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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.


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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]