The Spanish meaning for matamata is “it kills, it kills”. Matamata turtles are well adapted to a life in the water among the leaf and plant debris. Their bodies are rough and knobby. The head and neck are large and flat, and are covered with numerous protuberances, warts, skin fringes, and ridges.The purpose of the skin flaps on the head and neck is much debated. It is known that these flaps contain nerves that respond to stimuli, that is then sent back to the brain, which helps in detecting prey. The flaps or tufts also help camouflage the turtle from prey. They drift and sway with any current in the water or movement of the turtle, making the turtle appear as if it was covered with weeds or algae.
Tropical rivers, including the Amazon, as well as other rivers in South America. They live on the bottom, in the shallow areas of muddy, slow-moving bodies of water such as rivers, swamps and marshes.
Matamatas feed primarily, upon live fish. In addition, they will eat amphibians, invertebrates (such as insects and crustaceans), small mammals, and birds. When they eat they open their mouth and expand their throat, they extend the head up and catch their prey. These movements, made at the same time, create a suction action that draws the prey to their long and expanded throat; the pray is swallowed and the water is expelled out.
Prior to mating, the male will extend its head towards the female while opening and closing its mouth. After mating (normally from October to December), the female excavates a nest and deposits from one to two dozen eggs in it. She does not guard the nest. Unlike most reptiles (whose eggs are soft and leathery) the matamata eggs have brittle shells. They are almost round and are about 3.5 cm in diameter. The incubation time is approximately 200 days.
The matamata falls prey to large snakes, but mainly humans hunt these animals for the pet industry.