Matamata Care Sheet


Scientific Facts

Common NameMatamata Turtle
Scientific NameChelus Fimbriata
OriginSouth America, primarily in the Amazon and Orinoco basins
Habitatslow-moving and shallow bodies of water with a muddy bottom such as swamps, marshes, and streams
Dietfish, shrimps, guppies or smelts, crickets, mealworms, earthworms, snails, and crayfish
Lifespan40 -75 + years
Size and Weight16-20 inches;38 pounds

Physical Description

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Matamata is described to be a turtle with ridged and spiky scales. It has a unique appearance; its shells are knobby and rough. It has a large flat head with a long snorkel-like mouth. Its upper jaw has three barbels that are either notched or hooked. The plastron is narrowed and shortened with the colors of brown and yellow so that camouflaging will be easy for them. Males tend to have a plastron that is thicker and longer than females. 

The colors of the overall head, neck limbs, and tails are grayish with hints of brown. Their digits are webbed; they have five claws and hind legs of five. It has small legs with studded scales and a papillose skin. Males and females show sexual dimorphism or differences in appearance. During their juvenile years, they tend to have a pinkish-red coloration with green and black spots, but as they grow, these pigmentations will slowly change into the color combinations of brown, yellow, orange, and gray. 

Where it is Seen?

They are seen in the slow-moving bodies of water of eastern Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil.


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They are a semi-aquatic turtle that prefers slow-moving and shallow bodies of water with a muddy bottom such as swamps, marshes, and streams. They are often seen on the brackish waters if Amazon.


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When thus turtle camouflage, its shells show resembles a bark if a tree while its head resembles that of fallen brown leaves. For them to get prey in the water, they stay motionless until their prey comes near them and opening their mouths as wide as possible so that there will be a low-pressure that sucks their food mouth known as suction feeding. They do not chew their food because if how their mouth is designed. In the waters, they should be kept moving for them to move; that is why when they need to rest, they’ll just go out where they can rest their snout. 

They are quite a lazy turtle, some of them move so little that algae started to grow in their shells. Juvenile matamatas are more active than adults; they can be more active in the land and in the water, but as they grow and age, they lose their mobility. Matamata is considered as timid reptiles that do not like to be handled, they are not clingy. They tend to be aggressive when threatened that mite bites your fingers like biting their prey. 

They are more active in daytime swimming, basking, and waiting for food. They have very good eyesight that reflects light like that of nocturnal reptiles. Their skin flaps on the neck allow are sensitive to detect nearby movements making it useful if they are catching their prey.  Hiding in the water area is a way for them to release the stress that they are experiencing, especially if there are hunters or predators.

Size and Weight

They are considered as one of the largest turtle species. They have an average size of 16-20 inches long with a weight of about 38 pounds or about the weight of your toddler child. The females tend to be larger than males.


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The majority of their diet is the small creatures in the bodies of water or in the land, making them carnivores. Their diet consists of fish, shrimps, guppies or smelts, crickets, mealworms, earthworms, snails, and crayfish. They should only be fed with aquatic invertebrates and fish to ensure that they are supplied with vitamins and nutrients. They have a unique predation method wherein they camouflage and remain motionless when their prey is near; that is the time when they vacuum up their prey.

Breeding and Reproduction

Males initiate mating by extending their limbs and closely moving their heads towards the females while opening and closing their mouths. The nesting season happens in the months of October through December, where the females lay about 12 to 30 eggs in a sandy place or decaying vegetation near the swamps or marshes. These eggs, which are spherical and brittle have a long incubation period of about 200 days. Matamata is not just like other reptiles that would care for their young. As soon as the eggs hatched, the juvenile is the ones who would fend for themselves.

Life Span

The most documentation about the turtle’s lifespan is from 45-75 years in the wild, but if taken in captivity with the right care, they can extend their life span up to 100 years

Common Illnesses/Diseases

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Nutritional Diseases

The food you are serving them is where most of their nutrients come from. If your turtle always gets the optimum nutritional value it needed to grow; then it will have better immune responses against different kinds of illnesses or diseases. A turtle who is suffering from nutritional deficiencies can be seen on its sick physical appearance and it causes them to be inactive. There are supplements that you can mix in their food to avoid any nutrients deficiency.

Infectious Diseases 

This is common to aquatic turtles living in a poor environment caused by different kinds of bacteria. Some of the infections the turtle get are digestive tract, respiratory tract, ears, skin, and shell infections. For external infections ranges from mild to severe. The condition is mild if the infection is only within the superficial or keratin layer that may be cured through topicals and it is considered severe when the infection is absorbed through the skin until the bones. 

Parasite  infections

When the turtle has diarrhea that has fecal with blood, there is a possibility that it suffers parasitic infection, specifically worms, and amoeba that affects the kidneys, liver, digestive tract, and the circulatory system. The turtle may need to undergo antibiotic treatment. It is important to ensure that the food that you will be giving to them is always clean.

Reproductive Diseases 

During the reproductive cycle of females during sexual maturity, it undergoes different processes to form the eggs. The problem arises anywhere this process; the common reproductive problem is when the eggs remain too long in the oviduct and fail to ovulate that may be a cause of decomposition that leads to yolk spoilage, which causes different complications that is fatal. When a fully grown egg can’t go out because of its size, it may move to different areas of the turtle’s body such as their urinary bladder or colon that causes obstruction and complications. These stuck eggs should be removed by means of surgery only.

For males, their penis becomes traumatized and somehow deformed during the mating process, and sometimes, they tend to copulate on things that have a shape or looks like a turtle such as rocks. If their penis remains extruded due to swelling, it needs medical attention. In some severe cases, the penis may be amputated.

Foreign Bodies 

These turtles are quite curious about everything that they see. They use to eat everything that they see, especially small items such as gravel, jewelry, coins, etc. If the turtles are large enough, it can just pass through in its digestive system without a problem; however, large items may be trapped in their digestive system that may cause an obstruction. If not removed, it may be fatal, which is why at times surgery is needed. In captivity, make sure that their housing is always clean free from small accessories that they can put in their mouths.

Septicaemic cutaneous ulcerative disease

The manifestations of this disease can be saw if there is an underlying purulent discharge, petechial hemorrhages on the shell and skin, anorexia, and liver necrosis. Aside from observing proper hygiene, the turtle needs to undergo penicillin medication for 3-4 days.


Even though the shell’s appearance is hard, the turtle can feel pain when somebody knocks on it or when the turtle bump on something. They can get trauma through accidents, and this is seen on their shells. You should be able to determine a mild to severe damage on the shell. There are techniques made so that the shell will be repaired.

Necrotic stomatitis

You know that your turtle is suffering from this disease if there is redness of the mouth lining, excessive salivation, petechiae in the oral cavity, and ulceration or granuloma formation on the mouth. You need to treat it with antibiotics for about a week.

Preventing Illness

Even though mata matas are a hardy species, you still need to give them what they need, such as proper husbandry that promotes cleanliness. Most of the diseases and illnesses that they acquire are due to poor environment. If the place where your pet lives is clean and organized, then your pet will be happy, and it won’t cause any stress that lowers down their immunity. If your pet is not equipped with the right immunity to be strong, then there is a higher possibility that they will be prone to diseases or illnesses that may be a cause of their death.

Captive Breeding

Matamata is not an advisable pet for beginners because of their height and weight, but building up their housing is not that complicated since they do not need much space because they are not that active, but you should still need to give them ample space for them to move and do their activities. This is not an in-demand turtle species for captive breeding because of its size, maintenance and that they are pricey. Their lifespan is just like a human being that will not do anything just to eat, that is why you also need to take into consideration the food that you will be giving them in a couple of years. These are some of the considerations that you need to know before taking them into captivity:

  • Mata matas doesn’t like to be handled. You can watch them from their tank, but taking them out from their tank forcibly causes a lot of stress to them. They are not just like your domesticated cats, dogs, or even snake that you can play with. They are just considered as a good display pet.
  • They are quite particular with the environment that they are in. Be prepared to set up a wet and dry area as well as heating, lighting, and water filtration equipment to keep them happy and healthy.
  • Their water area should always be clean because this is where they would spend their time most of the time. Don’t let them soak in dirty water because so that they won’t be sick due to bacterial infections. You need to devote your time in cleaning their tank frequently to achieve this.
  • You need to use a big size vivarium even though you will start out with hatchlings because in just a couple of months your hatchling that has a length of two inches can grow fast and become 18 inches in an instant/
  • It is ideal to only put one matamata in one tank so it would be difficult if you want to breed in captivity.

Availability-Where to Get One

These turtles are often exported and are usually seen in some pet trades because of their unusual physical appearance, but they are expensive to acquire. They are a good display; that is why a good number of personal collectors acquired this in captivity. If you want to acquire one, you need to check it with your local animal store, or you need to search from different online stores that sell matamata.

How to Care Reptile as a Pet

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The advisable dimensions of their housing area about 60 gallons or around 70-80 square feet. Since they are semi-aquatic species, you may need to provide them a land area and water area; there should be 40%water and 60% land area. The water area should only be 19 inches deep equipped with an air pump and a water filter to ensure cleanliness. The bottom of the aquarium should be filled in with gravel while the land area can be filled in with a pile of rocks with gravel. 

The water area is used by the turtles to hide and to hunt food. The pH level should always be checked because they love to thrive in a slightly acidic environment, which is about pH levels 5 or 6. You can increase the pH level by means of adding more sphagnum moss. These turtles don’t swim much; they will just lie on the bottom.

Lighting and Temperature

The water temperature should always be maintained at 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. They are originally seen in tropical environments; that is why it is advisable to place them at a higher temperature. You may need to set up lighting equipment with at least 70-160 watt heat bulb for just above the basking area. The basking area should be at around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The water area should have a temperature of about 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit while the land area should be at 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Turtle Food and water

In captivity, it is advisable to feed them live fish always just place it in the water area. If the turtle is hungry, it will go to the water area to eat. Your matamata has the ability to eat 30-40 small fishes at a particular mealtime. They are usually given goldfish or minnows. There should be a separate basin for the water to drink, and it should be changed regularly.

Turtle Handling and Temperament

Experts suggest to only handle your turtle if you know that it is already established in their housing and if they are already comfortable. If you started out from hatchlings, you need to wait for a couple of feedings before you can handle them more often because when a turtle eats in their habitat, that is an indication that your pet is already adjusting.

Substrate and Accessories

It is your goal to create an environment for them that will give them the same feeling that they are in their natural habitat, you can create this by placing it artificial plants or aquatic plants even at the water area because it is considered as their basking spot. There should also be a branch log or rocks in the land area. Make sure that all the accessories have smooth edges to avoid wounding or cuts that may lead to other skin diseases such as shell rot. 

Conservation Status

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Even though mata mata is not currently included in the red list, but they are now listed as threatened. There are a couple of reasons why they are being threatened one of the reasons is illegal hunting for captive breeding, some matamata that was taken out from their natural habitat will cause great stress to them that will lead to death even before they are displayed. Aside from being used in different pet displays, they are also hunted for their meat, especially in some countries that make use of their meat as a delicacy. 

Deforestation is also a major problem in the Amazon where the natural habitat for different kinds of animals are destroyed because of man-made destructions, but the largest contribution to their near extinction is due to over-collection for the pet trade, especially in some countries such as in Europe and the United States. 

Facts About Matamata

Mata matas is not from the place Matamata

Matamata is a place in New Zealand where the Lord of the Rings cast shot, but that is not the place where you can see the mata mata turtle. This species originated in South America, specifically in the Amazon rainforest and Orinoco basins.

They are often seen on leaf litter located at the bottom of the shallow streams

Because of their physical appearance that has a leaf-shaped head, ragged skin flaps, and bark-like flat shells, they can camouflage easily so that their predators, as well as the hunters, can’t see them easily.

There is an indication of your matamata naturally came from the Amazon which is its natural habitat

You can tell if your mata mata is from Amazon, and that is through its shell and shells’ colorations. If the turtle is originally from the Amazon, it should have dark markings in the neck and head, and their shells are more rectangular in shape while that matamata that came from other countries has an oval shell with a neck color in the pale shade. 

It has been called a lot of names

For the past 200 years, this species was called different names such as leaf head, needle nose, Chelus fimbriatus, etc. but its common name is matamata, which has a translation of “kill, kill” in the Spanish language. In their main origin, which is in South America, it refers to women that are not attractive.

Mata matas don’t actually swim

They love to soak in slow-moving bodies of water to get food but not to swim. If they are under the water, they just keep still waiting for their prey to pass by. They prefer short walks in swamps and marshes.

The Mata mate’s neck is longer than its vertebra.

They have a long neck that serves as a snorkel when they are under the water. They are not like other turtles that can hide their whole heads in their shells, but they are capable of tucking or bending their heads on the sides.

They eat up their prey just like a vacuum

Instead of walking or swimming to get food, they are the species that wait for their food to come. When their prey approaches, they will stretch out their necks and suck their prey like a speck of dirt. They do not have teeth and that their jaw doesn’t have the ability to chew, so they swallow it immediately.

FAQ Section

What is matamata?

They are an aquatic turtle that lives in a wet environment such as swamps and rivers of South America. They are only freshwater species

What other names does the mata mata turtle have?

Their names are usually spelled as “mata mata”, “matamata” Mata-Mata”, or “mata mata”. Whatever you call it, they are all the same and pertaining to only one turtle species.

What is the mata mata turtle’s Latin name meaning?

Its scientific name, which is Chelus Fimbriata, means Chelus (tortoise) and Fimbriata (fimbriatus). 

What are the other matamata species?

Matamata is the only surviving turtle of their species in the classification of the cells. So breeding them further increases their populations so that it won’t be extinct.

Do matamata turtles bite?

These turtles are capable of biting, especially if they are threatened, but it’s rare. They are not aggressive that will just attack anyone unless it is prey. If they bite you, there is a possibility that they don’t feel comfortable with the way you handle them and that they mistook your hands as food.

Do matamata turtles bask in the sun?

If they are in the wild, they almost spend their time in the water with their snouts sticking out, so they do not actually bask, but in captivity, they are given an area where they can bask since they do not receive sunlight exposure.

Do matamata turtles know how to swim?

During their juvenile years, they tend to be a good swimmer, but as they age, they lack the agility to do it because of their weight and lack of speed.

Are matamata turtles friendly?

These species are naturally lonely. In the wild, they only socialize to other species of their kind if it is the mating season. In captivity, expect that they will be shy in interacting with humans and sometimes show signs of aggressiveness.

Do people consume matamata turtles?

Eating these kinds of species is not illegal in some countries because it is already a part of their culture, but to ensure that their populations won’t go extinct, it is advisable to not hunt it for food. There are now governing buddies to protect their populations in the wild.

What are the predators of matamata turtle? 

Aside from humans that eat them, there is no known animal that eats them as predators because of their shells and thick skin. They are also good at hiding and camouflaging; that is why when a threat comes in, they can escape quickly.

Can matamata turtles can hide into their shells?

Matamata is considered as side-necked turtles wherein they can only bend their necks sideways, but they cannot hide it on their shell, maybe because of its size. 

How long can a matamata turtle go without eating?

An adult healthy matamata turtle can live at least a month without any food, but it is important that there is water to keep them hydrated, but as a responsible pet owner, you wouldn’t leave your matamata turtle without any food. 

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