Matamata

Chelus fimbriatus

Description

Once one has seen a Matamata, it is unlikely to ever be confused with any other turtle. The Matamata is truely one of a kind. A sidenecked turtle from South America. Brown or black oblong carapace to 44.9 cm. The plastron is reduced, narrowed, hingeless, shortened towards the front and deeply notched at the rear. Bridges are narrow. Plastron and bridge are cream to yellow or brown.

The head is very distinctive, triangular, large, extremely flattened. There are numerous tubercles and flaps of skin. There are two barbels on the chin and two additional filamentous barbels at the jaw. The snout is long and tubular. The upper jaw is neither hooked or notched.

Head, neck, tail, and limbs are grayish brown on adults. The neck is very long, longer than the vertebra under the 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.

Habitat

Prefers slow moving, blackwater streams, stagnant pools, marshes, and swamps. Ranges into northern Bolivia, eastern Peru, Ecuador, eastern Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, and northern and central Brazil.

Behavior

Prefers shallow water where it can reach the surface to breathe. Can hold its breath for a long time, remaining motionless on the bottom. Creeps along the bottom rather than swim, probably never basks. A wait and ambush predator, it will remain almost motionless underwater, its bizarre skin flaps helping it to blend into the surrounding vegetation, until a fish comes close. The turtle thrusts out its head and opens its large mouth as wide as possible, creating a low pressure volume that sucks the prey into the turtle's mouth. The Matamata snaps its mouth shut, the water is slowly expelled, and the fish is swallowed whole. The prey has to be appropriately sized for the turtle; Matamatas cannot chew very well due to the way their mouths are constructed.

Reproduction

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. 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.

Food

Carnivorous, feeding on aquatic invertebrates and fish.

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