How to keep a Mata Mata turtle

The Mata Mata turtle originates from Northern South America, throughout the Amazon including Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia. They are an aquatic species favouring slower moving water sources such as streams, swamps or marshes. They are a fascinating species with a characterful look. Their most prominent features being the triangular head shape, ‘snorkel’ nose extension and apparent sleepy smile. They are efficient ambush predators, dining mainly on fish in the wild.

Housing

The Mata Mata turtle can be a big commitment as a pet, so it’s essential that space is prepared for sooner rather than later. Eventually, this species is likely to require more than just a tank, and an indoor pond is more appropriate long term. Always judge the size of the individual and ensure they are able to move around freely when designing the pond area. This species is fully aquatic, so a land area isn’t necessary as they don’t leave the water to bask. 

Despite being strictly aquatic, Mata Matas aren’t great swimmers and require a substrate to ‘walk on’ like a gravel mix to give them traction. You can also use a variety of rocks, wood pieces and foliage to provide good leverage for movement as well as creating a more natural setting. The Mata Mata will hide amongst decor on the floor but covered areas from surface foliage will also make your turtle feel more secure.

Water conditions for the Mata Mata can be difficult to get right. They require a low pH of 5 – 5.5 (7 being neutral), and tannins from leaf litter, peat, and wood. This can make the colour of the water slightly brown but is best when creating an Amazonian Mata Mata environment. RO water can be used for a source of low pH freshwater.

Temperature

The temperature of the water should range from 25 – 27C and can be achieved with an aquarium heater. For monitoring purposes and to ensure the heater is working effectively, you will also need an accurate aquatic thermometer. Mata Mata’s prefer slow-moving water, so this should be considered when adding filtration. 

Filtration

Filtration is necessary to keep the water quality adequate (i.e no ammonia, low nitrates and not too much mulm and debris) but when choosing a filter it is important to incorporate a break in any falling water with wood or rock, or ensuring that when the water falls it isn’t disrupting the tank too much while keeping a steady, undisturbed aquatic environment. As this species can get large and destructive, it is also a better idea to invest in an external system rather than a smaller internal filter.  They are better at filtering larger water bodies and can’t be interfered with by the turtle.

Lighting

A terrestrial basking temperature isn’t required for Mata Mata. As long as the water temperature is stable, your heating is covered. It is however recommended to provide UVB light. As this has to penetrate water, this will have to be a high output such as Arcadia’s 12-14% T5 bulbs dependent on the height of the enclosure. This UVB will create a more natural environment and boost the health and well being of your turtle so is a necessity. This UV will be used in a 12-hour cycle, going off at night to promote good day and night periods. It’s also important to remember that any UV will have a lifespan between 6 – 12 months – depending on the bulb and brand. After this duration, the UV will no longer be effective, even if the bulb is glowing.

Diet

Your Mata Mata Turtle is a carnivorous species and will be feed on a variety of fish, worms, muscles and insects. The fish especially will provide a good calcium source as bones are ingested, however, it is still essential to supplement with calcium and vitamins. Being aquatic this can be a little tricky as many supplements come in the form of dust, but there are alternatives such as Beaphar Turtle Vit or Zoo Meds Dr. Turtle Slow Release Calcium Block which should be utilised, ensuring your turtle has all the required nutrition for health and development. Food can be offered on tweezers on the surface of the water and your turtle will be attracted to movement, so may not feed on items that sink to the floor.

Swell SuperStore Matamata Turtle:

  • Adult Size – 2ft +
  • Habitat – Slower moving water sources such as streams, swamps or marshes of the Amazon basin. Aquatic
  • Required Enclosure Size – Appropriate sized indoor pond – the individual needs to be able to move a significant length freely and be able to use a large area.
  • UV Lighting – Strong UV output such as Arcadia’s 12-14% (Depending on the height of the enclosure)
  • Expected Lifespan – 15 – 30Years +
  • Temperature Gradient – 25 – 27C
  • Humidity Levels – Aquatic
  • Feeding – Carnivorous – a variety of fish, worms, muscle and insects
  • Handling – Not for handling – these turtles are fully aquatic and will not appreciate being pulled from the water. They can also be snappy.


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