The Surinam Toad (Pipa pipa)

Photograph by  Matthieu Berroneau

Photograph by Matthieu Berroneau

As humans, we  tend to anthropomorphise animals. An animal's level of 'cuteness' will often be directly linked to a standard we created for ourselves and are able to project onto other creatures.  Frogs have never had an easy time in human history. Due to folklore and an old fantasy book - much like the snake - frogs are seen as evil creatures. However, some frogs find it harder to captivate humans than others. The Surinam Toad is one of them. 

This amazing toad is an aquatic species and a master of camouflage. Found in swamps and slow-moving rivers in northern South America, it is able to camouflage itself among the dead leaves at the bottom of muddy waters. It feeds on small fish and small aquatic invertebrates.

However, the most extraordinary thing about the surinam toad is, in fact, how they give birth. In an extremely rough summary, the reproduction ritual involves the male and female swimming up to the surface of the water. The male holds onto the female from above and they turn upside down whilst performing a series of movements that fertilise the eggs. During this process, the male deposits the eggs onto the female's back with its feet. The skin on the female's back becomes spongy and envelops each egg. The eggs stay there from 3-4 months until fully formed toadlets break out of the mother's skin and swim away.

Yes. As I previously mentioned,  they are pretty amazing. It is something else when you can say that the larval habitat of a species are the skin pockets in their mother's back. Granted it may not make for the most pleasing visual. However, considering humans managed to turn childbirth and periods into something 'disgusting', it is understandable (but regrettable) that the surinam toad is unlikely to ever make it to the 'top 10 cutest animals ever' list. 

It is worth noting that many frog species have unusual reproductive methods. In his book 'Life in Cold Blood', David Attenborough describes the reproductive methods of the Marsupial Frog (Gastrotheca). The clue is in the name but if you'd like to know more, I'd highly recommend the above mentioned book. 

If, like me, you are intrigued by the surinam toad, the below video shows the incredible moment when the fully formed toadlets break free of the mother's skin.