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The Matamata is one of the largest freshwater turtles. An adult age turtle could reach a shell size of 18 inches. Its flat head is connected to a long neck which presents many protuberances, warts and ridges. Its scutes have a conical shape and they are determining by well formed symmetrical rings. The mouth is wide and the snout is long. Matamata’s eyes are very small and they are located by the snout.
The Carapace and neck color vary from a dark brown to a mahogany; while the plastron has a salmon color. With the time, the salmon color changes on the plastron to yellows and browns. The throat on the young has a reddish brown color and eventually will change to a tan brown.
The Matamata lives on the north part of South America, around the Orinoco and Amazon rivers on both Venezuela and Brazil respectively. They spend most of the time on the water walking around the bottom. They actually breath thanks to their long necks that extend the snout tip over the surface of the water. Matamatas prefer calm and slow moving waters that most of the time are very turbid.
Matamatas are well known for looking their food during the night on the island of Trinidad. Among their diet is found: fish, amphibians, freshwater crustaceans, possibly birds and small mammals that get into the water. The Matamata hunting technique is unique among the chelonians. While opening their mouth and expanding their throat, the Matamata extends the head up and catch their prey. These movements, made at the same time, create a suction action that draws the prey to their long and expanded throat; the pray is swallowed and the water is expelled out.
The Matamata of South America is a very interesting and probably the most diverse in form of all the turtles. Their flat head seems triangular because of extensions of the skin found in both sides; a flexible snorkel is located at the end of the head. Three rows of large humps cross their flat back. The posterior parts of their eyes are lined with a crystalline wall (a tapetum lucidum) which makes the light reflect; a similar characteristic is seen in crocodiles and other nocturnal reptiles. A full-grown Matamata with a shell 18 inches long appeals to the human mind more like a vision of a disordered dream than a living reptile.
The Matamata is one of nature’s unique species that stands in a genus by itself. It is a fascinating animal that displays numerous exotic features. One is their peculiar technique used for hunting their prey. They actually suck the fishes into their throats, and at the same time they expelled the water out. The Matamata is a turtle but also it has many properties or characteristics that have been compare to those of crocodiles. If we take a close look to this turtle we will find many features similar to the features of a crocodile.
Filter: You don’t necessarily have to have a filter if you are willing to change your turtle’s water frequently, but a filter makes having a pet turtle more enjoyable. You won’t have to change the water as frequently if you have a good filtration system in place. We suggest water changes every other day with stale or chlorine free water if you don’t have a filter and water changes monthly if you have a good filter.
Basking Area: There are many items available in pet stores to provide basking for your turtle. If you want to you can just use rocks and gravel to provide a nice basking spot. Place the light above the basking area so that your turtle can receive the added benefits of the UVA and UVB rays.
Lighting: Turtles need UVA and UVB rays to stay healthy. You will need to provide a light that shines UVA and UVB rays (full-spectrum lighting) onto the basking spot. Clamp-on lights are easy to set up and use for this purpose. If you want to put them on a timer to simulate night-day cycles you can. If you have an aquarium with a hood you can use full-spectrum fluorescent lights in the hood.
Feeding: Most turtles start out as carnivores, they eat everything that moves and can fit in their mouths. Make sure that you don’t feed them anything that can hurt them. They will eat a number of insects and aquatic creatures. They will eat plants that are placed in the aquarium as well. Any plants added to the tank MUST be turtle-friendly. As turtles age they become less carnivorous and will eat more plants and commercial foods. They will still eat small animals that happen into the tank though, so don’t put your prized fish in with your turtle.
Dark greens are best because they have nutritional value. Some people recommend feeding turtle iceberg lettuce, but there is not much nutritional value in iceberg lettuce so we do not recommend it. Turtles also need calcium. They will chew on cuttlebones if you put them in the tank. There’s a saying about turtles that a hungry turtle is a healthy turtle. It is better to underfeed than overfeed your turtle. Overfeeding can pollute the water and cause other problems. Turtles will eat about the same amount of food that would fit inside their head. Feeding the turtles in a container other than the one they are housed in will help with the cleanliness of their habitat.
Baby Turtles: For baby turtles I generally set them up in a tub with a shallow water dish (twice the height of the turtles shell) in one of the corners. I fill the rest of the container with a sand/soil mix and put live plants around the tub. Dandelions are great because they can actually be used as a food source, but I have gone as far as to plant grass and turtle-safe flowers. I feed them insects and earthworms, but remember all aquatic turtles have to be in water to successfully swallow their food. Earthworms are great for young turtles because they are slow, but move a lot to attract the attention of the turtles.
Summary: You can put a ton of money into a turtle setup in no time at all, but you can also build a nice turtle setup for little of an investment.