Mata Mata Turtle

Chelus fimbriatus

Scientific Name

Mata Mata Turtle:  
Chelus fimbriatus

Distribution and Habitat

Geographic Range

The mata mata turtle originated from the northern part of South America. They can be found in the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers.

Natural Habitat

They are found in muddy, stagnant, shallow pools and streams. In this environment they are able to ambush their prey. They mainly dwell in freshwater rivers but can tolerate salt or brackish water.

Physical Characteristics

  • This is an aquatic creature with a distinctive head and neck that helps make them easily recognizable. Along with being long and flat, the head and neck have tufts or fringe; hence its Latin name “chelus fimbriatus.” These creatures can weigh up to 27 pounds and grow to 18 inches in length. They have wide mouths and atop their snout are two very small eyes.

Quick Facts

  1. Their name is believed to come from the Tupi Guarani word “matamata”, which is the word for these turtles.

  2. Algae grows on the roughened carapace, causing it to look like an old, encrusted rock.

  3. The feeding of a captive mata mata is relatively straightforward. Most animals require live prey of an appropriate size—the turtle must be able to swallow the fish whole.


Amphibian and Reptile Center

Conservation Status

Least Concern: The Mata Mata Turtle is common or abundant and is likely to survive in the wild.

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The mata mata is nocturnal, feeding on a variety of foods such as fish, freshwater invertebrates, and even the occasional small animal or bird that ventures near the water.