Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Creature Feature: Mata mata

Turtles are cute, slow, lovable and most of them would not hurt a fly. Some of them would not mind a vertebrate now and again, but for the most part, they are one of the least objectionable reptiles in the world. It's hard to have a turtle-phobia.

AAAH, REPTILES! Oh, wait...those are actually kinda cute.

Nature just had to make one of the fish-eating turtles as ugly as possible:

Remember, turtles are naturally adorable.

Meet the matamata (Chelus fimbriatus), a turtle native to the Amazon River and some of the surrounding swamps. It is very lazy and very flat; quite easy to mistake for leaves or driftwood from above. Like the three-toed sloth, algae growing on its carapace makes its camouflage even better. It has a 'horn' that allows it to get air while barely moving a muscle. The matamata is probably the real version of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Hanging down from its face and neck are fleshy little projections. Nobody really knows what these are for; they could add to the matamata's already superb camouflage, serve as subtle lures or even be sensory adaptations.

As unsuspecting fish draw near, the matamata opens its mouth to create a small vacuum. Like something out of a cartoon, the fish are sucked in. The matamata cannot chew due to its odd mouth, but with a contraption like that, it does not need to.

Mata mata are native to humid environments. Although they are available in the exotic pet trade, they are not a beginner's turtle; not only are they expensive, but they like slightly acidic water with a high tannin content. If all of that just went WAY over your head, you can't have one.

1 comment:

  1. My grandma hates all reptiles (I'd say amphibians, worms, and even SCORPIONS??? also count by her dementia logic) just because she was bitten by a snake. ""Oh, it's a reptile? In that case, will you go kill it!"