtle: Disvovered In The Amazon Rainforest

The Mata Mata Freshwater Turtle: Disvovered In The Amazon Rainforest

The matamata turtle - from its strange habits to its creepy looks, this is quite a special animal. Made only more intriguing by the fact that not many people even know it exists! Native to the Amazon, the matamata turtle is well-sheltered from man and his destructive habits so while it may be rare, the species may be doing much better than they seem.

Mata Turtle Common Snapping
This turtle looks like it may not be alive at first glance, but that is because it is such an ancient species. It is found in the Amazon rainforest and is actually known to be quite vicious.

Physical Attributes

While everything about it is quite odd, one of the matamata turtle's most prominent features is its shell, or carapace as it's sometimes called. The carapace is not only large but also rough and bobbly with what look like spherical cones growing out from it. These bumps are the result of three keels, or ridges, that run from the front to the back of the shell. This isn't just your standard turtle, by any means.

Mata Turtle New Species Turtles Reptiles
Credit: Rune Midtgaard

Moving up from the shell, the matamata turtle had a wide, yet flat neck which is covered all over with warts, skin fringes and ridges. It has a large, flattened, triangular head with two small eyes nestled either side. It has a wide mouth and a long, tubular snout. The tube-like snout is used as a snorkel, minimizing the turtle's movement underwater as only the tip of the snout needs to emerge for the turtle to be able to breathe fully.

While matamatas have extremely poor eyesight, they do have a number of other sensory aids to help detect movements around them. Fleshy flaps extend from the sides of their triangular head, as well as along the neck, which is covered with bumps and ridges. Those skin flaps help camouflage the turtle and contain nerves that respond to stimuli, such as the vibrations caused by the nearby movement of potential prey or predators. Tubercles near the corners of the mouth and neck, as well as barbels on the chin, also reportedly have sensory nerves. The turtle's ears are large and extremely sensitive to sound so even the slightest movement will alert this strange creature.

Fauna Turtles Reptiles

Being an aquatic species, all of the matamata turtle's digits are webbed. Its forelimbs have five claws, while its hind legs have four. Its legs are small with papillose skin and studded scales. Its tail is also papillose, short and pointed. While they are a species that primarily lives in water, matamatas are not as well adapted for swimming in open water as some of their relatives are. They are better suited for walking the muddy beds of shallow pools of water, among leaf and plant debris.

Additional Facts

While it may look cute, this turtle is far from a cuddly friend. Weighing in at about 17.2 kilograms (38 pounds), or about the weight of an average four-year-old child, this turtle is quite the hefty reptile. This turtle's impressive shell grows to quite the size too - around 45 centimeters, which is about 1.5 feet! Despite their large size, these carnivores bottom feeders tend to eat small fish and invertebrates that they vacuum up off the floor of the muddy water they inhabit.

Found largely in dark, wet places, matamata turtles are native throughout the Amazon rainforest in South America in counties such as Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia. They are also found on the island of Trinidad. Another reason why not many people would have seen these turtles is because they're nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and only become active at night.

Whether you think they're lovely and cute, or hideous and scary, these turtles are completely different from the world's standard idea of a turtle. With the peculiar shapes and features, the matamata turtles are quite the sight. Personally, I think they wonderfully unique and I love them, warts and all. What do you think?


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