The Mata mata, Mata-Mata, or Matamata(matamatamata), depending on how pedantic the biologist you’re asking is, is a large river turtle found in the Amazon Basin. They grow to be around 18 inches long (shell length only) and weigh up to 33 pounds (whole dang turtle). Oh also their common name is literally Spanish for KILL-KILL, but they don’t really deserve it.
*HEAVY METAL SCREAMING*
The Mata mata was first described and named by European scientists in 1783, who then spent the next two hundred years fighting over the scientific name of this dang turtle. Seriously, they changed it 14 times in that span. People probably lost tenure over this thing. Blood was almost definitely shed. (But it’s all worth it to bear the noble name Chelus fimbriata as of 1992.)
Mata matas live on the bottoms of shallow streams, where they blend in perfectly with the rest of the crud mucking up the bottom. They live on a strict diet of whatever little swimmy thing happens to pass in front of them. This includes fish, frogs, crayfish, worms, weeds that kind of look like fish from a certain angle, and fingers. (They aren’t strong biters tho, that’ll heal up pretty quick. Stop crying.)
Mata matas really don’t move around much, and prefer stomping slowly and dramatically along the streambed to swimming. This helps prevent them from being noticed by larger predators such as the Jaguar, who loves him some sweet sweet turtle meats. Luckily the Mata matas can come up for air without giving themselves away, as they have a very special adaptation: The Mata mata’s neck is almost as long as it’s entire body! They use it to stretch their head up to the surface to breath, exactly like a snorkel but if the snorkel was really just your own devil neck.
In fact, the Mata mata’s neck is so long that the turtle cannot retract it into its shell like its relatives. They rely mostly on holding really still and looking like a gross leaf to avoid predators. Would YOU eat a gross stream leaf? Didn’t think so.
Currently many wild turtle populations are declining, or in danger of collapse due to human activity and capture for food/the pet trade. Luckily, this does not seem to be the case with the Mata mata. (BREATH SIGH OF RELIEF NOW.)
Mata matas are currently listed as Least Concern and are still fairly common in the wild, but they are also increasingly common as pets. (People love that weird little smirk.) Hopefully we’ll be able to keep the demand under control, and the Mata mata can enjoy a bright future.