How To Take Care Of Mata Mata Turtle? [Full Care Sheet]

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Mata mata turtles are not as widely popular and available as the red eared sliders or painted turtles. As a result, the owners often struggle to access the full care sheet on these turtles. Though this species is a bit pricey, these creatures live well on moderate maintenance and case.

A warm and slightly acidic freshwater area is what mata mata turtles need. While lights and heaters keep the enclosure warm, a proper filtration system is required for the water area. In short, a carnivorous meal with the above guidelines is enough to keep mata mata turtles happy and healthy.

Mata mata turtles indeed require less attention. However, these turtles might suffer if the owners can not fulfill their requirements. Go through this mata mata turtle care sheet for an insight into their lifestyle.

Mata Mata Turtle: Species Summary

Scientific NameChelus fimbriata
Common NameMata mata, mata-mata
FamilyChelidae
Natural Originof South America
Habitat PreferenceSlow moving freshwater and brackish water in tropical countries
Average Adult Size16 – 20 inches
Average Adult Weight15 – 17.2 kgs
Lifespan15 – 30 years
Food HabitCarnivorous
Average Price$220 – $700
Experience LevelIntermediate

Mata Mata Turtle Appearance: How Do Mata Mata Turtles Look?

The unique appearance is one of the reasons why the mata mata turtles are always in demand. Some people tag mata mata turtles as ugly or abnormal. But the hobbyists adore this species because of the striking and rare look.

Starting with the shell, mata mata turtles are flat. However, the carapace of these creatures looks rough and knobbly. It is because of the keels running from the front to back.

The carapace of the mata mata turtles is usually brown and covered with algae. These turtles are less active and lead a secretive life, which explains the algae growth on the shell. In addition, it helps the mata matas camouflage with the plant or debris at the river bottom.

The plastron of mata mata turtles, on the other hand, is either yellow or brown. Light gray and brown shades dominate these turtles’ heads, necks, tails, and overall skin.

While most species have an oval scalp, the heads of mata mata turtles are large, flat, and triangular-shaped. The neck areas are covered with frills of skin, whereas heads have extended tubercules.

Mata mata turtles have horny, long, and tubular snouts at the front of their heads. In addition, snorkel-like noses help these creatures breathe more hours underwater.

Like other species, these turtles have barbels on the chin, but not in a pair. Instead, mata matas have four barbels, three on the chins, and the fourth, a filamentous one, is attached to the upper jaw.

Mata mata turtles share poor eyesight. While most turtles can see in the dark, this species struggles with blurry vision. But other parts of their bodies respond to the environment and work as their sensory system. For example, large ears and neck nerves can pick up any vibration of approaching predators and alert these turtles.

The webbed feet of mata mata turtles aid them in swimming. They have 5 claws on the front and 4 on the back. Again, the tails of mata matas are papillose. They are short and pointy.

Mata Mata Turtle Origin: Where Does The Mata Mata Turtle Live?

Mata mata turtles are found widely in South America, especially in Amazon and Orinoco Basins. These freshwater turtles live in slow-moving and shallow water streams and brackish water.

These South American originated turtle species are found in,

  • Colombia
  • Peru
  • Brazil
  • Venezuela
  • Ecuador
  • Bolivia
  • Island of Trinidad

Their habitat includes rivers, stagnant pools, marshes, and swamps with muddy bottoms. However, they have also adapted well to the murky water of the Amazon. In short, these tropical turtles do not mind the water type as long as it is hygienic.

Mata mata turtles are aquatic and hardly leave the water bodies. These turtles barely swim or bask. The gravid turtles only come to the land to lay eggs.

In the wild, mata mata turtles spend their time crawling at the muddy bottom of the rivers or water streams. Living away from the direct sunlight justifies the algae growth on these turtles’ carapaces.

Mata Mata Turtle Size: How Big Do Mata Mata Turtles Get?

The average size of mata mata adults ranges from 16 – 20 inches (40 – 51 centimeters). However, according to reports, the mata mata turtles can grow more than 2 feet or 24 inches. Adult turtles of this species weigh around 15 – 17.2 kgs and even more.

The male and female mata mata turtles have no differences in carapace length. But they exhibit sex dimorphism via plastron and tail shape. For example, the plastron of males is concave, and tails are thicker.

Mata Mata Turtle Lifespan: How Long Do Mata Mata Turtles Live?

Mata mata turtles live 15 – 30 years in captivity. Different reports have claimed the longest living mata mata turtle to be 35 years. As a species of Amazon, no one exactly knows the longevity of these turtles in the wild.

There is an ongoing debate on the life expectancy of mata mata turtles in both wild and captivity. One group claims this turtle can live 15 years as a pet. On the other hand, another one suggests mata mata turtles have a lifespan of up to 35 years in the captive enclosure.

A few websites have declarations that mata mata turtles can live up to 75 years as pets. The lifespan can spike to 100 years with proper care.

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Who’s claim is more valid? The answer is yet to be determined. According to the available data, mata mata turtles spend 15 years effortlessly in captivity. The years afterward are a bonus for both the pets and the owners.

The life expectancy of the wild mata mata turtles is still unknown.

Mata Mata Turtle Behavior: Do Mata Mata Turtles Bite?

Mata mata turtles are fully capable of biting. If threatened, even these turtles attack the opponent with their sharp, hooked beak. But usually, mata mata turtles are not aggressive nor instigated to initiate violence quickly.

Do not take the innocence and non-hostile nature of the mata mata turtles for granted. These creatures will unleash an attack without a second thought if you invade their privacy. For instance, the adult mata mata turtles prefer leading a solitary life and not coming to the surface. Hence, these grown-ups keep coming at the owner if taken out of the water.

Mata mata turtles do not have bites as ferocious as the snapping turtles’. But you will surely bleed and have a bruise for years.

So, mata mata turtles are considered shy creatures. They like to be left alone and not handled much. So, prowling in the muddy bottom is their way of dealing with stress and living a healthy life.

Mata Mata Turtle Care: Infographic

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Mata Mata Turtle Tank Size

Mata mata turtles can grow more than 2 feet. Thus, they require a spacious tank to move and do whatever activities they want.

Generally, an 80 – 150 gallons aquarium accommodates a mata mata adult with an average carapace length of 10 -15 inches. If your pet grows more than this range, you have to transfer the turtle to a tank with 200 gallon+ capacity. The water depth for the adult enclosure should be 8 – 10 inches.

I recommend building an outdoor pond to raise an adult mata mata turtle. A 4 feet long and 8 – 10 inches deep pool will work for the pet.

Mata mata hatchlings are born slightly more than an inch. But within five years, they will thrive and gain a carapace of 8 – 12 inches. For the first 1 – 2 years, a tank with 60 – 80 gallon capacity is enough to house one mata mata baby or juvenile.

Keep the water depth 4 inches for hatchlings and juveniles. Mata mata turtles are terrible swimmers and might drown in deep water bodies.

Do you find the tank calculation hard? Well, you can follow the thumb rule. As per this method, you have to increase the habitat size by 10 – 15 gallons against per one-inch growth of the pet. So, for example, you will need a 100 – 150 gallon aquarium for a 10 inches mata mata turtle.

Mata Mata Turtle Tank Setup

Setting up an outdoor habitat for mata mata turtles is not a big deal. Install a powerful filter, throw a few large logs or rocks, protect the area with a chicken wire, and you are done. However, it would help if you had a dock, lights, filter, and heater to set up a mata mata turtle indoor enclosure.

Let’s discuss each supply in a mata mata habitat in detail.

Do Mata Mata Turtles Need A Water Filter?

Mata mata turtles are creatures of water. They love settling at the muddy bottom of the water bodies. Moreover, these turtles barely come to the land, not even swimming fans.

As mata mata turtles spend a significant portion of their lives underwater, water quality is crucial.

You can use tap water for the mata mata turtle but consider a few things. For example, the water should not contain chlorine, ammonia, chloramine, or other harmful chemicals. These contaminants can irritate the turtle’s eyes and skin. A reptile tank conditioner helps eliminate these unwanted chemicals from the water.

Again, the mata mata turtles prefer acidic water, ranging in pH 5 – 6. Owners use sphagnum moss to increase acidity in the enclosure.

Baking soda is another option to spike acidity levels in the turtle habitat. Pour one tablespoon of soda for every 5 gallons of water in the tank, and it will work.

Moving to the next step, you have to ensure the water hygiene in the mata mata turtle habitat. These turtles live 24/7 in the water, making the area dirty. You will catch mata mata turtles having their meals in water, urinating, or pooping there. Now imagine how filthy the tank water can get!

Changing the water manually every other day is not an intelligent choice. Instead, install a powerful tank filter to eliminate the filth from the water and make it reusable. Filters with twice the water capacity of the turtle’s size are always recommendable to keep the water clean. Check out the list of canister filters I use for my pet turtles.

The outdoor ponds require more powerful tank filters. Please look at my turtle tank filter guide for beginners, and do not risk your buy.

However, your filter power will be useless if you do not follow the basic hygiene rules for the mata mata turtles. For example, replace 25-35% tank water with tap water every week. Also, clean the entire tank at least once a month.

Changing water too frequently leads to gray tanks. Here is an insight into what makes turtle tanks cloudy and how to fix them.

Lastly, mata mata turtles prefer slow-moving streams. Therefore, you can install aeration stones or small fountains in the habitat to keep the water in a flow.

Do Mata Mata Turtles Need A Tank Heater?

Mata mata turtles are tropical species, and hence, they feel at home at a high temperature. As these turtles spend most of their time underwater, maintaining the water temperature is mandatory. A fall in the temperature leads to irregularities in the mata mata turtles’ daily routine.

Mata mata turtles are ectothermic species. It means they solely depend on the environment temperature for warming up their bodies. If the weather temperature falls, the turtles have to slow down their metabolism to survive.

Less oxygen usage, slower heartbeat, long sleep, and avoiding food consumption are the signs that the mata mata turtles are in a quiet metabolic state. Turtles still perform some activities when the temperature drops by a few degrees. But the creatures will enter hibernation if the temperature takes a severe hit.

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A slow metabolic state or hibernation is nothing to be concerned about. But unplanned hibernation can be a curse for the mata mata turtles. Turtles become vulnerable during this phase and get exposed to diseases.

Thus, maintaining a suitable temperature range inside the mata mata turtle enclosure is mandatory. Many owners mix warm water or try out cheap DIY hacks to reach the desired temperature. But those are nothing but a total waste of time and sometimes risky for the turtles. Instead, a tank heater is an easier and more convenient solution to maintain warm aquarium water.

Turtle tank heaters are available in different types and models. For example, the analog heaters might be cheap but not good. In contrast, the digital heaters are pricey yet offer top-notch service.

A 150 – 300 watt tank heater would fit the hatchling or juvenile mata mata turtle habitat. For adult turtles, you might have to set up multiple heaters or one powerful device to keep the water warm. You can go through the guide on choosing a tank heater for a mata mata turtle to get your hands on the basics.

Even with a tank heater, keeping the outdoor pond warm for the turtles is quite impossible. Therefore, it is advisable to move your turtle indoors during cold or in the weather.

Lighting Recommendation For Mata Mata Turtles

Lighting influences the growth and health of mata mata turtles. In an outdoor setup, the sun provides light and heat. But in an indoor habitat, you have to install artificial sources to meet these requirements of mata mata turtles.

Generally, you have to set up two lights, one for heat and another for UV rays. The heating lamp mimics the sun and keeps the basking area and air warm. Though the mata mata turtles do not bask extensively, a basking light should be installed.

Many owners use ceramic heat emitters for mata mata turtles. However, those devices are designed to provide heat, not light.

The second essential light in a mata mata tank is a UV lamp. UV rays play significant roles in building turtles’ solid bone and shell structures. Besides, these exposures help in the growth, digestive system, metabolic state, activity level, and appetite.

For example, the UVA rays influence the mental health of the mata mata turtles. The pets stay calm and chill because of UVA.

Again, the UVB spikes Vitamin D production in turtles. So, they can absorb more calcium from their meals and have healthy growth.

Lack of UV rays leads to MBD, improper growth, and many other diseases. Sometimes the babies can die because of insufficient UV light.

In essence, both lamps are mandatory for mata mata turtles. While shopping, choose powerful and quality bulbs for the enclosure. The weak UV lights can not penetrate water and reach the turtles. Catch the list of quality basking lamps for mata mata turtles.

Keep the heating and UV lamps on only during the daytime, for 10 – 12 hours. The pets do not require any light at nighttime. Though most turtles do not have a clear night vision, they have sharp senses.

Again, keeping the lights on during the night can mess up the sleep cycle of these creatures. Turtles sleep with their eyes closed to eliminate any brightness. So, any nearby light source only interrupts their sleep and makes their lives stressful.

Do Mata Mata Turtles Bask?

Mata mata turtles are not the baskers. Instead, these creatures will stay at the water’s bottom and hardly see the surface. It is because even these lazy turtles do not swim that much.

Regardless of how rare basking for mata mata turtles is, you have to build a dock. The station gives them access to the dry area.

You can buy a commercial basking platform with proper rampage and everything. Or you can build one with logs, rocks, tiles, metal sheets, plastics, or foams.

Ensure the stations are spacious enough for the pets and carry their weights. For example, Mata mata turtles grow over two feet and weigh more than 17 kgs. Hence, these creatures would require a big basking dock, even formality.

Temperature Requirement For Mata Mata Turtle

Mata mata turtles are native to tropical regions. It means they prefer high temperatures. Here is an ideal temperature chart for mata mata turtle enclosure,

Water TemperatureBasking TemperatureAir Temperature
80 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit90 – 95 degrees Fahrenheit80 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit

You have to ensure this temperature range. While lower temperature makes the turtles slow down their metabolism, higher temperature also poses some issues. For example, an excessive rise in the temperature forces the turtle to come out of the water. Even sometimes, the pets escape the habitat because of the heat.

I recommend setting up a thermometer inside the habitat to track down the temperature change.

Substrate And Decoration

While most pet turtles can live on a bare bottom, mata mata turtles require a sandy substrate. It is because the species spend more time at the bottom, hiding in the substrate.

Besides, the sand layer works as a protection layer between the plastron and base, reducing the abrasion or traction. In another sense, the substrate prevents shell injury in mata mata turtles.

Gravel or medium-sized pebbles mixed with sand are a perfect substrate for mata mata turtles.

Again, mata mata turtles love plants and debris. Hence, it will be wise to add live plants to the enclosure. Duckweed, moss, hornwort, etc., make great options for mata mata turtles.

Apart from offering hiding spots and comforts, live plants increase the aesthetics of the habitat and work as an oxygen source. Check out 17 safe live plant options for mata mata turtles.

Mata Mata Turtle Diet: What Do Mata Mata Turtles Eat?

Mata mata turtles are carnivorous. So their diet includes primarily animal protein. The meals include small fish, worms, and insects. If you want more details, the food list of mata mata turtles is given below,

  • Bloodworm
  • Cricket
  • Crayfish
  • Earthworms
  • Frozen krill
  • Gambusia
  • Goldfish
  • Guppies
  • Mealworm
  • Minnows
  • Mollies
  • Mussels
  • Platies
  • Smelt
  • Snail
  • Shrimp
  • Silkworm
  • Sunfish

Remember, the traditional turtle feeding techniques will not work with mata mata turtles. These turtles do not prefer commercial reptile foods and demand live prey.

During hunting, mata mata turtles camouflage at the bottom and stay still. Whenever prey approaches these turtles, they snap at it very quickly. Then, they swallow the prey with water, which they drain afterward.

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Mata mata turtles have weak jaws, so they can not crush the prey. However, these creatures are experts at hunting down insects and fishes.

As mata mata turtles prefer live food, it is difficult for you to measure the meal. Again, it takes a long hour for mata mata turtles to prey on one or two fish. Experts suggest stocking the habitat with 30 – 40 fishes and putting insects and worms regularly. With a natural food source, the pets will feel amidst nature and eat only when hungry.

Like all other species, mata mata turtles lose appetite with growing age. These turtles require more nutrients to build their body structure and immunity at the primary stage. Thus, arrange a system to feed them daily.

Next, feeding the mata mata turtles every other day will work during the juvenile phase. Finally, the adult turtles prefer an inactive life. Thus, a thrice-a-week meal routine is suitable for them.

Furthermore, mata mata turtles need additional calcium to eliminate MBD risk. Throwing calcium supplements in the water will work in such cases. Find out how to feed your turtles calcium in a fun way from this article.

Mata Mata Turtle Potential Health Issues

In captivity, the owners are responsible for providing quality care to the mata mata turtles. Any lack of care can make the turtles exposed to diseases. The common health issues in mata mata turtles are,

1. Irritation

Mata mata turtles are fully aquatic turtles, and so the water quality has a significant influence on them. These turtles prefer slightly acidic water conditions, with pH ranging from 5 to 6.

Basic water or a strong acidic environment can cause skin irritation to these creatures. Growing sphagnum moss in the habitat or mixing baking soda helps maintain a suitable pH range. In addition, you can keep an aquarium test kit at home to check the water acidity from time to time.

2. Infectious Diseases

Moist areas are suitable for bacterial and fungal growths. As mata mata turtles live underwater for long hours, they are at risk of infectious diseases. A filthy and unhygienic enclosure increases the chances of such infections.

Turtles with any prior injury in a dirty tank often fall victim to shell or mouth rot. Again, eye infections are also common in mata mata turtles.

Installing a powerful filter is mandatory to raise mata mata turtles. In addition, maintaining tank hygiene rules can prevent any infectious disease in these pets. Besides, prescribed medicines quicken the healing process.

3. Parasite Attack

Parasitic attacks are common in mata mata turtles as they prey on live animals. A sick turtle will exhibit signs like vomiting, diarrhea, white worms in poop, blood in poop, etc. Deworming the turtles at least once a year can prevent this condition.

4. Obesity

Determining meal quantity for mata mata turtles is quite tricky. Hence experts advise stocking their habitat with live foods so that they can grab a bite when hungry. But it increases the risk of obesity. Then, again, overfeeding of protein can cause pyramiding in the turtles.

You can take charge of feeding to eliminate any potential health risks. In such cases, put 2 – 3 small fishes or equivalent protein sources like insects in the habitat and wait.

5. Metabolic Bone Disease

Lack of vitamin D and calcium leads to metabolic bone diseases in mata mata turtles. It mainly occurs due to insufficient UV rays in the enclosure.

Mata mata turtles settle underwater. Therefore, they require a high-quality UV lamp that can reach them, penetrating the surface. Otherwise, these turtles fall victim to deformed shells, legs, or abnormal bone structures.

Installing a high-quality UV light and fulfilling calcium requirements with meals and supplements cures MBD in turtles.

How To Breed Mata Mata Turtle?

You have to prepare a healthy adult pair 6 -12 weeks before the breeding event by feeding them right. Then put them in a spacious enclosure with controlled temperature and abundant food. After that, the turtles will get involved in copulation naturally.

However, breeding mata mata in captivity is not appreciable for beginners or intermediate keepers. It seems to be a risky and stressful job. Moreover, there are only a few mata mata breeders in the USA right now to help with proper guidelines.

But the breeding industry for mata mata is expanding. It is because this species is not available in the USA, and the black market is taking unfair advantage of this situation. The good news is many breeders have already successfully intubated mata mata turtle eggs. Hence, the captive-bred mata matas will be more available in the upcoming years.

Generally, mata mata turtles breed only once a year and lay eggs from October to December. The gravid turtle lays 12 – 30 eggs in each clutch. These eggs hatch at an 83 – 84 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, and the incubation process takes more than three months.

Remember, bringing a wild mata mata turtle home is not wiser. The creature will struggle to cope with a captive environment suddenly. On top of that, taking wild animals home is an illegal and punishable offense in the USA.

What Eats The Mata Mata Turtle?

Mata mata turtles hardly fall into the trap of any predator. The algae growth on the shells helps these turtles blend in the debris and hide themselves from any potential dangers. However, raccoons, dogs, foxes, etc., can occasionally feast on the mata mata turtle eggs on the shore.

Mata mata turtles have a carapace of more than 2 feet. The bulky body works as an advantage to scare off predators. Also, mata mata turtles barely come to the surface or swim. So, there is less chance of interaction with predators.

Still, the owners must be careful while housing their mata mata turtles. It is advisable to put a fence around the pond and cover the top with a chicken wire to keep the cats and dogs away.

Availability, Conservation Status, & Price Of Mata Mata Turtles

Mata mata turtles are more than available in their native states. According to the IUCN, the species is not on the red list, which means they are in good status.

However, mata mata turtles are not available in the USA for sale. As a result, the price is relatively high. For example, you might have to pay $220 – $700 for a hatchling or juvenile mata mata turtle. Sometimes, these turtles cost a few thousand bucks.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a unique looking pet, mata mata turtle should be on your list. The bizarre appearance of this species is indeed striking and appealing to many keepers. Again, these creatures demand no extensive care, and raising them is hassle-free. All you have to do is provide these pets with a warm environment, clean water, sufficient UV, and a protein-rich diet.

You may have to be careful with the babies and juvenile mata mata turtles as they are sensitive. But the adult turtles prefer to be left alone.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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