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Nature’s “Vacuum Cleaner:” The Matamata

The matamata lives in South America and is part of the turtle family. The matamata lives in the northern part of South America, in Brazil, Venezuela, but can sometimes be found in northern Bolivia, Ecuador, eastern Peru, Colombia, the Guianas, and Trinidad. They are about 18 inches in length and weigh around five to six pounds. Other than eating fish, they eat small birds and small mammals. This particular species lives up to 30 years.

Scientists compare this species to a vacuum cleaner, because it swallows its food rather than chews it. Camouflage is a common hunting tactic for the matamata. When in hunting position, it looks like an unassuming mossy rock in the water. They have fleshy appendages close to their mouths that look like weeds hanging and can act as a lure for fish. The nose on the matamata acts as a snorkel, allowing them to breathe air while they wait for food to approach so they can swallow it whole.

The word matamata is a phrase in a Native language that means “I kill” and its scientific name is Chelus fimbriatus which means fringed turtle. A matamata’s neck is almost the size of its back. In comparison, if the same were true for humans, our necks would be about three feet long. The matamata is one of the turtle species that breathes air, unlike other turtle species who get oxygen from water.

Out of all the turtles living on Earth, the matamata is unique for its camouflage ability, how it gets its food, and its unique name.

[Source: Snakes and Reptiles; Susan Barraclough]

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