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What Is a Surinam Toad?

By Jack Magnus
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The Surinam toad, Pipa pipa, is an amphibian found in semi-tropical environments in parts of Central and South America. This creature is a mottled grayish-brown, is typically from 6 to 8 inches long (15.24 to 20.32 cm), and has an unusually flat body covered with nodules and bumps. The Surinam toad has a triangular head and small, lidless dark eyes that resemble beads. It has been described as looking as if it were no longer alive.

Pipa pipa's upper limbs are weak and cannot support its weight in the traditional posture one generally associates with frogs and toads; instead, its normal posture is lying flat. The Surinam toad lives on the bottoms of ponds and marshes and comes to the surface about every 30 minutes for air. Its front feet have fingers that are long, clawed and not webbed. Each finger is tipped with a star-shaped organ used to detect the movements of prey, earning it the nickname star-fingered toad.

The Surinam toad has neither a tongue nor teeth but has developed two methods of eating. In one, it gapes its mouth, puffs up its body and inhales a large quantity of water and the materials in that water. Any food is retained, while sand and other debris is expelled. Its other method of catching prey is by lying quietly in wait for any prey that may come within reach of its front hands. Surinam toads eat insects, small fish, worms and crustaceans.

In contrast to its weak front legs, the back legs of the Surinam toad are strong and large, and assist it in its unusual courting behavior. Breeding takes place during the rainy season and may be initiated by the increase in the water's depth and the resulting cooling of the aquatic environment. Being tongue-less, the males cannot croak; however, they use bony plates in their mouths to produce a clicking sound when they are courting.

The mating male and female perform a series of somersault-like movements. Each time they flip, the female releases up to 10 eggs, which the male carries, fertilizes and deposits on her back as they flip again. Up to 200 eggs can be produced by the female, though the average is about 100. Their acrobatic behavior continues until all the eggs are released and fertilized.

The skin on the back of the female absorbs the eggs into it, and a rough covering grows over each egg. The female then carries the eggs on her back until they hatch as fully formed tiny toads. Hatching takes place from 12 to 20 weeks after the eggs are produced and is thought to be triggered when the female begins to shed her skin. The young frogs are capable of feeding themselves and surviving on their own from the time they are hatched.

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