Home | Amphibians | Surinam Toads (Pipa pipa) as Pets: Acclimating New Animals and Special Considerations – Part 2

Surinam Toads (Pipa pipa) as Pets: Acclimating New Animals and Special Considerations – Part 2

Click: Surinam Toads (Pipa pipa) as Pets: Acclimating New Animals and Special Considerations – Part 1, to read the first part of this article.

Arranging Shelters and Hiding Spots
Give the frog as much cover as possible – plastic plants with weighted bases and others secured around rock ornaments or otherwise held at the bottom of the aquarium are best. The frogs will push beneath the plants and hide. They seem to prefer this to caves, and in fact rarely enter enclosed shelters in the manner of African clawed frogs.

However, Surinam toads will shelter under driftwood if the wood is arranged to provide an overhanging ledge as opposed to a discrete cave. Piling a few pieces atop one another usually does the trick, and adds a nice touch to the aquarium’s décor as well.

When you first acquire your frog, do not use an aquarium light, and never turn the room light on when the room is very dark…the shock of the sudden glare would be very stressful. A group of frogs I received recently for a public exhibit were so shy that I needed to cover the aquarium with dark material for 2 weeks…if you do likewise, be sure to remove the covers slowly so as not to startle the frog.

Once your pet has acclimated to captivity you can use a light…just be sure to utilize real or artificial floating plants  and the shelters described above to cut down on light levels. Surinam toads are nocturnal – even by day the turbid waters in which they dwell filter out a good deal of sunlight.

Filtration and Water Quality
You’ll need an effective filter, but take care to adjust the water flow so that it does not move the frog about. Although they are powerful swimmers, Surinam toads do not take well to strong currents.

Partial water changes (20-50% every 1-4 weeks, depending upon filtration) are vital to maintaining good water quality. Use a test kit to check your ammonia levels frequently. In common with other aquatic amphibians, Surinam toads excrete wastes in a highly toxic state. High levels of ammonia will cause them to cease feeding, and eventually to expire. Bear in mind that the waste products are largely comprised of liquids and will not be visible. Be sure to de-chlorinate all water used in the aquarium.

Fungus, Injuries and Parasites
Check the skin for grey or white areas, either of which might indicate fungus, and also for injuries…these frogs do not ship well, and often arrive in poor condition. Please write in for suggested treatments if you observe any unusual marks, scratches or discolored skin.

I sometimes treat wild caught Surinam toads for parasites following a fecal test or cloacal swab, but am hesitant to suggest this as a necessary precaution – amphibian medicine is not, to say the least, an “exact science”. However, it’s something to consider if your frog refuses to feed or experiences other difficulties…please write in if you would like to explore this option further.

Further Reading
Please see Breeding a Skin-Brooding Amphibian: the Surinam Toad (Pipa pipa)  to read about my first experience in breeding this fascinating animal.

You can watch a captive Surinam toad feeding below:

(Note the frog’s backward “shoveling” motions with the rear legs. This is how they push their way below plants and bottom debris).

Feeding Surinam toads can be a bit tricky as well, but is a very interesting endeavor (please see video above). I’ll provide some suggestions that have worked for me (or, rather, my frogs!) next time.


  1. avatar

    my pipa died from that fungus is it ok if i buy a new one keep the methylene blue just in case. or is that fungus always in my tankn ???

    • avatar

      Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Sorry to hear about the loss;

      Unfortunately, most adult Surinam toads are wild caught and quite stressed; they are not ideal species with which to start when beginning with aquatic frogs (I believe you had mentioned being new to aquatic amphibian keeping). A good relationship with an amphibian-experienced veterinarian is critical as well. African clawed frogs or dwarf clawed frogs make far hardier aquarium subjects, and are captive bred. Also, the aquarium you mentioned earlier is not ideal for Pipa pipa – a longer, lower model is preferable.

      Your aquarium will need to be emptied and cleaned well (Zoo Med Wipe Out is useful) after having had Methylene Blue circulate through it and the filter for a day or so. Be sure to clean everything that comes in contact with water, and discard filter media.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    hello frank
    i have 2 wild caught suriname toads and they are in a 75 gl planted aquarium ,i recently noticed that one is not putting on to much weight (but he is defintley eating)and also has a almost flesh eating apearance on his foot all the sudden-im not too sure what it is or how to treat it-he is still eating and has been quartined
    please help me
    thanks mark
    ps-i am not new to amphibians both terrsial or aquatic species

    • avatar

      Hello Mark, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      I’ve seen what you describe often; usually an Aeromonas or Pseudomonas bacterium is responsible; similar or the same as those responsible for conditions described as “red leg”, Septicemia, etc. Fungi, such as Saprolegnia, often invade the wounds opportunistically as well. It’s highly contagious, so quarantine is required.

      I’ve had some success with Methylene Blue; please see the article Methylene Blue as an Amphibian Treatment Option for details. You can start at the full fish dose, as Surinam toads handle it well, and a soak time of 2 hours per day. Since the condition is advanced, keep methylene blue in its regular aquarium as well (use ½ the fish dose for this).

      Results have been mixed – a visit to an experienced vet would be preferable, as the infection is invariably fatal is not halted, and prescription meds are sometimes effective.

      Surinam toads have always surprised me by the amount of ammonia they produce in comparison to other large frogs. Keep an eye on the other animal and check your ammonia. Frequent partial water changes are always necessary with these guys, even with optimal filtration.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

  3. avatar

    thank you frank
    i will try that out-and i was curious as to how the male could have gotten this aliment -because i test all my water daily and my amoina ,nitrite,nitrate are all zero and always are
    any thoughts?
    thanks mark

    • avatar

      Hello Mark, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you again.

      The adult Surinam toads in the trade are invariably wild-caught, and will be hosting a number of potentially harmful micro-organisms. Those that get sick even when, as in your situation, they are given proper care, usually do so because their immune systems are weakened by the stress of capture and shipment. Parasites and bacteria that are normally kept under control by the immune system then become problematical.

      Even microorganisms that are always present in the environment (i.e. even in pristine aquariums) can cause fatal infections when the immune system is weakened. I often cite an example from my time working with birds in zoos. Long term, well-adjusted captives moved from one exhibit to another (a stressful event) often come down with serious/fatal Aspergillosus infections…this fungi is ever-present, and causes no harm at all under normal circumstances.

      Another problem in captivity is re-infection by parasites. Those that need a second host (i.e. a snail) will die out, but some can re-infect the frogs directly; these can build up high populations in an aquarium.

      It’s very individual – last month I coordinated a shipment of 12 adults Surinam toads for a public aquarium, all collected from the same river – 5 are now being treated for bacterial infections, the rest are fine.

      In addition to excellent water quality, you can assist the frogs in adjusting by providing lots of cover – they don’t use caves much, but prefer to push under artificial or live plants. For some, I’ve covered most of the glass with black cloths – in any event, 3 sides should be covered early on (being exposed on all sides is stressful for nearly all animals – a solid wall/background is always a good idea). You may want to secure a cloth on the inner side of the screen top as well – they tend to jump at night, and injured snouts become infected right away.

      A methylene blue bath might be a good idea for new imports – fecal tests, if feasible, are a good idea also, although treatment must be considered carefully. I can refer you to amphibian experienced vets if need be.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    hey frank-i have ordered methyelene blue and are hoping the toad lasts til then -my female is doing great with good weight on her and has calmed down to captive life-i was also wondering if you have ever worked with caecilians before -i currently have 3 species of them and one pregnant pair-im hoping to breed all at some point and have been trying to acquire more species-there isnt mush info on these animals so if you have any tips please let me know
    thanks mark
    thanks mark

    • avatar

      Hello Mark, Frank Indiviglio here.

      I hope it turns out well for the Surinam toad.

      Great to hear that you are interested in caecilians, we need more work on them. I’ve only kept and bred one species long term, the commonly seen T. natans…here is a link to an article I wrote on that species: http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatfishblog/2009/10/21/amphibians-masquerading-as-fish-notes-on-the-rubber-eel/.

      I’ve had a few interesting terrestrial species pass through my hands – mostly “extras” tossed into shipments heading for the Bronx Zoo as an afterthought; unfortunately, most arrived in poor shape and none fared very well.

      Gymnophiona.org would be a good place to look, if you have not already; links to books, etc. as well as some people who may have worked with the species you keep.

      I may be able to find out some info from zoo contacts…Detroit Zoo had been planning to expand their collection at one point; please let me know the species that you have.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    hello again frank
    i believe i currently have the following species—
    Herpele Squalastoma-congo caecilian
    Geotrypetes Seraphini-gaboon caecilian
    Typhlonectes natans-Rio Cauca caecilian
    all the best mark

  6. avatar

    Question. I currently have my pipa in a 20 gal long. I’ve had him in this setup for over a year and he’s doing fine. I have a 40 gal hexagon tank that I was thing about moving him to. Which tank is more suitable for the pipa the 20 long or 40 gal hex?

    • avatar

      Hello Robert, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      There are good points to both. The extra volume of the 40 hex will act as insurance against spikes in ammonia and other water quality issues, and may allow for a more powerful filter. However, if you are careful with water quality, especially ammonia, then the 20 long provides more usable area (the frog will spend most of it’s time on the bottom of the tank) for the animal. The 40 hex might be useful should you decide to try your hand at breeding – they actually need more depth than afforded by a 40, but breeding has sometimes been successful in shallow aquariums.

      Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    I have a question. I keep axolotls and fire bellied toads, but because they are sensitive to filters I do not use one for their tanks and do frequent water changes. Would you be able to do the same thing with the Surinam toad or do they absolutly require a filter?

    • avatar

      Hello Jenna,

      Strong currents can stress axolotls and fire bellied toads, but there are many models that work quite well, and ways to modify others. I’ve always used filters for both, at home and in zoos, but rely heavily on partial water changes as well. Surinam Toads, get quite large and eat substantial meals…fish, earthworms, and consequently produce a great deal of waste, ammonia. Wholly aquatic species also release waste products in a highly toxic form, in general. Much would depend on size of animals and tank…perhaps you could get by with partials alone, but I’ve not tried. Full water changes would stress them…frequent partials may as well…most are wild caught, stress prone. Oxygenated water may provide other benefits…keeping down anaerobic bacteria, etc…as far as known they tend to inhabit flowing waters in wild (but not much work done on this);I’ve never seen them kept in non-filtered exhibits in zoos. Pl let me know if you need further info, best, Frank

  8. avatar

    Hello guys/gals!

    I NEED HELP! I am a bit of a fish expert but not much on aquatic frogs! I had gotten a surinam toad or pipapipa donated to me because of my aquatic knowledge of fish and I kinda got guilted into taking it cause I did NOT want to see it put down! It IS captive breed WILL let you hold it cause its breeders were very hands on! Ok it seems like its front skin has came of with muscular parts showing! I have it in bacterial treatment water with an anti fung. Med with it! I am keeping it in a black bucket no filter due to meds not wanting to be filtered out. I do 80-90% water changes everyday before re-medicating! The frog seems to not stress over it cause it lets me hold it while I do it! It still eats fine! I feed it belly packed gold fish and it has plenty of cover! Any other things that are needed to be done! (Other then filtration, I will keep it in a perfect habitat once heals, all water levels are great NO spikes in contamenents say the old master kit)

    • avatar

      Hi David,

      Skin sloughing off as you describe is often due to a bacterial infection; secondary fungal infections usually take hold as well. I’ve had some success with methylene blue; please see this article.. However, once things have progressed to the point you describe, treatment becomes difficult. Injectibles are likely needed; please let me know if you need help in locating an experienced vet.

      The same concerns re handling fish apply to amphibians….the protective skin mucus rubs off quite easily; they should only be handled when necessary, and then with wet hands. Surinam toads generally go stiff and remain motionless when removed from the water…we see this even in the field. Best not to handle unless necessary.

      Good luck, pl let me know if you need further info. best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Hi frank,
    hope you are your critters are well. I’ve posted here over the years a few times with thoughts and questions. Here is both:
    Above you recommend Partial water changes (20-50% every 1-4 weeks).
    How hard and fast is that?

    I have a 55gal tank with 2pipa and 1-2 sunfish that never got eaten. I have an Eheim 100gal canister filter with bio media. I went on vacation and basically forgot the water changes for awhile. It had been 4 months since i last changed the water. I keep a calendar log. I checked ammonia and after 4 months, it was still fine. But i changed the water anyway because of the algae slime build up needed scrubbing. The frogs and fish all seem fine.

    I typically change/wash out the filter media about every 4-6 months. I think that seems a good cycle because it is gross and nasty by then.

    Normally i change water every month, but now i’m wondering if that is even necessary.
    Are there other factors beside ammonia that make water changes important?
    Is my good fortune on amm level just because i have an oversized filter?
    Thanks foor advise. Happy herping.

    • avatar

      Hi There,

      It seems like you have a pretty good setup going. Given that you have a larger tank and a good filter you could probably get away with letting it go a little longer than a month if you have to, however I wouldn’t recommend doing that. I would still do a quarter water change once a month just to keep things balanced. The bacteria which are responsible for the ammonia and nitrogen cycle can become unbalanced after large feedings, sudden death of a tank mate, or even after doing too large of a water change. Make sure that you are using tank water when rinsing you filter’s bio media, using tap water can kill off the beneficial bacteria growing within it.

      Water changes act to export nutrients (waste products) out of the water that would otherwise build up and pollute the tank. Live plants can also export these nutrients and help keep ammonia levels down and algae to a minimum.


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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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