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The Surinam toad or Surinam water toad, Pipa pipa, is one of seven species in this specialized South American genus. It has a wide distribution in lowland (below 400 m asl) rainforest from Amazonian Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the Guianas, Trinidad and Peru and Ecuador west of the Andes (La Marca et al. 2010; ARKive n.d.)
An almost exclusively aquatic species, adults have powerful webbed back legs for swimming and a characteristically flattened body 10-17 cm (4-6.7 in) long, covered with bumpy tubercules. They hang in the water with limbs in a splayed position, never pulling their legs beneath their body. Surinam toads are tongue-less, but have fleshy star-shaped fingers containing sensory organs, with which they detect and manipulate small fish and invertebrate prey. They use a combination of scooping food to their mouth with their forelimbs as well as drawing food in by creating suction (ARKive, nd; Carreno and Nishikawa 2010). Their grey coloration camouflages them with the mud in their preferred slow-flow pond, stream, flooded forest habitats, and they frequently hide under litter and vegetation at the bottom, where they can stay submerged for over an hour (La Marca et al. 2010; ARKive n.d.)
In the rainy season, Pipa pipa mate in an extended ritual during which the male grasps the female from behind (amplexus). Underwater, they turn upside down and the female lays batches of 3-10 eggs onto the male’s stomach, which he then fertilizes and positions onto the soft back of the female where they adhere. After repeating the process of laying, fertilizing and positioning up to 100 eggs the male leaves and the skin on the back of the female grows over the eggs. The eggs brood through tadpole phase into fully-developed 2 cm froglets before they emerge from their little chambers 3-4 months later, bursting through the skin on the mother’s back. The mother recognizes the young as non-food items once they hatch (Rabb and Snedigar 1960; Rabb and Rabb 1963; ARKive n.d.). For detail on this process in lab specimens, see Rabb and Snedigar (1960).
Long-lived, the Surinam toad may live up to 10 years. It is considered to be of least concern by the IUCN, however molecular analyses indicate deep splits in the lineage; preserving genetically distinct populations requires more research to determine if they are vulnerable (Fouquet et al. 2007).