Matamata Turtle

Chelus fimriatus

Matamata Turtle

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Freshwater turtle found in South America.

- One of the interesting display animals

- Somewhat expensive to obtain

- Setting up its enclosure is difficult

Matamata Turtle is one of the most unusual turtle found in the world. It looks similar to a pile of rocks or debris. It has a wide head with a pointy nose. The head, tail, limbs and neck of the adults are grayish brown in color. The carapace of the hatchlings has a pink to reddish tinge which disappears on growing. Multi-branched tufts seen along the head and neck glide and sway with the water current. At that time the turtle appears as if it is covered with algae. So the tufts act as a camouflage for the turtles. Algae growing on the carapace give it a rock like appearance. The skin and shell color of the matamatas blend with the surroundings.

An adult may be 16 to 20 inches in length. In captivity an adult requires a water depth of 8 – 10 inches while a depth of 3 – 4 inches is sufficient for a baby matamata. Adult Matamata Turtle swims rarely. It lies motionless on the bottom of water. Water should be shallow enough so that it stretches its neck above the water level and breathe. The water should also be deep enough so that it can be fully submersed under water. There should be live plants in its enclosure. Water should be kept clean and changed regularly. Oxygen should be supplied which kills the bacteria in water. During breeding season, it deposits its eggs in the land area.

In captivity to keep matamata turtles successfully, water quality plays an important role. The water should be slightly acidic with a pH between 5 and 6. The water should have high tannin content. Acidity of water can be increased by the addition of sphagnum moss. The temperature of water should be maintained between 78° – 82°F. The surrounding room should be kept between 80° – 85°F. Otherwise the turtle may breathe cool air and can be affected with respiratory problems. Sand is selected as the substrate which prevents abrasion to the turtle’s plastron. It also acts as an anchor for plants.

A 100 watt spotlight is fitted in the enclosure which gives the warmth and provides better viewing. There should also be an UVB emitting bulb. Matamata Turtle is a carnivore. It can feed on live fish like mollies, platies, goldfish, guppies and sunfish. The enclosure should always be stocked with fish so that it can eat at anytime. Female matamata lays 1 – 2 dozen eggs. In captivity the eggs will hatch when they are kept at a temperature of 28° – 29°C for 200 days.

Young matamata turtle should not be handled often. It will eat only if it feels secure in the enclosure. It can live for about 40 – 75 years. Its large size, unique appearance and its life style make it one of the best display animals. Due to the difficulties in setting the enclosure for it, many people do not prefer to keep it as a pet.


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