Suriname toad (Pipa pipa)
|Also known as:||common Suriname toad, Surinam toad|
|Spanish:||Aparo, Rana Comun De Celdillas, Rana Tablacha, Sapo Chinelo, Sapo Chola, Sapo De Celdas|
|Size||Snout-vent length: 10 - 17 cm (2) (3)|
- The Suriname toad is a strange-looking amphibian with an extremely flattened body and triangular-shaped head.
- Unlike many other amphibian species, the Suriname toad does not sit up on its front limbs, instead adopting a constant splayed position.
- The breeding behaviour of the Suriname toad is remarkable, with the male and female performing somersaults during mating.
- Suriname toad eggs are incubated under the skin on the female’s back, where they develop into toadlets which ‘hatch’ by erupting through the female’s skin.
The Suriname toad is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
A distinctive South American amphibian, the Suriname toad (Pipa pipa) is one of seven species within the highly unusual Pipa genus (3) (4). Members of this intriguing group are almost unmistakable, as they have a very flattened body (3) (5), which in the Suriname toad is especially flattened (4). Unlike many other amphibian species, members of the Pipa genus do not sit up on their front limbs (6), and instead are characterised by adopting a splayed position, with their arms and legs pointing outwards (4) (6).
The Suriname toad is rather drably coloured (7), with its head and upperparts being blackish-brown to mud-brown (4) (8). This enables the amphibian to camouflage itself and hide from predators in the dark mud of its aquatic habitat. The underside of the Suriname toad is generally paler brown and spotted with white, or sometimes whitish with a dark brown belly stripe (5).
The head of the Suriname toad is small and triangular (5). This species has been described as having a ‘star-gazing’ appearance, as its tiny, lidless eyes are located on the upper surface of its head and are directed upwards (4) (8). Flaps of skin or short tentacles can be seen at the corners of the jaw, on the upper lip near the eyes, and on the chin (5) (8). Although the Suriname toad’s skin is covered in small wart-like projections, it still has a slippery texture (5).
All species of Pipa have large, muscular hind limbs, making them powerful swimmers (3) (4), and the Suriname toad is no exception. Only the hind limbs of this species are webbed (4) (5) (8), and the Suriname toad has long, fleshy-lobed fingers on its forelimbs (5) (8), which it uses to sweep food into its wide mouth (4). This feeding method is necessary in this species as, like other members of the Pipa genus, the Suriname toad does not have a tongue (3) (4) (5).
The Suriname toad is considered to be a sexually dimorphic species, as there are subtle differences between the sexes, with the male generally being smaller than the female (5).
The Suriname toad is native to tropical South America (4) (5) (7) (8), where it is found from Suriname and Guyana south through a wide area of the Amazon basin, including Brazil, Bolivia and Peru (1) (7). It has the largest range of any species in its genus (9). This species also occurs in the Caribbean, in the southern and eastern parts of the island of Trinidad (1) (5) (7).
The Suriname toad is an inhabitant of tropical rainforests (1), where it can be found in muddy slow-flowing watercourses such as streams, rivers and pools (1) (5) (7) (10). Within these aquatic environments (7), the Suriname toad frequently hides under submerged leaf litter, and seldom ventures onto land, although it does occur in flooded forests (1). This intriguing amphibian is a lowland species found at elevations below 400 metres (1).
Living an almost completely aquatic lifestyle, the Suriname toad is able to remain underwater for up to an hour without surfacing for air. As this species camouflages itself against the dark mud of its watery home, its small but upwardly positioned eyes are able to see in all directions, enabling the Suriname toad to detect and avoid predators (5).
The Suriname toad uses star-shaped sensory organs on the ends of its fingers to detect food (4) (10) (11), which it then scoops into its large, gaping mouth using its front feet (5) or by vacuuming in the prey (12). This species’ diet consists mostly of small fish and invertebrates (4) (8) (10).
One of the most remarkable features of the Suriname toad is its unusual and rather elaborate breeding system (3) (5) (7). Mating in this species begins soon after the onset of the rainy season, with the male toad uttering a series of metallic ticking calls before grasping the female in a position known as amplexus. If the female toad is not ready to mate, she indicates this by quivering (5).
Amplexus can last for as long as 12 hours or more (3), during which time the two toads perform a fascinating series of somersaults in the water (3) (5). At the point in the somersault when both toads are on their backs, the female lays between three and ten eggs, which then fall onto the belly of the male. As the male loosens its grip slightly, the eggs roll onto the female’s soft, spongy back, to which they adhere (5). At the same time, the male Suriname toad fertilises the eggs (5) (10). This process is repeated up to 18 times, with between 60 and 100 eggs being laid in total (5).
After the last egg has been laid, the male swims away, leaving the female remaining motionless (5). The skin on the female Suriname toad’s back gradually begins to swell (5) and grow around each egg, eventually completely engulfing the eggs (3) (5) (10) (13). Each egg lies in its own pocket, known as a brooding pouch, which is covered by a horny lid, giving the female Suriname toad a honeycomb-like appearance (5). Larval development of the young, which metamorphose from tadpoles into toadlets, occurs entirely within the pouch (5) (10). After incubating within the pouches for between three and four months (10), the young Suriname toads ‘hatch’ by erupting through the skin on the female’s back (3) (10) (14).
It is thought that the Suriname toad can live for between seven and ten years, or possibly longer (8).
Although the Suriname toad is not considered to be at risk of extinction, it is thought that habitat loss and degradation as a result of logging and other human activities could affect and threaten local populations of this species (1). In addition, the Suriname toad is known to be collected from the wild to be sold in the pet trade (8).
There are no known conservation measures in place specifically for the Suriname toad. However, this species occurs in many protected areas, which may afford it some protection (1).
Find out more about the Suriname toad:
AmphibiaWeb - Pipa pipa:
Rainforest Alliance - Suriname toad:
Learn more about amphibian conservation:
IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group:
Gascon, C., Collins, J.P., Moore, R.D., Church, D.R., McKay, J.E. and Mendelson III, J.R. (2005) Amphibian Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
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- Amplexus: the mating position of frogs and toads, in which the male clasps the female around the back or waist.
- Genus: a category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Incubation: the act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Larval: of or relating to the immature stage in an animal’s lifecycle, after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into the adult form. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are usually unable to reproduce.
- Metamorphosis: an abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
- Sexual dimorphism: when males and females of the same species differ in appearance.
IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
- Rafferty, J.P. (Ed.) (2011) Reptiles and Amphibians. Britannica Educational Publishing, New York.
- Vitt, L.J. and Caldwell, J.P. (2013) Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. Academic Press, Amsterdam.
- Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P.P. (2007) Frogs, Toads, and Treefrogs: Everything about Selection, Care, Nutrition, Breeding, and Behavior. Barron’s Educational Series, New York.
- Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, Singapore.
EDGE of Existence - Myers’ Surinam Toad (August, 2012)
- Badger, D.P. (2004) Frogs. Voyageur Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Bartlett, P.P., Griswold, B. and Bartlett, R.D. (2001) Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates: An Identification and Care Guide. Barron’s Educational Series, New York.
- Vaz-Silva, W. and de Andrade, T.A. (2009) Amphibia, Anura, Pipidae, Pipa pipa: Distribution extension, new state record and geographic distribution map. Check List, 5(3): 507-509.
AmphibiaWeb - Pipa pipa (August, 2013)
Rainforest Alliance - Suriname toad (August, 2012)
- Carreno, C.A.and Nishikawa, K.C. (2010) Aquatic feeding in pipid frogs: the use of suction for prey capture. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 213(12): 2001-2008.
- Rabb, G.B. and Snedigar, R. (1960) Observations on breeding and development of the Suriname toad, Pipa pipa. Copeia, 1: 40-44.
- Ouboter, P.E. and Jairam, R. (2012) Amphibians of Suriname. Brill, The Netherlands.