Size: Up to 18 inches
Habitat/Range: Tropical rivers in northern South America
Visit KidZone (Zone C) to meet the quirky mata mata turtle, a freshwater species found in South America, primarily in the Amazon and Orinoco basins. The mata mata is a large sedentary turtle whose shell resembles a piece of bark and whose head looks like fallen leaves, allowing it to blend into surrounding vegetation in water environments to catch fish as it swims close. Considered omnivorous, the mata mata is a “suction feeder” - thrusting out its head and opening its large mouth as wide as possible, creating a low-pressure vacuum that sucks the prey into its mouth. The mata mata snaps its mouth shut, slowly expelling water, and the fish is swallowed whole. Due to the construction of its mouth, the mata mata cannot chew. The mata mata is strictly an aquatic species but it prefers standing in shallow water where its snout can reach the surface to breathe.