Matamata Turtle: Ultimate Guide

One of the most striking features of the Matamata Turtle is its unusual appearance. With the face of a dragon that camouflages itself to look like a rock, this freshwater reptile is not a popular wood turtle breed. But how could you look at this amazing creature and not be intrigued by its characteristics! 

Those of us who appreciate the uniqueness of Matamata’s looks can find an enthusiastic fan base dotted around the internet. 

Male vs Female

Male and female Matamata turtles do show a slight variation in their appearance, which makes it easier for us to identify them. Males tend to have thicker tails than females.

If you only have one Matamata with you and therefore cannot compare tails, then there is a second way for you to figure out the sex. Males have a concave plastron, which means that the bottom part of the shell domes inward.


The unique features we were discussing earlier make it very easy to spot a Matamata in a crowd of turtles, but finding one in its own habitat can be super difficult. This is because of Matamata’s ability to blend into their background by taking on the appearance of bark, plant life, and rocks. 

Their head and neck will look like leaves or foliage, whereas their carapace (the top area of the shell) resembles bark. This intriguing display is to create a very successful camouflage, allowing the Matamata to blend perfectly into its surroundings.

As a Pet

Matamata Turtles are lone-wolf types. They don’t like to mix with other creatures, so they shouldn’t be handled often. You don’t find them moving around that much either, which means that they aren’t the most energetic viewing companion.

Although they aren’t cuddly or zestful, they are very easy to care for. If you wanted a low-maintenance pet, the Matamata would be a great friend. Their unique appearance also means that your lethargic buddy will still be very interesting to watch.


When it comes to life in the Amazon, we don’t know a lot about the wild lifespan of our log-looking friends. However, while in captivity, you can expect your buddy to live for at least 15 years.

A lot of Matamata enthusiasts have known their pets to live for over 30 years, but every now and then, we hear of an owner who has had their turtle for around 70 years.


The biggest adaptation that the Matamata turtle has developed is the ability to blend perfectly into its surroundings. If your enclosure has been tailored specifically for a Matamata turtle, then don’t be surprised if you cannot find your buddy. You will have created a natural version of “Where’s Waldo?”

Breeding Season

Matamata Turtles will both breed and lay their eggs between October and December. Matamatas will only breed once a year, which means that this is a lucrative time for breeders to achieve a high population count.


Matamata lay their eggs out in the open and often in sandy places. You could find them in the upper parts of the Amazon, near the edges of forests. Each clutch of eggs will contain anywhere between 12 and 28 eggs.

These eggs will incubate for around 200 days, but they need the temperatures to be around 83 and 84 Fahrenheit, which translates to 28 and 29 degrees Celsius.

Growth Rate

Although our Matamata buddies can start out small, they can grow to enormous sizes for a freshwater reptile. You can expect a length of around 2 feet. This growth spurt will happen very quickly. Ideally, you should have either a large pond for your Matamata or a 200 gallon water tank.

If you would prefer to change your tanks as your turtle grows, then the rule of thumb approach is to allow around 10 gallons of water per inch of turtle length.

Hatchlings can have a 60 gallon tank, young adults can have an 80 to 150 gallon tank, but full adults will need 150 gallons at the least.

Life Cycle

It isn’t known whether Matamata turtles mate for life, however, their mating rituals are pretty complex, which leads many of us into believing that these reptiles are monogamous. 

The males will extend their heads towards their chosen female and while opening and closing their mouth. They will also begin flexing their legs and moving their skin flaps. This seems to be a display of mobility and strength.

The females will then decide if the males were successful in the ritual.


There aren’t any major studies on the size of Matamata turtles. This doesn’t mean that our beloved unique turtles have been ignored; it simply means that there is no pressing need to count them. They have a sizable population across a large number of countries, and there isn’t any indication that this population size is dropping. 

Matamatas are not considered endangered or at risk.


Matamatas are carnivorous, and the majority of their diet is taken up by fish. Because of their weak jaws, Matamatas choose to swallow their prey whole.

To do this, they need to aim for small aquatic creatures. A typical hunting move is to remain perfectly still while a sea insect or small fish swims past, and then they lunge forward at the last minute. Due to their camouflaged exterior, this technique works very well.


Due to their amazing camouflaging abilities, typical turtle predators find locating a Matamata turtle very difficult. This is also why there isn’t a lot of research or understanding around the natural predator for our reptile friends. 

That being said, pet Matamatas will become prey to domestic pets like cats and dogs. This means you need to ensure that your turtle’s enclosure is secure and protected from animals digging into their home.

Roaming Range

For your enclosure, a 150 gallon tank would be the minimum requirement for an adult Matamata.

In the wild, you can expect to find Matamatas anywhere from the Amazon to Venezuela to Brazil to Ecuador. There is a long list of natural habitats for the Matamata.

Recently, Matamatas have been seen in southeast Florida. They were introduced to help the drainage in the surrounding canals, but now these Matamatas have become an invasive species. We are still awaiting an official report of the detrimental effects of adding these reptiles to the native Florida population. 


Without proper lighting, your Matamata turtle could develop serious illnesses, including metabolic bone disease.

To avoid this, you need to install a UVB light bulb and a heat lamp to provide the warmth these creatures need. See more about this in our “Care” section.

Eye Color

Matamatas have small black eyes with thin yellowy-brown irises.


Matamata turtles do not hibernate.

Can they swim?

This question is a little tricky. Do Matamata Turtles like to swim? Yes. Are they good swimmers? No. They have all the equipment they need to be able to swim, and they prefer to eat fish, but they cannot gain enough speed to be competent. Also, the angles of their shell means they cannot get a good motion on their movement.

This means that swimming is a long and uncomfortable process for Matamatas. 

Instead, you will find your odd looking buddies walking slowly across a shallow pond or stream.


Because Matamata Turtles can reach over 16 inches in length, you will need a large enclosure of 150 gallons at the least. For an adult, you will need a water depth of around 8 to 10 inches long and 4 feet wide.

The acidity of the water is super important. The pH levels need to be between 5-6, which is somewhat acidic.

You will need a large and powerful filter system because these turtles are messy eaters. You should also change around ⅓ of the water every week to keep everything clean.

The temperature of the water should be between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but the temperature of the overall enclosure should be 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

The heat lamps should produce a heat of around 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Matamata turtles don’t bask in the heat; instead, they are almost completely aquatic. However, you should still have dry areas of the enclosure for them to rest in.


The average cost of a Matamata Turtle is between $250 and $400, but the monthly cost for the enclosure upkeep can be exceptionally high, especially if you live in a cold location.

Fun Facts

Matamata Turtles go by many names, including “Mata Mata,” “Mata-Mata,” and Chelus Fimbriata. There used to be 14 versions of this turtle’s scientific name because scientists found it hard to categorize the creature’s family, genus, and classification. They only confirmed the name Chelus Fimbriata in 1992.