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Surinam Toad

The Surinam toad (Pipa pipa) is a prime example of why we need to protect frogs. We couldn’t invent a creature this weird.

A bottom dweller in the slow, murky streams of northern South America, this totally aquatic toad is wide and flat, with a triangular head. Mottled brown, it’s perfectly camouflaged as a lump of leaf litter. All the better to ambush worms, insects, crustaceans and fishes with, my dear. A Surinam toad detects prey with its long, webless fingers, which end in sensitive star-shaped organs, and literally shovels the food into its mouth.

But the real show is in how this toad reproduces.

As they mate, a pair flips through the water, making 15 or so arcs. With each arc, the female releases up to 10 eggs. The male loosens his amplexic grip enough to allow the eggs to roll onto her back, fertilizing them at the same time. The eggs then sink into the spongy skin on the female’s back, which swells to embed each egg in a honeycomb-like chamber covered with a membrane. The toadlets develop for 12 to 20 weeks, then literally spring fully, flatly formed — if only 2 inches long — from Mom’s back.

While the offspring usually emerge under their own power, Mom can also flex, popping them straight up into the water. After the semiexplosive birth of about 100 toadlets, the ragged female sheds her skin.

We don’t want to lose this kind of irreproducible diversity to habitat destruction, polluted waters, or the fatal fungal infection that is spreading among amphibians worldwide. Visit our own Surinam toad in Amazon Rising.


Check out photos, videos and stories of other Shedd frogs, like the poisonous dart frogs.

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