Acquired: Pet store
California, United States
Posted Oct 19, 2011
Almost anyone who has seen a Mata-mata turtle (Chelus fimbriatus), either in person or on television, can agree that it is perhaps the single most unique looking turtle on the planet. Not only is their shell knobby and pointed, but their head shape is impossible to explain and exceptionally designed.
These turtles hail from South America, and prefer water temperatures within the 76F to 80F range. This can be accomplished with a simple turtle heater (be sure to avoid fish heaters, as the glass can burn turtles). The substrate should be a very, very fine sand, as anything else can scratch their sensitive underside. Adding a few aquatic plants for cover will be appreciated and utilized. Add a filter to keep the water clean, as well as circulated (this will prevent stagnation).
Overall Mata matas (translated "I kill, I kill") are hardy reptiles that are not demanding. They spend much of the day motionless, waiting for prey. Speaking of prey, their preferred food is fish, but avoid goldfish as they are overly fatty. Instead, provide red minnows which are available at most pet shops inexpensively as feeders. The most enjoyable part of keeping a Mata mata is observing it eat. When the fish gets too close, the turtle opens its mouth wide, thus inhaling the fish via vacuum. This process takes just a fraction of a second, and is utterly enjoyable. They have even been known to intelligently "herd" fish into a corner.
They do prefer slightly acidic water. This can be easily accomplished by adding a bit of sphagnum moss to the tank (it is naturally acidic).
In all, the Mata mata turtle makes a fascinating captive turtle, and is quite resilient as well. The only downside is their price tag, which is generally in the $200 to $300 range. But, the phrase "you get what you pay for" has never rung more true than with these amazing reptiles.