Surinam Toads (Pipa pipa) as Pets: Acclimating New Animals and Special Considerations – Part 1

You’ll need to search long and hard to find a frog more bizarre than South America’s Surinam toad. Large and flat, with a pointed head and star-shaped sensory organs tipping the fingers, this tongue-less aquatic beast broods tadpoles below the skin of its back….need I say more?

“Handle With Care”
Surinam ToadSurinam toads make wonderful aquarium subjects, but a bit of special care and planning are necessary if one is to succeed with them. Although captive breeding is possible (I wrote about this recently, please see below), it is not common; hence most of the animals available in the trade are wild-caught adults.

Surinam toads seem to be gaining in popularity lately…I’ve had several questions concerning newly acquired animals posed recently, and so thought this a good time to go into the topic a bit further.

Stress and Wild-Caught Frogs
Surinam toads collected as adults have lived in my collection for over 12 years, but most wild caught individuals presented some problems when first obtained. With their permanent, upward-directed stares and relative immobility, these frogs seem so “expressionless” that it’s hard to imagine their being stressed…but internally a great deal is going on.

They are quite sensitive to change – a wild caught frog will have been through a series of traumas by the time it reaches your tank, and will usually not feed until it feels secure and out of danger (i.e. able to hide). Stress is usually very difficult to detect in amphibians, but do not be misled – it is as serious a problem for frogs as for a high strung bird (or us!).

Avoiding Injuries
Until the animal adjusts to its new surroundings, you should secure a towel or other material between the screen top and the water’s surface, as the frog will likely jump at night and may injure its snout against the screening. Be sure to secure the top with screen clips; these will hold the towel in place and prevent an escape.

The water temperature should be maintained at 78-79F. Be sure to adjust your frog to any temperature changes slowly…gradually mix new water in with old, if necessary. Dramatic temperature changes will stress the immune system and can easily lead to some of the same health problems (i.e. Ick outbreaks) as affect tropical fish in similar circumstances.

Aquarium Size
A large, deep aquarium is best. Sometimes these frogs do fine in shallow water, but they are more comfortable in deep tanks – during field research I’ve observed them being collected from 3-4 feet of water. An adult will require an aquarium of at least 20 gallons capacity, with a 30 gallon tank being preferable (a 30 gallon can house a pair as well).

Surinam toads have a very vigorous feeding response, and quite frequently swallow gravel along with their prey. It is therefore safest to house them in a bare-bottomed aquarium. Despite living over mud, sand and gravel in the wild, captive Surinam toads are very prone to impactions. I’ve observed several on autopsy that were packed full of sand, and another that swallowed a stone which seemed barely able to fit in its mouth.

Check back on Friday for the conclusion of this article.

Scorpions in Captivity – An Overview of Popular Species: the South African Rock Scorpion, Hadogenes troglodytes


The basic care of this scorpion parallels that which I described for emperor scorpions in the article Scorpions in Captivity – An Overview of Popular Species; Part II: The Emperor Scorpion (Pandinus imperator). I’ll highlight species-specific information below.

South African Rock Scorpion, Hadogenes troglodytes

Ranging throughout much of southern Africa, this scorpion giant (7.5 to 8.5 inches in length) is always found in association with rocky places, especially the savannah-based outcroppings know as kopjes.  A thoroughly flattened body suits it especially well for climbing among and hiding within rock piles, a habitat it shares with the similarly-shaped flat rock lizards (Platysuarus spp.) and pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri).

Color Variations

Rock scorpions vary greatly in color from population to population, and usually closely match the rocks of their habitat in hue.  Tan, reddish, brown, olive and yellow specimens, and a variety of shades in-between, all appear in the pet trade from time to time.

Captive Habitat

In captivity, they should be supplied with ample climbing opportunities in the form of rock piles and plastic reptile shelters   and cavesIf you use natural rocks, be sure to place the base of the pile directly upon the terrarium floor, not on sand, so that the scorpions do not burrow below and become crushed.  Repti sand makes a fine substrate.

The rock scorpion terrarium should be kept dry, with a light spraying of water once every 3-4 days being enough to supply their moisture requirements.  A water bowl is not necessary.

Rock scorpions are rather shy and high strung, much more so than their more commonly-kept relative, the emperor scorpion.  They will not thrive if forced to remain exposed.  Given secure shelters, however, they readily settle into captive life and may very well reproduce once habituated.  They are fairly slow-moving and seem to rely mainly upon their claws for defense.  Their venom is not considered to be dangerous to healthy adults.

An American Museum of Natural History field report detailing Hadogenes natural history and the description of 2 new species is posted at:

Assisting Snakes During “Dry Sheds” and other Skin Shedding (Ecdysis) Related Problems: Soaking and Commercial Shedding Aids


Shedding problems, collectively referred to as “dry sheds” by herptoculturists, are a not uncommon occurrence in snake collections.  As I’ve never encountered a wild snake bearing unshed skin, despite having handled innumerable specimens, I am led to believe that establishing proper environmental conditions in captivity helps greatly in avoiding problems in this area.

Soaking Pools

Ribbon SnakeAn important first step is providing an adequately sized pool for soaking.  Although some snakes will not make use of a pool, most, even some highly arboreal species (i.e. red-tailed ratsnakes), will.  Snakes that frequent moist habitats, such as the ribbon snake pictured here, should always have access to a large pool and dry basking sites (even highly aquatic species are prone to fungal infections if unable to dry off).

Leucistic Burmese PythonThe leucistic Burmese python pictured below is over 20 feet long and nearing 21 years of age.  She resides in an exhibit that I recently refurbished at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in NYC – her pool measures 5 feet square, and is 4 feet in depth, allowing her to completely submerge (not an easy feat in a private collection!).

Arboreal Snakes

For arboreal snakes that might be reluctant to soak in a pool, such as green tree pythons, emerald tree boas and garden tree boas, maintaining the proper ambient humidity (while providing adequate air flow) is important.  Extra misting is usually necessary when these snakes are ready to shed.

Soaking Containers

Most shedding difficulties can be resolved by confining the snake in water overnight.  Keep the water at a level which allows the snake to breathe without having to swim, and provide a brick or rough stone for it to rub against when loosening the old skin.

Snakes so confined will try to escape their unfamiliar surroundings, and very often rub their snouts raw if a screen top is used.  I have found ventilated plastic garbage cans to be perfect for soaking snakes – be sure to secure the top with duct tape and/or bungee cords.

Moss as a Shedding Aid (High Strung, Desert and Arboreal Snakes)

Crotalus durissusSome species or individuals are simply too high strung to tolerate confinement in a bare pool of water.  I have found this to be true for black racers, certain garter snakes, coachwhip snakes, eyelash vipers and Neo-tropical rattlesnakes (pictured below).  Note: Eyelash vipers and rattlesnakes were under my care in zoos, and, being venomous, are not suitable for private collections.

For other species, standing water seems to be such a foreign element that confinement to it causes extreme stress.  Among this group are African egg-eating snakes, vine snakes, patch-nosed snakes and rough/smooth green snakes.

These snakes and similar species do very well when confined to containers of damp moss  instead of water.  They usually burrow right into the moss, finding security and moistening their skins in the process.  When provided with a rough stone, they most often shed by morning.

Commercial Shedding Aids

Specially formulated shedding aids  are now available and are proving to be quite useful, especially when paired with the foregoing suggestions.  Some individual snakes have difficulty with every shed – for these, you can apply the shedding aid once the snake has become opaque (once the eyes cloud over).

Checking the Eye Caps

After a problematical shed, be sure to check that the old eye caps (technically known as the brille) have been shed.  This can be difficult to ascertain, so please seek the advice of an experienced snake keeper if you are unsure.  Retained eye caps can be removed with the aid of mineral oil and a fine tweezers, but again this is not an undertaking for one inexperienced in the procedure.


Caring for Reptiles and Amphibians: Useful Products from the Aquarium Trade – Using Frozen and other Foods for Turtles, Aquatic Salamanders and Tadpoles – Part 2

Click: Caring for Reptiles and Amphibians: Useful Products from the Aquarium Trade – Using Frozen and other Foods for Turtles, Aquatic Salamanders and Tadpoles – Part 1 to read the first part of this article.

Frozen Foods for Tadpoles

Tetramin Staple Diet Flakes  and spirulina flakes have long been used by hobbyists and zookeepers as foods for poison frog and other tadpoles.  However, frozen tropical fish foods have been largely over-looked as regards tadpole husbandry.

I have found a number of frozen foods to be well-accepted by a wide variety of tadpoles, including most poison frogs, tomato frogs, golden bell frogs, various flying frogs and native species such as bull, green and gray tree frogs, and Fowler’s and Colorado River toads.  The consistency of frozen foods renders them very palatable to tadpoles…by utilizing a few different types, it is a simple matter to formulate a healthy diet for many species.

Suggested Frozen Foods for Tadpoles

Cichlid Vegetable Food contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, while Emerald Entree has spinach and other vegetables along with animal protein derived from mysids and brine shrimp.   Spirulina is always a favorite and is a fine food for nearly all tadpoles.

The tadpoles of most frog and toad species, even those described in references as “grazing upon algae”, usually consume a good deal of animal matter in the form of Daphnia and other tiny invertebrates and carrion.  I suggest you provide a mix of several foods containing both plant and animal matter to most species.  Please write in information concerning individual species that you might be interested in rearing.

Freeze Dried Foods for Tadpoles

As mentioned earlier, Tetramin Staple Diet and Spirulina flakes are tadpole-rearing standbys, and I continue to rely upon both.  For most tadpoles, I also make liberal use of freeze dried fish foods.  Many of the fresh water invertebrates favored by small fishes, and available in freeze-dried form, are consumed by tadpoles as part of their natural diets.

Be sure to offer your tadpoles a variety of these highly nutritious foods, especially Cyclops, Daphnia, and bloodworms.

Tablets and Wafers for Tadpoles

Sinking tablets and wafers are especially useful when rearing tadpoles.  They are dense enough to keep the tadpoles of bullfrogs, smoky jungle frogs, marine toads and other large frogs busy, yet are palatable to even the smallest species (I have used algae tablets for the tiny tadpoles of wood frogs and spring peepers).

I usually raise tadpoles in bare-bottomed tanks, especially where large numbers are concerned.  This eases cleaning and allows for close observations.  However, in zoo and public aquarium exhibits, I am sometimes faced with the task of rearing tadpoles on gravel or other substrates (please see photo).  In these instances I find tablet and wafer type foods to be a great help in maintaining water quality, as most of the food stays above the gravel bed.  Also, in well-planted exhibits, it is easier to keep track of how much is being consumed when using tablets as opposed to flake or frozen tadpole foods.

Recommended Tablets and Wafers

Tetramin Tablets provide both animal and vegetable matter, and are a good choice as a dietary staple for many species.  Algae Eater Chips are quite unique in containing several types of algae, and should be fed to any frog or toad tadpole that will accept them (most do so readily).  As with frozen and flake products, spirulina discs are a good basic food item for most commonly-kept tadpoles.


Caring for Reptiles and Amphibians: Useful Products from the Aquarium Trade – Using Frozen and other Foods for Turtles, Aquatic Salamanders and Tadpoles – Part 1


Many items marketed for tropical fish are of great value to reptile and amphibian enthusiasts. Please see: Caring for Reptiles and Amphibians: Useful Foods, Medications and other Products from the Aquarium Trade – Introduction and Feeding Accessories for background information and notes on other products.

Frozen Foods for Turtles

Frozen silversides, krill, beef heart, sand eels, mussels and similar foods provide a convenient means of increasing dietary variety for many reptile and amphibian pets.  They are readily accepted by nearly all aquatic turtles, including soft-shells, sliders, cooters, map turtles, snake-necks and musk turtles.

Diamondback Terrapins – Estuarine Specialists

Marine foods, such as sand eels, should not be used as a dietary staple for freshwater turtles, but rather as a supplement each 7-14 days.  However, diamondback terrapins, which inhabit estuaries and other brackish environments, should be offered mussels, krill and other such foods at most meals.

These gorgeous, variably-patterned turtles have an undeserved reputation as difficult captives.  Indeed, when kept in what is the proper manner for, let’s say, a painted turtle, a diamondback will usually fail to thrive.  However, when kept in brackish water and fed shellfish, krill, marine fishes and other natural food items, they make active, long-lived pets.

Other Salt Marsh Turtles

Snapping turtles often enter brackish environments…indeed some populations are specifically adapted to such.  I have had good success in raising snapper hatchlings on diets composed of approximately 50% marine-based organisms.

The eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) is another “freshwater” turtle that is often associated with estuarine environments.  In New York State, it occurs only on Long Island and Staten Island, where it is almost always found in salt marshes.  Mud turtles also fare well on a diet high in marine foods such as mussels and krill.

A Note Concerning Krill

Krill are shrimp-like creatures native to marine environments.  As such, I would normally recommend they be used in the diets of fresh water turtles on an occasional basis only (except for the estuarine species mentioned above).  However, some years ago a colleague raised a group of Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) hatchlings on a diet composed entirely of freeze dried krill and Reptomin Food Sticks.  The turtles grew quickly, matured into adults with perfectly-formed shells, and have, I believe, reproduced.

Since then, I have used frozen and freeze dried krill as a substantial part of the diet of spiny soft-shelled turtles, a number of Australian snake-necked turtle species, red-headed side-necked turtles, midland painted turtles, axolotls, tiger salamander larvae, red-spotted newts, sharp-ribbed newts, African clawed frogs and many others…with fine results in each case.  I heartily recommend that you include krill as part of the diets of your aquatic reptile and amphibian pets.

Frozen Foods for Large and Small Aquatic Salamanders

Amphiumas, mudpuppies and sirens will accept most of the aforementioned items, and newts of all types relish krill.

Beef heart was long used as a staple diet for laboratory colonies of Mexican axolotls and African clawed frogs, and countless generations were raised and bred on this food item alone.  Although I favor a more varied diet for these creatures, certainly frozen beef heart is a very useful food that should be offered regularly.

Click here to read the 2nd part of this article.


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