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Surinam Toads (Pipa pipa) as Pets, Part III: Diet and Feeding Techniques


Surinam ToadSurinam toads are well known for their bizarre reproductive strategy (please see article below), unusual appearance, large size and unique habitats.  They make very interesting pets but, as most in the trade are wild-caught, present a few problems when first introduced into the aquarium.  Last time we took a look at establishing the new Surinam toad and helping it to make the adjustment to captive life (Surinam Toads (Pipa pipa) as Pets: Acclimating New Animals and Special Considerations).  Today I’ll take a look at their dietary needs.

A Live Food Specialist
Surinam toads will take live food (or food moved before them as if alive) only.  Their favorites are earthworms, blackworms and small fishes such as guppies, platys, swordtails, mollies, minnows and shiners.  Use goldfish no more than once each month, and vary the species fed as much as is possible.

Feeding Techniques and Cautions

You can leave fishes in with the frog, as it will likely feed only at night until it has acclimated.  Be sure to adjust the fishes to your aquarium’s water temperature (float bag for 20 minutes) so that the frogs do not contract Ick or other diseases that might be transmitted from stressed fishes (also, fishes are more likely to be consumed if they swim about normally).

When using earthworms, introduce them to the tank at night (foe newly acquired frogs).  Worms usually survive for 8 hours or so underwater, but add only 1 at first and make sure to remove it in the AM if uneaten.

As mentioned in Part I of this article, Surinam toads often swallow gravel while feeding and are best kept in bare-bottomed aquariums.  This is a special concern when using earthworms, which are taken right off the substrate, and blackworms, which burrow into it.  If you use substrate, avoid feeding blackworms and offer earthworms from a plastic feeding tong.

Introducing Canned Shrimp and Snails

Well-habituated Surinam toads will consume prawn and other non-living food items that are dropped so as to land directly in front of their mouths.  Start your frog off with live food, but after awhile try using canned shrimp and snails to provide dietary variety.

Composition of the Diet

I have kept and bred Surinam toads for a number of years using a diet comprised of approximately 75% fish (platys, guppies, mollies, minnows, shiners and occasional goldfish) and earthworms, with the balance of their food intake consisting of blackworms and shrimp.

Further Reading
Please see Breeding A Skin-Brooding Amphibian: the Surinam Toad (Pipa pipa)  to read about captive reproduction of this fascinating animal.

You can learn about the other aquatic species in the family to which this frog belongs (Pipidae) at



Breeding a Skin-Brooding Amphibian: the Surinam Toad (Pipa pipa)

Surinam ToadThe bizarre Surinam toad needs little introduction to amphibian enthusiasts…their unique strategy of brooding the eggs below the skin of the female’s back has rendered the species quite well-known. Yet, when I received a group of adults in 1986, I found that little had been published on their husbandry, and the last recorded captive breeding seemed to have occurred in the 1950’s.

Courtship and Fertilization of the Eggs
One female was in breeding condition, as evidenced by the circular, swollen ring about her cloaca and the dark brood patch on her back. Several males were giving forth their metallic, clicking breeding calls, so I chose the most robust of the group and placed him with the female.

Surinam toads swim in a series of circular loops, from the bottom to the top of the aquarium, when in amplexus, and will rarely be successful in fertilizing the eggs unless provided with a tank of at least 48 inches in depth. As the pair reaches the top of their loop, the female lays an egg, which is (on the next loop) fertilized and manipulated by the male onto her back’s spongy brood patch.

My Observations of Amplexus and Birth
Amplexus in the frogs I observed lasted for nearly 3 days, which I have subsequently found is the norm. The pair “shivered” in unison on many occasions, but I was not able to see the “bobbing” motions described by others. The photo accompanying this article shows what might be the first captive breeding (this while I was working at the Bronx Zoo) in many years. Within 24 hours of this photo, the skin on the female’s back swelled and completely covered the eggs.

After egg-laying, I removed the male. The female fed as usual. I did not offer blackworms, as these voracious little beasts burrowed into the soft skin of her brood patch at one point…talk about a horrid sight (I was able to wash them away easily)!

The young began to pop their heads out (the sight of 74 pointed little heads protruding from their mother’s back was yet another vision not for the squeamish!) in 100 days, and swam off on their own within a day or so. They averaged ½ to ¾ inches long, and fed readily upon chopped blackworms, brine shrimp and guppy fry. Sexual maturity was reached in 3 years.

Amazing Healing Abilities
The females back appeared “healed” within 24 hours of giving birth, but remained roughened in appearance for several weeks. Amphibians are increasingly being found to produce compounds of great medicinal value…I wouldn’t be surprised if the incredible skin trauma undergone by female Surinam toads is somehow tempered by a chemical that could be of use to people.

A wonderful video of baby Surinam toads emerging from their mother’s back is posted below:

Baby Surinam Toads emerging from their mother’s back

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