The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Chelus fimbriata
Chelus fimbriata
(Matamata Turtle)

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Chelus fimbriata (Schneider, 1783)

Common name: Matamata Turtle

Synonyms and Other Names: caripatua, mata, doctor galap

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: No other turtle looks as bizarre and unmistakable as Chelus fimbriatus. An adult matamata can reach an overall carapace (upper shell) length of 310-450 mm (12.2-17.7 in) and weigh up to 17.2 kg (about 38 lbs) (Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Lamar, 1997; Obst, 1998). The rough carapace is black or brown, with serrated edges, and the plastron is relatively small (Ernst and Barbour, 1989). The seemingly grotesque, flattened, triangular head has a startlingly wide mouth, long tubular nose, tiny eyes, numerous tubercles, and fleshy flaps protruding from the sides; additional tubercles and lateral flaps of skin adorn the elongate neck (Pritchard, 1979; Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Obst, 1986; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Pough et al., 2001). Juveniles may have pink and black stripes on the underside of the neck (Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Ernst and Barbour, 1989). These odd, tropical chelids (Australo-American sideneck turtles) are illustrated in a variety of publications (Pritchard, 1979; Freiberg, 1981; Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Obst, 1986; Alderton, 1988; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Cleave, 1994; Lamar, 1997; Murphy, 1997; Fogel, 1998; Crump, 2000).

Size: carapace length of 310-450 mm

Native Range: The indigenous range of the matamata includes much of northern and central South America; the Amazon and Orinoco basins extending into Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, and associated coastal rivers in the Guianas including Guyana, French Guiana, and perhaps Trinidad (Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; King and Burke, 1989; Iverson, 1992; Murphy, 1997). Whether there is an established colony on Trinidad or just occasional, migrant waifs has not been verified (Murphy, 1997).

Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: Prior to 1964, five matamata were released into Pembroke Park, at the intersection of Pembroke Road and U.S. Highway 95, Broward County, Florida, U.S. (King and Krakauer, 1966; Smith and Kohler, 1978).

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Chelus fimbriata are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
FL196319631Florida Southeast Coast

Table last updated 4/16/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Means of Introduction: These turtles were intentionally released by an animal dealer (King and Krakauer, 1966).

Status: The status of the C. fimbriatus released in Broward County, Florida, has remained unreported since their release (King and Krakauer, 1966). They undoubtedly failed to establish a colony; however, I have heard persistent, unverified rumors of a breeding population of matamata in South Florida for at least the last 15 years (personal observation).

Impact of Introduction: Should any matamata establish themselves in Florida, they could potentially impact indigenous aquatic ecosystems.

Remarks: The taxonomy of C. fimbriatus has been summarized by Pritchard and Trebbau (1984), and King and Burke (1989). Mittermeier et al. (1980) have provided an extensive list of the regional, vernacular names applied to C. fimbriatus.  The best overall summary of matamata biology is by Pritchard and Trebbau (1984), and Ernst and Barbour (1989). Chelus fimbriatus is a highly aquatic, piscivore (diet of fish), that is rarely seen basking, floating, or swimming (Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Fogel, 1998). Their assumed, exclusive piscivory has not been verified through stomach-content analysis (Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984); however, Ernst and Barbour (1989) also mention a diet of aquatic invertebrates. The broad skull and large, gaping mouth are used to capture fish through gape-and-suck feeding; swallowing prey whole (Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Obst, 1986; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Pough et al., 2001). The overall body design of C. fimbriatus gives it excellent camouflage; allowing it to blend in with leaf litter on muddy river bottoms so it can ambush prey with its long neck and vacuum-like mouth (Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Crump, 2000). Their preferred habitats are the bottoms of slow-moving rivers, oxbows, swamps, muddy lakes, stagnant pools, and marshes (Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Ernst and Barbour, 1989). Females bury 9-28 eggs in river beaches or high ground near the banks of other types of waterways (Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984).

References: (click for full references)

Alderton, D. 1988. Turtles & Tortoises of the World. Facts on File, Inc., New York. 191 pp.

Cleave, A. 1994. Snakes & Reptiles. A Portrait of the Animal World. Todtri Productions Limited, New York. 80 pp.

Crump, M. [L.] 2000. In Search of the Golden Frog. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London. 299 pp.

Ernst, C. H., and R. W. Barbour. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. and London. 313 pp.

Fogel, D. 1998. Notes on the captive husbandry of the matamata (Chelus fimbriatus). Reptile & Amphibian Magazine (53):64-65, 67.

Freiberg, M. 1981. Turtles of South America. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Neptune, New Jersey. 125 pp.

Iverson, J. B. 1992. A Revised Checklist with Distribution Maps of the Turtles of the World. John B. Iverson, Richmond, Indiana. 363 pp.

King, F. W., and R. L. Burke (editors). 1989. Crocodilian, Tuatara, and Turtle Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. The Association of Systematics Collections, Washington, DC. 216 pp.

King, [F.] W., and T. Krakauer. 1966. The exotic herpetofauna of southeast Florida. Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Sciences 29(2):144-154.

Lamar, W. W. 1997. The World's Most Spectacular Reptiles & Amphibians. World Publications, Tampa. 210 pp.

Mittermeier, R. A., F. Medem, and A. G. J. Rhodin. 1980. Vernacular names of South American turtles. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles Herpetological Circular (9):1-44.

Murphy, J. C. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of Trinidad and Tobago. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, Florida. 245 pp. + 172 plates.

Obst, F. J. 1986. Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins. St Martin's Press, New York. 231 pp.

Obst, F. J. 1998. Turtles & tortoises. Pp. 108-125. In: H. G. Cogger and R. G. Zweifel (editors). Encyclopedia of Amphibians & Reptiles. Second Edition. Academic Press, San Diego. 240 pp.

Pough, F. H, R. M. Andrews, J. E. Cadle, M. L. Crump, A. H. Savitzky, and K. D. Wells. 2001 [2000]. Herpetology. Second Edition. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. 612 pp.

Pritchard, P. C. H. 1979. Encyclopedia of Turtles. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Neptune, New Jersey. 895 pp.

Pritchard, P. C. H., and P. Trebbau. 1984. The Turtles of Venezuela. Contributions to Herpetology 2. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Ithaca. 403 pp., 47 plates, 16 maps.

Smith, H. M., and A. J. Kohler. 1978. A survey of herpetological introductions in the United States and Canada. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 1977 80(1-2):1-24.

Author: Somma, L.A.

Revision Date: 10/22/2019

Citation Information:
Somma, L.A., 2024, Chelus fimbriata (Schneider, 1783): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=1223, Revision Date: 10/22/2019, Access Date: 4/17/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.


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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [4/17/2024].

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