Wednesday 10 August 2011

Matamata Turtle

The Matamata Turtle. It's like a bundle of dead leaves and wood given the breath of life and let out on an ugly, smiley-faced rampage. A very slow rampage. A rampage that involves moving only when absolutely necessary. That's my kind of rampage! Except sometimes I don't actually move when absolutely necessary. Sometimes I just sort of... think about it.

The Matamata Turtle is really good at not moving. Their whole body and shell clearly serves as a wonderful camouflage in the slow moving and stagnant South American waters it inhabits. We're talking swamps and marshes and stuff, where the water is brown and nasty from all the leaves and wood that fall in and rot.

It is for this reason that the Matamata Turtle has her nostrils at the end of a snorkel. They can swim well if they need to, but they prefer to stay at the shallow end and put their nose to the surface when required. They don't have to get up or anything laborious like that.

One thing that is a great help is their extraordinarily long neck. The shell can be about 45 cm (18 in) long. When you add the head and neck, this can double!

All along that head and neck are little sticky-out flaps. These are very sensitive to motion in the water caused by the fish and such they call food. The eyes meanwhile are small and probably not so useful, which is fine given the dark waters they occupy.

Also on the head is a ridiculously wide mouth that occupies the entire front of the face. Matamata Turtles really do grin form ear to ear! They don't have powerful jaws at all, but they certainly have a BIG mouth.

Image via Wikipedia
When something tasty wanders by they open that gob and the neck expands. Water rushes in and any fish or invertebrate nearby goes right along with it. This water is then expelled and the food swallowed. This is when the Matamata Turtle shows us that it can have shocking speed when it wants to. You just gotta make it worth her while. Obviously, this brings us to courtship.

When a male Matamata wants to impress a lady Matamata, he opens his mouth and lunges his head toward her. Perhaps it's to show her how great he is at catching food. Maybe it's just to show that he considers her even more worth his while than a mouthful of fish. Either way, if it works she will lay a clutch of between 12 and  28 eggs somewhere between October and December.

Luckily, the youngsters can care for themselves when they hatch. I'm sure the parents are glad they don't have those mouths to feed!


TexWisGirl said...

ha ha!

i would freak out (just a tad) if i discovered one of these in our pond... :)

Joseph JG said...

I couldn't blame you! They're at the very least freaky looking, but they also look sort of mean and dangerous.

Crunchy said...

Mata mata, doo doooo da doo doo.

Joseph JG said...

Hahaha! Thanks for that! A friend and I at school used to this all the time for a year or two. It was like our way of saying hello. Usually we didn't say anything else, either.