Pipa pipa / Surinam toad - Care

Vorige Item 8 of 9 Volgende
Specification Description
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Suborder: Mesobatrachia
Family: Pipidae
Scientific name: Pipa pipa
Dutch name: Surinaamse pad
English name: Surinam toad
Dieet: Carnivorous
Average length: 12-16cm
Distribution: South America
Lifestyle: Aquatic
Reproduction: oviparous / egglaying
Status: Non threatened
Cites: non

Pipa pipa, (Linneaus, 1758)

That the wonderful world of animals is full of beautiful, strange and fascinating animals is well known. The world of reptiles and amphibians is no exception to it and is filled with species with intriguing colours, shapes and behaviours. Without a doubt the frogs belonging to the genus Pipa are one of those strange miracles. Their strange shape and above all very unconventional means of propagation speaks to the imagination of the nature lover. In the aquarium these frogs turn out to do well if certain conditions are met.

The genus Pipa is part of the Family Pipidae that currently contains 7 species, the P. arrabali, P. aspera, P. carvalhoi, P. myersi, P. parva, P. pipa en P. snethlageae. Of these species the P. parva and P. pipa are most represented in the hobby.


General appearance:  The strange appearance of this frog is one of the many things that attracts the attention of many hobbyist. The animals are very flat and their body shape is almost square. The jaw is very wide and the head is also flat and has a slight triangular shape and the eyes are relatively small. Around the mouth and all over the body the animals have all kinds of frills and bumps that help camouflage. On average the male Pipa pipa will get 10-15cm long, females will get 14-17cm and this is one of the largest species of Tongless frogs. The general body colour is a flattering irregularly brown or grey. The hind legs are long and very powerful, the toes are fully equipped with webbing and they are powerful swimmers. The forelegs on the other hand are significantly smaller with less webbing between the toes. The forelegs almost always extend along the animals face with their fingers stretched out. Each of these long fingers has a star-shaped organ that is very sensitive to pressure changed at the end of each finger. This organ is one of the characteristics that distinguishes the Pipa pipa from other species within the genus. These sensors are very sensitive. These frogs move across the bottom of the waters where they live. As soon as a possible prey is observed within this radius, the mouth opens rapidly and creates a suction effect in front of the frog. In this way a prey is swallowed in its entirety. In addition, they use their front legs to clamp on a prey and slide them in their mouth.


Natural origin and habitat:  The Pipa pipa has a large distribution area that concentrates in and around the Amazon and Orinoco River Delta. They are found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela in the middle and north of South America. They can be found in the rivers, streams, lakes and pools to only small waters and creeks. Clean water is very important for this species. In some parts they experience a dry season, when the animals are unable to find water here they will dig into the mud waiting for the rainy season. The waters in these areas are characterized by a relatively poor visibility caused by all tannins emitted from rotten wood and leaves in the water. Vegetation underwater is moderate till absent and they hide in mostly on the bottom between sunken branches, stems and leaves. The water is relatively soft and the pH value fluctuates depending on season and range from 4.5 to 6pH.


Behaviour:  These frogs are especially active between sunset and sunrise. During the day they spend a lot of their time hiding between leaves and vegetation. The only reason to get in motion go to the surface to breath or because of disturbance. This can sometimes be a shame for the hobbyist because the frogs will be inactive for a large part of their time. Pipa pipa are true ambush hunters, they rely on their good camouflage and wait for a fish or other possible prey to pass. Only when they are really hungry will they look for all kinds of foods that fit in their wide mouths. In the water they are very good and powerful swimmers, but their poor sight and physic make their movement on the land very awkward.


Diet:  These frogs feed on all kinds of aquatic animals that fit into their mouths. Including worms, shrimps and crustaceans, larvae, other smaller amphibians and fish. In captivity Pipa’s are often not picky eaters. Sometimes wildcaught specimens need some time to get adjusted. You can feed these animals best when the lighting is turned off, the Pipa are then the most active and less shy. Especially worms and fish are accepted readily. You can also feed with soft shrimp, pieces of mussel, blood worms, mealworms and tubifex. Crickets from a tweezers are also accepted. Feed an average of 4 times a week as much as the frogs can eat.

Because of the enormous appetite and diet of these animals it is advisable to house only animals of the same size together. Otherwise relatives are on the diet if they fit into the mouth of their larger fellow residents.


Housing:  In spite of the size of these frogs they do not need a large aquarium. In some articles and countries 70litres per animal is already stated as sufficient. This is due to their rather inactive lifestyle. For example a good sized aquarium for three Pipa pipa would be 100x50x50cm.

The water:  When the animals are healthy and adjusted they are very tolerant for various water values. Preferably the water has an average pH value (6.5 / 7) and is slightly soft. At a very high pH or hardness health problems including skin complaints may occur. Adding dead leaves, elder buds and sphagnum to the water reduces the hardness somewhat. These natural materials also have fungal and bacterial inhibitory effect. Change every week to 14 days on average 20 to 30% of the water to prevent excessive contamination. Preferably use a water preparator such as the Easy Life Filter Medium to neutralize potentially harmful substances in your tap water before adding them to the aquarium. Due to the waste that these animals can produce during feeding and secretion the use of an external filter with a large filter area is highly recommended. These animals do not have specific water flow requirements. One wants to prevent a very strong flow but some water movement is recommended. Heating can be done with an aquarium thermostat to 25/26C. Temperatures of 24C to 29C are tolerated. Prevent that these aquatic frogs can come into direct contact with the heater to prevent burning. This can be done by means of a separate protective cover or if possible place the thermostat heater in a separate part of the external filter or sump.

Light:  To recreate an natural day/night cycle and to provide the possible plants used with any light you can illuminate the aquarium with fluorescent tubes or LED lights. Illuminate 11.5 till 13.5 hours a day depending on the season recreated. Make sure there are plenty of shady hides and places for the animals to get away from the light if they like. Often very bright light is evaded. With the use of hides, floating plants or corkbark slates you can easily create more shade in the aquarium.  

The substrate:  Because of the at least turbulent and chaotic way of feeding many hobbyist keep their Pipa’s (and other aquatic amphibians) on a bare bottom. This would prevent any substrate from being eaten in the attack on a prey which could possibly lead to clogging or gastrointestinal perforations. This way of housing is very easy to maintain but offers little space for the animals to hide at the bottom. Therefore it is very important to provide sufficient alternative shelters. One should not be afraid of compaction or other complaints by indigested leaves. As a result, a layer of leaves on the bottom can be a good option. If you want to use substrate then fine, soft filter sand is a good option that you may mix with large, round pebbles that cannot be swallowed by the animals during feeding. avoid the use of small sharp gravel.

Decoration:  Pipa Like to hide so make sure you offer them with plenty of possibilitys. U can use half terra cotta pots, tropical wood and plants to decorate and create hides. They really like to hang between submerged roots and plants close to the surface.

Fish:  Combining the Pipa pipa with fish is very unwise. Even fish that are as big as the frog themselves can be seen as a potential supplement to their diet. Fast fish that are mostly active on the surface can sometimes escape the frogs for a while, but this is only sporadic. Many larger fish may damage the frog and feed on newly born frogs during the reproductive season. Calm fish such as Discus will be very easily disturbed by the turbulent behaviour of these animals. All in all it is not wise to combine these animals with other fish or amphibians.


Handling/moving:  Never handle amphibians with your bare hands. On our hands we can have various substances that can be absorbed by the animals through their skin and can be harmful to their health. Therefore always wear latex gloves and replace them in between the handling of other frogs or animals to prevent cross contamination and viral spread. Pipa does not like to be picked up and will swim away quickly when threatened. When handled, the animal will move back and forth and possibly damage itself in the rough movement. Therefore it is wise to catch and move these animals using a large fine-mesh fishnet. This allows you to quickly lift the animal out of the aquarium and place it in a container with high walls. Note that they have powerful legs the animals easily jump around. But the possible jump is akward and an animal falling from a height can be injured.


Reproduction:  After 18 to 24 months, most Pipa Pipa are sexually mature. Pipa pipa mainly reproduces in the rainy season, which is characterized by increased water level and falling water temperatures. If you want to mimic the seasons to stimulate mating you can mimic them by increasing the temperatures to 27C in summer, lower the waterlevel (40cm) and lower pH values. Extend the lighting hours to 13.5 hours. During the rainy season, when mating activity increases, increase the water level to at least 80cm (preferably 100cm +). This height is required for the mating position and big circles that the pair will swim during the amplexus. Lower the temperatures gradually to 24/25C. During this period the pH returns to an average level and illuminate on average 10.5/12 hours per day. The call of the male animals is sometimes heard at night and sounds like a metallic clicking sound. Paired females get a thickened skin layer on the back during this period, where the eggs will later be stored and the cloaca swells up. If you do not have the ability to reach such a depth of water in your aquarium it may help to temporarily place the animals in a custom, wide and deep rain or garbage bucket.

Place just one male with one or more females, preventing a female from being injured by multiple males or other males interfering during a pairs amplexus. The amplexus can start very turbulently at the beginning but as soon as fertilization takes place the rest returns. During mating the pair swims in large vertical looping’s. As soon as they end up on top of one of these circles the female deposits 1 until sometimes 10 eggs, which is fertilized in the following looping by the male after which he pushes it in the thickened skin layer on the back of the female. Eventually an clutch can consist of 40 to 100 eggs. If the mating was successful and the skin on the back of the female closes around the eggs it is wise to remove the male immediately to give the female the best possible rest.

The eggs develop and soon larvae will hatch, yet they do not yet leave the savety on their mother's back but will stay there and completely transform into young frogs. Only when the young are fully developed there are openings in the mother's back that are quarter of an inch in diameter. Once the young frogs are ready they crawl out of the back of the mother to swim directly to the surface to breathe in fresh air. The development of egg to fully developed young takes an average of 15 to 18 weeks but may take 12 to 20 weeks. This depends mainly on the temperature of the water and whether the young where able to occasionally feed while on/in the back of their mother with small food such as water fleas. It is therefore advisable to add lots of small items like waterfleas and rotifer to the water during the last stage of the young frogs their development,


Raising the young:  Clean water and sufficient food are the two main elements when raising young Pipa. Preferably you directly place the young Pipa separate from the parents in small groups in aquariums or plastic containers with a 10cm deep water layer. The relatively small living environment will help the young frogs to easily find their food. Add dead leaves in the water and some floating plants so that the young paths can hide. Filter the water by means of a simple air-driven cotton filter. The cotton is easy to replace and filters out the many fine waste that the young Pipa will produce. Replace a part of the water weekly, preferably with water from the parents aquarium.

Young Pipa eat a lot and grow fast, initially they eat live foods like blood worms, tubifex, mosquito larvae, waterfleas and young little fish like baby gups and platys. Soon they will also learn to eat thawed food. Please note that the groups consist of Pipa of the same size. If there are animals that stay behind or grow very quickly you want to place them separately or with a group of young of the same size. Otherwise you are likely to find a larger brother or sister feeding on their smaller relative. If the young feed and grow well you can put it in a larger aquarium. They are excellent swimmers and at this stage can receive the same care as their parents.


Final words:  The Pipa pipa is a very interesting animal to keep and take care of, its odd appearance and reproduction makes up for the inactivity. However, due to their size and ‘labour intensive’ way of breeding they are not suitable for everyone. Would you like to keep Pipa but do you not have the space for the Pipa pipa? Then the smaller Pipa parva is a very good alternative. This species remains considerably smaller and is easier to reproduce. They are similar in care but need a much smaller aquarium (60x30x30 for a pair)

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