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Choosing a Suriname Toad

By: R.D. and Patti Bartlett

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Picture a toad that refuses to give ground to an approaching steamroller and you can come close to visualizing the appearance of the Suriname toad, a species that is eagerly snapped up by hobbyists when it is available.

Kept in a filtered aquarium (one or two toads in a 20 gallon tank) and fed a varied diet, Suriname toads are very hardy, usually trouble-free amphibians that are suitable for beginning hobbyists, but usually of interest to all. They are entirely aquatic, but periodically rise to the water surface to gulp a breath of atmospheric air.

One or two Suriname toads can be kept in a 20-gallon tank, but a group of four to six do well in a 50 to 75 gallon aquarium. They can be kept either in a planted or a non-planted aquarium. Slightly acidic water seems the best for the Suriname toad. The water must be clean and chemical (chlorine-chloramine) free. The diet of a Suriname toad can include aquatic insects, tadpoles, and worms, but you may also offer commercially prepared foods.

Origin and Life Span

The Suriname toad, known scientifically as Pipa pipa, is a large relative of the more familiar clawed and dwarf underwater frogs. Unlike the latter two forms, which are of African distribution, the Suriname toad ranges widely in the northern South America and extreme southern Central America. They can live 15 years or so.

Appearance

This is truly a strange looking creature. The body and head are flattened and almost flabby. The hind limbs are flattened but very strong, and the hind feet are broad and fully webbed. The forelimbs are weak, the fingers are clustered, unwebbed, and each finger is tipped with a lobed organ of sensory function. Suriname toads do not have eyelids or tongues. There is a flap of skin on the chin.

These toads are mud-colored, sometimes with irregular blotches of darker pigment. A dark T is present ventrally. There are no established aberrant colors. They can reach about six inches in body length.

Behavior

Suriname toads are tropical creatures that are active throughout the year. They are voracious feeders that use their forefeet to quickly shovel food into their large mouths. Food seems located primarily by scent and, perhaps, by touch. The eyes are small, directed dorsally, and vision seems weak.

The toads are secretive, and spend most of their time on the bottom of the water in their tank. For the most part, they will be still, resembling a mud blob, but you may see them move slowly across the bottom sweeping the gravel searching for food. Every five or ten minutes they will pop to the surface for a breath of air and then descend again.

Housing

Certainly not brightly colored, Suriname toads are, nonetheless, interesting aquarium inhabitants. They can be kept either in a planted or a non-planted aquarium. If in the former, suitable lighting will need to be provided to stimulate plant survival and growth. Additionally, during their normal activities, the toads often uproot their plants.

Another alternative is a tank decorated with sunken driftwood (and maybe a single large plant, such as a strongly rooted Amazon swordplant, as a centerpiece), is the most easily maintained arrangement.

One or two Suriname toads can be kept in a 20-gallon tank, but a group of four to six in a 50 to 75 gallon aquarium does quite well. Slightly acidic water seems best. The water should be kept at temperature between 76 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees F. That's just about normal room temperature so you probably will not need a heater of any sort. It is imperative that you keep the water clean. The best way to do that is by using large sponge filters with a power head. These are readily available at pet shops. Besides being filtered, the water in your tank will require periodic changing, generally about once every two weeks. The more large toads you have, the more often the water will require changing.

Feeding

In the wild, Suriname toads eat aquatic insects, tadpoles, worms and other co-dwelling pond creatures. Captives eat earthworms, crickets, freshly killed minnows, tadpoles, and glass (grass) shrimp. You may also offer the toads Reptomin, pelleted trout chow, catfish chow and koi pellets. Some will accept these prepared foods, others will not. Since uneaten animal-protein based dietary items can quickly sour your water, you must feed your Suriname toads prudently.

It is best to use pre-killed foods, with the exception of earthworms. Feed as much as your toads will eat, generally a couple of large night crawlers or three or four minnows three or four times a week. You can simply drop the food into the tank or offer it on forceps.

Handling

Although these big, flat, toads can be picked up by hand, it is better to use a soft, wet net. Scoop up the toad and cover the mouth of the net with your free hand to prevent the toad from leaping free. Get the Suriname toad back into the water as quickly as possible. .

If you must handle yours, do so by grasping it around the waist, and wash and rinse your hands thoroughly before you touch it. Its permeable skin will absorb any impurities from your hands, and the residue of many items that humans occasionally have on their skin – perfumes, cleaning agents, sunscreen, insecticides – can be injurious or fatal to your frog.

Finally, wash your hands thoroughly after handling your toad to protect yourself from the possibility of contracting salmonella, bacteria that is often carried by reptiles and amphibians and which can cause illness in humans.

Medical Concerns

Suriname toads are hardy and largely trouble-free. If their water is too cool or of poor quality, difficult to eradicate bacterial problems can occur. Although it happens very rarely (if at all), insufficient dietary calcium may result in metabolic bone disease. We suggest that dietary variety be the norm.

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