The Mata Mata
Fransenschildkröte, Mata-Mata (German)
Species: Chelus fimbriatus.
The mata mata is a freshwater turtle that can be found in South America, near the basins of the Amazon and the Orinoco in Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. It also lives on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.
This species lives in water only, it only reaches out its snout in order to breathe. Mata mata prefers blackwater streams with a thick layer of ooze, where it can lay in ambush and hunt.
The adult turtles are quite large: their carapace reaches up to 46 cm long.
The mata mata has rather exotic appearance. Its plastron is rough and warted, it makes a perfect disguise for the turtle and lets it remain invisible for its prey. The head is very big, triangular-shaped and flattened. At the end of the snout there is a flexible nasal extension. The neck is long, thin and fringed. This fringe enables the turtle to absorb more oxygen from the water. The turtle has a big mouth; this means that it can hunt a large prey and swallow it. Its eyes are small and close-set; it is a result of adaptation to muddy waters it lives in (the eyesight is not required there).
An adult male’s plastron is concave, the tail is long and thin. The female’s plastron is even and the tail is short and thick. The plastron of sexually mature turtles is yellow or brown.
New-born turtles are brighter coloured than adults.
It is a sedentary species; sometimes its carapace is even covered with algae. It makes a good disguise and helps the mata mata to hide from predators and hunt its prey.
The mata mata is not easily tamed, it can be aggressive towards people.
You should wear solid gloves when you handle it.
The mata mata is a large species, so it needs an adequate tank. Young turtles can feel good in enclosures from 200 to 250 liter, because they are not very active and spend a lot of time burrowed in the substrate and waiting for the prey. Adult turtles require a large tank, about 500-700 liters for one mata mata. A powerful external filter is a must. The filter will have to be cleaned often since these turtles eat a lot, and, as a result, soil a lot. This changes the water chemistry, and the turtle can be poisoned by such water. Don’t forget: the water may seem clean, its chemical structure doesn’t always affect its transparency. In order to maintain the safe level of nitrites, ammonia and nitrates, you should change the water weekly. A water depth of 30 cm is sufficient, because in the wild the mata mata lives in shallow waters, and it can be difficult for the reptile to breathe in deep water.
The mata mata is very demanding to the chemical structure of the water. The pH should be about 5.0 – 5.5. You can add to the water turf, sphagnum or oak leaves. They will eventually fall on the bottom and partly decompose creating suitable substrate for a turtle. The bottom of the tank has to be covered with sand, gravel can injure the turtle’s skin and plastron. You can also have real plants in the tank: the mata mata is so passive that it doesn’t destroy them. Logs or branches are very desirable for hiding places and basking.
Some specialists recommend to add to the water non-iodized salt in order for the turtle to feel more comfortable.
The mata mata prefers so called blackwater: the water saturated with humic acid that developed as a result of decomposition of leaves and logs. In a tank you can use agents like Torumin in order to achieve the same result.
The ambient temperature should be about 28-30°C.
The air humidity should be around 60-70%.
The mata mata needs 12 hours of light a day with a UV lamp.
The water pH should be 5—5,5.
The ideal water temperature is 28-30 degrees.
The mata mata is an omnivorous species. Live feed is preferable: you can use any kinds of foraging fish (goldfish, guppies etc). Also the turtle eats mealworm, shellfish, mice, birds. It is possible to feed it with meat (ox heart) and frozen fish.
The mata mata hunts from an ambush: it lies in the layer of ooze and when it sees a potential prey, it shoots ahead and sucks in the food like a pump.
It is a long-living species with interesting hunting pattern.
The mata mata is a predator; it cannot be kept together with fish, amphibians and other turtles.
It requires a large tank, a powerful filter and very much food.
It also requires frequent cleaning of the tank; it is sensitive to the water characteristics.
It is best not to handle the turtle if it is not absolutely necessary: they don’t like it and young turtles get really stressed by it.
The mata mata is an aquatic species, it comes ashore only for breeding. It prefers to walk on the bottom, swims rarely.
The mata mata rarely gets ill. Recently cauht specimens can have tapeworms that are treated with antihelmintic medicines prescribed by a vet.
Young turtles can get rachitis if they lack calcium or UV light. Proper husbandry is the best prevention.
In the wild the female gets ashore after mating in order to lay eggs (up to 200). It doesn’t take care of hatchlings. Never breeds in captivity.
Average life span is from 45 to 70 years. There even have been reports about specimens living to 100 years.