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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.

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.

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