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A pair of bizarre-looking Amazonian turtles are going on display at Portsmouth’s Blue Reef Aquarium.
The South American mata mata turtles have evolved to look like leaves and debris scattered on the river bottom where they lie in wait for passing prey. The pair, who have been nicknamed ‘Watser’ and ‘Duzzen’, have moved into a new display in the Southsea aquarium’s freshwater area – alongside poison dart frogs and a snapping turtle.
Blue Reef’s Chelsea Gibbs said: “The mata mata's shell looks like a piece of bark, and its head resembles fallen leaves. They remain motionless in the water and specially-adapted skin flaps enable them to blend into the surrounding vegetation until a fish comes close. The turtle then thrusts out its head and opens its large mouth as wide as possible, creating a low-pressure vacuum that sucks the prey into its mouth.”
Renowned as one of the strangest looking of all turtles, the mata Matas have a triangular shaped head with a snorkel like snout. The head and neck are covered in ridges and tufts which aid in the turtles camouflage and are also used to ‘feel’ for prey in murky waters.
Mata matas are found deep in the rainforests of the Amazon basin. They live in muddy, shallow waterways where they are extremely well camouflaged. The name mata mata comes from a native Indian word meaning “I kill”, as this suggests they are deadly ambush predators that feed on fish, invertebrates and the occasional frog.
They are not very good swimmers and actually move around by walking on the bottom. When they need to breathe they extend their long necks so the tip of their nose sticks out of the water. In the wild mata mata turtles are relatively abundant but like so many Amazonian species remain under threat due to deforestation.