When it comes to weird and wonderful creatures of the amphibian world, few animals are more unusual than the Surinam toad. For all intents and purposes, this highly-unusual frog can be tiered in the same league as the duck-billed platypus and bowerbirds, both of which are known for being particularly strange.
However, that doesn’t mean that the Surinam toad isn’t a fantastic pet — because it definitely is! This toad is perfect for amphibian enthusiasts who want a frog that’s a bit more interesting and less common than Pacman frogs or tree frogs but that aren’t very hard to care for.
Before buying a Surinam toad for your home collection, it’s crucial to understand how to care for them… which is why we’re here to help. In today’s article, we’re going to discuss all the things that make this toad unique, as well as how to properly care for them.
More specifically, we’re covering housing requirements, diet, temperament, and potential health issues that could arise and much more.
|Surinam Toad, Surinam Underwater Toad
|Surinam, Eastern Trinidad and Tobago
The Surinam toad (Pipa pipa), also known as the Surinam underwater toad or the star-fingered toad, can be found across Surinam and the Eastern portion of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as a number of other countries and regions in and around the Amazon River where they make their homes in bodies of water, both large and small.
The toad grows to an adult size of anywhere between 4 and 8 inches, making it a moderately sized toad when compared to many other species.
An appropriate enclosure for a Surinam toad should be at least 30 gallons and include an adequate source of light and heat, as well as plenty of enrichment and a prominent water feature. The Surinam toad is an aquatic omnivore, doing well with a captive diet of various worms, small fish and other seafood offerings, and insects.
Unfortunately, unlike certain other species of amphibians, Surinam toads aren’t fond of being handled and will do everything in their power to avoid being picked up or interacted with. They are not aggressive, however, and will not try to bite or otherwise harm their human carers.
Surinam toads are moderate in size but can be kept in groups, which eliminates the need for multiple enclosures– a huge bonus, in our books! A small group of two or three toads can be successfully housed in a 20-gallon aquarium, while larger groups must be kept in an enclosure that is larger to accommodate the extra individuals.
Ideally, of course, you’d house your toads in as big of a tank as possible in either case. They are fairly inactive individuals but still appreciate an enclosure that is large enough to explore should the urge arise.
Ensure that your enclosure has a tight-fitting lid.
Humidity and Lighting
Since Surinam toads are aquatic, it’s not necessary to worry about humidity. Instead, it’s important to follow good habits when it comes to the water you fill your aquarium with.
For your water to be safe for your frogs, the pH values should be roughly 6.5 to 7 — anything much higher than this range can cause skin problems for your toads. The water should be changed every 1-2 weeks, swapping out 20-30% of the total water volume.
Before changing your water, be sure to treat it with a water conditioner that is designed for fish and amphibians. A good conditioner is one that removes chemicals such as chlorine from the water on contact.
Surinam toads don’t require any specific lighting, but do well when given a day/night cycle. If you choose to provide your toads with such a cycle, it’s a good idea to replicate the natural day/night cycle that would go on within the toad’s habitat in the wild. This can be done by providing your toad with 11 – 13 hours of artificial light per day, turning the lights off the remainder of the day.
Your toad will need to have the water making up its habitat warm. Even though your toad is an amphibian, which would normally require a heat bulb for heating, be sure not to attempt to use a heat bulb, ceramic heat emitter, or other external heat fixture in your tank! A fish tank water heater of the appropriate size for your water tank’s water volume will suffice.
The water temperature should range from 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Much hotter than this and your toad will become stressed out and uncomfortable. Any cooler than this temperature and they may have problems digesting their food — not to mention, of course, that they will become more susceptible to disease and sickness.
Since your toad is fully aquatic and does all of its defecating in its water, your tank will need a filter capable of keeping the water clean in between water changes. Fish tank water filters come in a variety of types and sizes, ranging from sponge filters to under-gravel filters and the classic over-the-back filters.
Surinam toads don’t have a specific flow that works best for them or that is particularly unpleasant for them, which makes it easy to choose a filter. You can simply choose one that matches your water volume without worrying about how fast the water current moves because of the filter’s agitation.
If possible, avoid overly large filters that cause wave-like water movements. Although the toads are hardy swimmers, water that is too fast can make it hard for them to swim. Some gentle water movement is highly recommended, however.
Surinam toads like to hide and appreciate an enclosure with a number of hiding spots. These can come in the form of store-bought hides and caves, half of a terracotta pot, driftwood, and both live and artificial plants that offer plant coverage and take up free space in the water column. Floating plants are a favorite of this species because they use them to hide underneath when floating close to the surface of the water.
The toad does well when its tank is heavily planted and full of decor, as it spends most of its time hiding — a task that is made easier when there are plenty of places to go.
In terms of substrate, the general rule of thumb for Surinam toad care is that the bottom of the tank should be bare. This is because the toad has a chaotic and messy way of eating, which can lead to the ingestion of sand and gravel, resulting in impaction.
If you choose to use a substrate, opt for larger stones that the frog can’t easily get into its mouth.
In their natural habitat, Surinam toads eat tadpoles, worms, aquatic insects, tadpoles, and other co-dwelling pond creatures. In captivity, these hardy toads dine on tadpoles, earthworms, bloodworms, and crickets most commonly.
Some will also accept commercial fish food such as koi pellets and catfish chow. When feeding your toads animal-based proteins, be sure to promptly remove any uneaten food as they will decay quickly and sour the water.
With the exception of small earthworms, it’s best practice to pre-kill your toads’ food, as well as to feed them as much as they can consume three or four times a week. If you’re offering larger items, don’t be surprised if your toad eats less than you’d expect or that they eat when they’re offered smaller items.
When the toads are 18 to 24 months old, they can begin reproducing. If you take care to reproduce the wet season in which they would naturally reproduce in the wild, the chances of your toads mating is high.
You can mimic the unique conditions of this season by increasing the temperature to 80 degrees and decreasing the water level of your tank to 15 inches. The pH level of the water should decrease, too. During this time period, ensure that your toads have 13 hours of daylight.
As mating activity increases, increase the water level to 30 inches and lower the temperature of the water to 75-77 degrees, while also allowing the pH levels to return to a normal level. You’ll also want to decrease daylight to a total of 10-12 hours per day.
Surinam toads have large appetites and are known for being voracious, messy eaters. They use their large forefoot to shovel food into their mouth.
For the most part, Surinam toads are relatively inactive and will spend most of their time hiding on the bottom of their tanks. Every 5-10 minutes they will pop to the surface of the water to take a breath of air and descend quickly back to the bottom of the tank.
As these toads are aquatic, it’s best to avoid touching them. This is a general rule with all amphibians, but is especially important when you consider that our human hands are dry and the skin of the Surinam toad isn’t — and should not be.
If they must be removed from their tank, do it using a soft net instead of your hands. Be sure to cover the mouth of the net to avoid having your toad jump out of the net and get injured. Return your frog to a water source as soon as possible after removing them from it.
If for any reason you have to use your hands to handle your toad, be sure to wash them well beforehand. This will ensure that your toad’s skin doesn’t absorb any of the soap or chemicals that may be on your hands.
Amphibian Nutritional Metabolic Bone Disease
Amphibian Nutritional Metabolic Bone Disease is also known as secondary hyperparathyroidism. It’s the most common disease among captive amphibians and is the result of calcium, vitamin D3, and UV light deficiency.
Symptoms include limb deformities, lethargy, and gastrointestinal stasis (when the GI tract does not move food through the body properly).
Gastric overload is the result of your toad being fed too much or meals that are too large. When this illness is present, your toad will become so bloated that it cannot breathe properly. The large food item will not digest adequately and bacteria will build up within it, causing the bloating.
Foreign Body Ingestion
Foreign body ingestion is exactly what it sounds like — when your toad ingests foreign bodies. This can include gravel, sand, and small rocks. When this happens, your toad’s GI tract becomes impacted and the toad will be unable to digest food and/or defecate properly.
Yes! They thrive in groups as they’re a peaceful, inactive species. They can be kept in mixed-sex or same-sex groups as long as they are in a tank of the correct size for the group.
Nope! They are not toxic to humans or pets. They do, as most amphibians do, produce minimal amounts of a slightly toxic substance within their bodies, however. This substance won’t harm humans but can be mildly irritating to the skin.
The best time to feed the toads is when the lights of their tank are turned off. This will encourage them to come out of hiding to find food.
These toads are not known for being particularly fun to observe. They don’t do much and prefer to spend most of their time being stationary or hiding.
While not the most entertaining aquatic amphibian, Surinam toads have a certain level of charm and intrigue. They are easy to care for and serve as a low-maintenance pet option for anyone looking for something a bit more interesting than a goldfish.
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