The Surinam Toad: A Strange Amphibian and Unusual Egg Care

Updated on July 27, 2019
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about living things.

The Surinam toad has a flattened appearance and tiny, almost unnoticeable eyes.
The Surinam toad has a flattened appearance and tiny, almost unnoticeable eyes. | Source

A Very Strange Amphibian

The Surinam toad lives in South America and is one of the strangest amphibians on Earth. It has a flattened body, a triangular head, and tiny eyes. It also has one of the weirdest methods of reproduction of any amphibian.

Reproduction begins with the male and female toad performing an elegant mating swim. The female releases eggs, which the male fertilizes. He carefully places the fertilized eggs on the female’s back. The eggs then sink and become embedded in the female’s spongy skin. A honeycomb-like structure develops, with one egg in each chamber of the honeycomb. Skin grows over the eggs and they eventually disappear from view.

The eggs hatch inside the chambers. As the young toads grow they move around, creating a rippling appearance on the female’s back. Eventually the tiny toads break out of their chambers and escape into the world.

The Surinam toad is named after the country of Suriname, which is located in the northeastern part of South America.
The Surinam toad is named after the country of Suriname, which is located in the northeastern part of South America. | Source

The Surinam toad is also known as the Suriname toad after one country where it's found as well as the star-fingered toad due to the appearance of its front toes.

Habitat and Distribution

The scientific name of the Surinam toad is Pipa pipa. It belongs to the class Amphibia, the order Anura (which contains frogs and toads), and the family Pipidae. The animal lives in the northern part of South America. It's named after the country of Suriname but is found in neighbouring countries, too. It's also found in the Caribbean on the island of Trinidad.

The toad is most common in the Amazon basin. It inhabits tropical rain forests at low elevations and is found in murky ponds, swamps, and slow-moving streams. It also lives in captivity around the world as a pet and a zoo animal.

Physical Features

The toad has a very strange, squished appearance that make it look as though it has been been involved in a nasty accident. Unlike other frogs and toads, the Surinam toad doesn't sit upright on its hind legs. It's constantly in a flattened posture.

The animal has a wide body with a triangular head and tiny black eyes that have no eyelids. Its nostrils are located at the end of tubular structures on its snout. It reaches a maximum length of about eight inches, not including the legs, but most individuals are four to six inches in length.

The long “fingers” on the toad's front legs have star-shaped structures at their tips, giving the animal the alternate name of star-fingered toad. The rays of the stars end in filaments. These filaments are very sensitive to touch. Unlike its front feet, the toad's hind feet are webbed. The back legs are strong and are used for propulsion, but the front legs are weaker.

Feeding a Captive Surinam Toad

Skin and Colouration

The toad is grey, brown, or olive in colour. Its skin is covered with warty protuberances. Small tentacle-like extensions project from the chin and the corners of the jaw. Some individuals have a dark grey line on their undersurface that extends from the middle of their throat to the end of their abdomen. This line is known as a seam due to its appearance. The top of the seam occasionally meets a horizontal bar across the chest, producing a T shape.

The animal's mottled and drab colour, its flat body, and its habit of lying motionless on the bottom of a pond or stream make it look like plant debris or a dead and decaying body. This is probably a very useful feature for disguising the toad in the wild, since it's often an ambush hunter.

A preserved female Surinam toad, showing the chambers where the young toads developed
A preserved female Surinam toad, showing the chambers where the young toads developed | Source

The Life of a Surinam Toad

The Surinam toad is almost completely aquatic, although it does move over land when its watery habitat dries up or during heavy rains. It comes to the water surface every half hour or so to breathe air, but it can stay underwater for an hour or more.

The toad doesn’t have a tongue or teeth. It either probes sediments for food with its long and sensitive fingers or waits to ambush its prey. It sweeps the prey into its mouth with its fingers or lunges at it with its mouth, using suction to ingest the food. The Surinam toad eats worms, insects, crustaceans, and fish.

Like fish, the toad has a lateral line on each side of its body. This organ developed in fish as an adaptation to aquatic life and is sensitive to water motion. The lateral line helps the toad to detect the movement of other animals in the water and is probably a valuable tool for detecting prey.

The video below shows the paired swim during egg laying in the Sabana Surinam toad (Pippa parva). This animal is a relative of the Surinam toad.

Male and Female Sabana Surinam Toads During Egg Laying

Mating and Fertilization

Surinam toads mate under water. The male toad doesn’t croak. Instead, he makes clicking sounds to attract a mate. He produces these sounds by moving the hyoid bone in his throat. Once the male has found a receptive female, he climbs on to her back and wraps his front legs around her body in a process known as amplexus.

While they are joined together, the pair swim through the water. They gracefully somersault as they swim and may stay attached for hours. The female is larger than the male and provides most of the propulsion with her hind legs. While the toads are both upside down during a somersault, the female releases eggs, which fall on to the male’s belly. The pair then move into their upright positions. The eggs drop on to the female’s back and the male fertilizes them.

Unlike many other anurans, Surinam toads have neither vocal cords nor vocal sacs. Any sounds that they make are made by parts of their body other than vocal cords.

Female Toad Carrying Her Eggs

Egg Laying and Deposition

After fertilization, the male gently sweeps the eggs up with his feet. The webs of his front feet expand to form a fan, enabling the male to position the eggs carefully on his mate’s back. The eggs stick to the female's back, although how they do this is a mystery. The eggs don't stick to the male, even when they are in contact with his body, and they don't stick to each other.

The egg laying and depositing processes are repeated multiple times. The female eventually ends up with 60 to 100 eggs on her back. Once all the eggs have been positioned, the male leaves the female, his job done.

Babies Emerging From Their Mother's Skin

The cavities left on the female's back after the youngsters leave may look weird or even unpleasant, but they don't seem to bother the frog. She sheds the damaged skin and the cycle begins again.

Development of the Eggs and Youngsters

Over a period of about twenty-four hours, the eggs sink into the female’s skin. The skin swells up to surround them. A covering forms over the eggs, which hides the presence of the babies. The baby toads take three to four months to develop.

As the babies grow, their activity in the female's skin becomes more and more noticeable. Once the youngsters reach a certain size, the skin "bubbles" as the babies move.

Eventually the young toads emerge from their chambers, leaving holes in their mother's skin. They snap at food as soon as they're released. The female sheds her damaged skin after the babies leave and grows a new skin layer for the next breeding season.

A Close-Up View of the Surinam Toad's Amazing Birth

The IUCN Red List Categories
The IUCN Red List Categories | Source

The Red List categories shown from left to right in the above diagram are as follows:

EX - Extinct

EW - Extinct in the wild

CR - Critically Endangered

EN - Endangered

VU - Vulnerable

NT - Near Threatened

LC - Least Concern

Population Status

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has established a Red List that classifies animals according to their nearness to extinction. The Surinam toad is currently classified in the "Least Concern" category of the Red List based on a 2014 population assessment. Some other members of its biological family are not so lucky.

The Myers' Surinam toad (Pipa myersi) has a similar reproductive method to its Pipa pipa relative. It lives in Panama and possibly in Columbia. It's threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation and by water pollution. It's classified as endangered on the Red List.

Some people worry that the Surinam toad population could run into trouble in some parts of its range. The animal is facing habitat destruction in its natural habitat due to logging and the clearance of land for agriculture. It may also be sensitive to water pollution. In addition, it's collected for the pet trade. Wild toads have been discovered in Puerto Rico. These animals are believed to have been released or escaped pets.

Overall, however, the Surinam toad population seems to be doing okay at the moment. Hopefully it will continue to do well and researchers will be able to learn more about this very interesting and unusual animal.


Information about the Surinam toad from the San Diego Zoo

Pipa pipa entry in the Red List of the IUCN

The Suriname toad in the United States from the USGS (United States Geological Survey)

Status of the Myers' Surinam toad on the IUCN's Red List

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Linda Crampton


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Nettlemere. Yes, I agree, the video of the Surinam toad babies emerging from their mother's back is certainly freaky! Midwife toads are very interesting too, and it does look like the eggs are being carried on the male's back, although they are actually wrapped around his legs. Amphibians have some interesting methods of reproduction! Thanks for the comment.

      • Nettlemere profile image


        8 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

        I'd heard about them growing their babies on their backs like midwife toads, but never seen it. The footage of the toadletts popping out is freaky but fab!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the comment, Giwan. I'd love to see a Surinam toad in the wild - that would be such an interesting experience!

      • Giwan profile image


        8 years ago from Amsterdam

        Interesting article. I am actually from Surinam originally but have never really seen one of these. I guess there is not much chance of encountering them in the city :)

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the vote, Prasetio. I'm glad that you enjoyed the hub and the videos!

      • prasetio30 profile image


        8 years ago from malang-indonesia

        I had never knew about this before. Thanks for writing and share with us. I really enjoy the video above. Well done, Alicia. Vote it up!


      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, drbj. Thank you for the comment. I think that all animals are interesting, but the weird ones are especially interesting! I'm looking forward to reading your hubs.

      • drbj profile image

        drbj and sherry 

        8 years ago from south Florida

        These toads are fascinating creatures, Alicia. Thank you for your explicit research and well-written hub. They rank right up there with the other weird fish and amphibians I have written about: the Axolotl, the Anglerfish and the Blobfish.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you, Chatkath. You must have had an interesting childhood with all those animals that your brother brought home! I agree with you, Surinam toads are amazing. I find them one of the most interesting amphibians. Their body structure and method of reproduction is so unusual.

      • Chatkath profile image


        8 years ago from California

        I have to agree with b. Malin, the poor things look like road kill! What an amazing creature though! It is so miraculous when you consider what they are capable of! I have never heard of these before-and I thought by brother collected every frog, toad and salamander that exists :-D

        You always find the most interesting things Alicia!!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Yes, b. Malin, these toads do look very much like someone stepped on them! They have a very different body shape from other frogs and toads. I hadn't thought of the benefit of losing our old skin and growing a new one, but it sounds like a very good idea! Thanks for the visit and the comment.

      • b. Malin profile image

        b. Malin 

        8 years ago

        These Toads look like someone stepped on them Alicia. What a Life they lead, very Interesting insight...and of course the Videos are wonderful...Especially the birth and later the mother being able to shed her skin for a new one. Mmm, don't we all wish we could do that! Good Hub once again, Alicia!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the comment, thebluearatus. The Surinam toad certainly is a strange and interesting animal!

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        this toad looks too different than anyone else of its family. I have read about it, and got to know much more from your article.

        Great description

        Keep it up.

        Looking forward to your other works



      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)