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9 Facts About The Mata Mata, the Weirdest Turtle Ever

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Denis Chan

What's the matter with that turtle? Nothing—it's a mata mata.

1. Mata matas aren't from Matamata.

Matamata is a rural New Zealand town that was the shooting location for Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings. The mata mata turtle originates on the other side of the world in South America's Amazon and Orinoco basins.

2. They live in the leaf litter at the bottom of shallow streams.

Their leaf-shaped heads, bark-like flat shells, and ragged skin flaps make it easy to blend in.

3. You can take the mata mata out of the Amazon, but you can't take the Amazon out of the mata mata.

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You can tell where a mata mata comes from by its shell and coloration. Those from the Amazon have more rectangular shells and dark markings on their heads and necks. Orinoco locals have oval shells and pale necks.

4. This odd-looking turtle has been called a lot of names.

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Not just "needle nose" and "leafhead." The freshwater turtle was originally classified Testudo fimbriata in 1783 and has been renamed 14 times over the last 200 years, most recently in 1992. It's now known as Chelus fimbriatus.

The common name mata mata translates to "kill, kill" in Spanish. In South America, some people refer to unattractive women as "mata matas." Not cool, guys.

5. They're one of a kind.

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C. fimbriatus is the only extant species of its genus. Good thing mata matas are loners!

6. Mata matas don't bask or swim much.

Denise Chan

Mata matas are more sedentary than other turtles and only leave the water to lay their eggs. Instead of swimming, they prefer walking in slow-moving streams, marshes, and swamps. When kept as pets, they can thrive in a relatively small aquarium, because they don't move around much.

7. That said, they still get pretty big.

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Matas matas can grow up to two feet long, but most adults measure 16 to 20 inches. Should you invest in one as a pet—and invest you will, because they're pricey—you can expect to watch your little friend do pretty much nothing but eat for 40 to 75 years.

8. The mata mata's neck is longer than its vertebra.

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It's so long that the turtle can "snorkel," stretching its neck so its pointy proboscis can come up for air while it stays on the bottom of a stream.

Mata matas are part of the suborder Pleurodira. These so-called side-neck turtles can't actually tuck their heads into their shells. (Not that the mata mata's would fit anyway.) Instead, they bend them to the side.

9. They suck up fish like a vacuum.

Instead of hunting, mata matas wait for dinner to come to them. (Blending in with the vegetation definitely comes in handy.) When fish approach, the turtle stretches its neck out and opens its mouth wide to create a vacuum. Mata matas expel the water and swallow their prey whole, because their jaws are physically unable to chew. They're not the only turtles with this cool trick—snapping turtles practice suction feeding, too. Now who's hungry?

Sources: "The Matamata"; WhoZoo; Animal World; Science Blogs.

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These Deep-Sea Worms Could Live More Than a Thousand Years

Plunge below the sparkling surface of the Gulf of Mexico, head down into the depths, and there you'll find the ancient ones, growing in clusters of drab tubes like piles of construction equipment. Scientists writing in the journal The Science of Nature report that some of these worms could be more than 1000 years old.

When it comes to marine organisms, the deeper you go, the slower and older life gets. Biologists have found an octopus that guarded her eggs for four and a half years. They've seen clams born during the Ming dynasty and sharks older than the United States. They've seen communities of coral that have been around for millennia.

Previous studies have shown that some species of tube worm can live to be 250 years old. To find out if the same was true for other species—in this case, the Gulf of Mexico's Escarpia laminata—researchers spent years watching them grow. They used a long-lasting dye called Acid Blue to mark six clusters of worms, then let them to go about their wormy business. A year later, they collected all 356 blue-stained tubes and brought them back to the lab to measure their growth.

By calculating the speed of the worms' growth and comparing it to the size of the largest individuals, the scientists could devise a pretty good estimate of the oldest worms' age.

And boy, are they old. The researchers' worm-growth simulation suggested that the most ancient individuals could be more than 9000 years old. This seems incredible, even for tough old tube worms, so the scientists calculated a more conservative maximum age: a mere 1000 years.

A millennium-long lifespan is an extreme and not the average, the paper authors note. "There may indeed be large E. laminata over 1000 years old in nature, but given our research, we are more confident reporting a life span of at least 250 to 300 years," lead author Alanna Durkin of Temple University told New Scientist.

Still, Durkin says, "E. laminata is pushing the bounds of what we thought was possible for longevity."

She's excited by the prospect of finding older creatures yet.

"It's possible that new record-breaking life spans will be discovered in the deep sea,” she says, “since we are finding new species and new habitats almost every time we send down a submersible.”

 

[h/t New Scientist]

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Animals
Watch as Hummingbirds Fly, Drink, and Flap Their Tiny Wings in Slow Motion
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iStock

Hummingbirds have more feathers per inch than nearly any other bird, but it’s hard to fully appreciate their luminescent colors when they beat their wings between 70 to 200 times per second.

For the enjoyment of birders everywhere, National Geographic photographer Anand Varma teamed up with bird biologists and used a high-speed, high-resolution camera to capture the tiny creatures in slow motion as they flew through wind tunnels, drank artificial nectar from a glass vessel, and shook water from their magnificent plumage.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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