Pipa pipa

Geographic Range

Pipa pipa inhabits the eastern region of South America, and Trinidad.


Pipa pipa are highly aquatic, living in murky ponds and swamps.

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

females: 105-171 mm males: 106-154 mm Pipa pipa are wide and greatly flattened with triangular-shaped heads. They are generally light brown, with darker brown spots on the back.

Females can be distinguished from males by a ring-shaped swelling at the cloaca, visible only when the animals are ready to breed.

The animals have very small black eyes which are lidless and beadlike.

These frogs have large, flipper-like hind feet. Their forelimbs are short with webless digits that each end in a star-shaped organ. These quadripartite fingertips are one of the characteristics that distinguish Pipa pipa from other species.



Reproduction in Pipa pipa includes direct development of the young; there is no larval stage. The female carries the eggs in a honeycomb structure on her back until they complete development and emerge as miniature adults. Mating begins when males make a tickling call while in the water. Males grasps the female from above and around the waist in inguinal amplexus. The female initiates vertical circular turnovers while they're together. The male clasps the female with his forelimbs wrapped in front of her hindlimbs, and they raise off the floor of the stream or pond and swim to the surface of the water to get air. At the top of the arc, they flip, now floating on their backs, and the female releases 3-10 eggs which fall onto the male's belly. Completing their arc, they flip to their original position, bellies to the ground. The male now loosens his grip and permits the eggs to roll onto her back while he simultaneously fertilizes them. This spawning ritual is repeated 15-18 times. Roughly 100 eggs are laid and fertilized.

The eggs adhere only to the female's back, possibly due to a cloacal secretion. They do not stick to the male's belly nor to other eggs already on the female's back. In the hours after fertilization, the eggs sink into the female's skin. Skin grows around the eggs, which become enclosed in a cyst with a horny lid. During development, the young grow temporary tails, which are apparently used in the uptake of oxygen. After 12-20 weeks, the young emerge as tailless flat frogs shaped like their mothers, except that they are only 2 cm in length. They are, however, fully developed except for bifurcation of the lobes on the fingertips.

The young usually emerge from the female's back at the time of molting, that is, when the mother sheds her skin.

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)



In the wild, the animals space themselves using calls to communicate location and distance. Pipa pipa are usually quiet and still, resting on each other without disturbances. They lie on the bottom, returning to the surface for air generally every half hour. They do not leave the water voluntarily. Initially the young have trouble diving and remain near the surface of the water. They can immediately begin snapping at food. After one month they are capable of swimming and diving as practiced by adults.

Males use a series of rapid clicking sounds as a mating call. Unready females quiver in order to reject the attempts by a male to mate.

After reproduction, the male and female separate.

The young generally emerge from their pouches under their own power, however the mother can exert pressure that will force the young to emerge.

In an aquarium environment, the mother doesn't eat her young even if they come close to her mouth or touch her hands.

Males make single clicking sounds during fights or to challenge territory. In the aquarium they were observed to charge each other, butt heads, bite, and kick.

Food Habits

Pipa pipa are aquatic omnivores. They eat worms, insects, crustaceans, and small fishes. They lack tongues and use the long, sensitive fingers of their forelimbs to search for food on the bottoms of ponds. Their forelimbs also serve to stuff the food into their mouths. Immature Pipa eat invertebrates such as Daphnia and Tubifex worms.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no ecomonic benefits other than that they sometimes consume harmful insects.

Conservation Status

Other Comments

The family Pipidae dates back to Cretaceous (144-66.4 bya). The Surinam toad is named after Suriname, a country in northern South America.

The fighting behavior of Pipa pipa is similar to that of its small African relative, Hymenochirus. Its reproductive behavior is closely related to that of Rana pipa.

Fighting probably occurs rarely in the wild, where the animals normally space themselves out peaceably by using calls.


Kathryn Wandzel (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


Encyclopedia Americana International Edition. 1996. Grolier Inc. v.26

Encyclopedia Brittanica Inc. Ready Reference. 1995. 15th Edition. Chicago v. 13

Ed. Grzimek, B. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. 1974. Van Nostand Reinhold Co. New York.

Cannatella, D. and L. Trueb. (1986) "Systematics, Morphology, and Phylogeny of Genus Pipa (Anura: Pipidae)" Herpetologica 42(4): 412-449.

Mattison, Chris. 1993. Keeping and Breeding Amphibians. Blandford, London.

Rabb, G. and M. Rabb. (1963) "Additional Observations on Breeding Behavior of the Surinam Toad, Pipa pipa" Copeia (4): 636-642.

Rabb, G. and R. Snedigar. (1960) "Obersvations on Breeding and Development of the Surinam Toad, Pipa pipa" Copeia (1): 40-44.