THE SURINAM TOAD
Living, breathing trypophobia
The Surinam toad is a tongue-less, star-fingered toad belonging to a species of frogs in the Pipidae family – Anura order. They look like a leaf and are known by many names like: aparo, pipa pipa, sapo chinelo, sapo chola, sapo celdas, rana comun de celdillas and rana tablacha.
Found in subtropical or tropical swamps, freshwater marches and moist lowland forests, the Surinam Toad’s natural habitat is commonly found in Northern and Southern America, specifically in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and in other countries such as Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and French Guiana.
Pipids (amphibians belonging to the Pipidae family) are very aquatic frogs and they seldom venture out of water. Because of this, evolutionary mutation made them tongue-less since they don’t need tongues to feed in water. They have a bony voice box that produces clicking sounds that signal their presence to each other, especially their mates. The Surinam toads belong to the earliest family of amphibians to diversify from the group of toads over 120 million years ago – the same time when it is believed that the first evidence of flora was dated.
Without a doubt, their distinct strangeness, the Surinam toad is considered to have the most elaborate mating behavior of all amphibians. Their eggs are deposited on the back of the female and the skin swells up to encase the eggs in pockets where the embryos will develop. When the eggs hatch, the tadpoles remain attached to the mother’s back tissues until they can emerge as fully-formed froglets after 80 days of incubation.
Surinam toads are listed as one of the endangered, threatened species by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) because of their continuous decline in population. Based on observations and reports, these toads occur less than 5,000 kilometers square, harshly fragmented population because of water pollution and the destruction of forests. Conservation measure has been implemented though, as a species were reported to be in a protected area in Reserva Canclon Hidrologica in Panama.
Because of its unusual breeding look that resembles natural clustered holes, most trypophobic people have deep aversion to Surinam toads. Trypophobia, the unusual and often irrational fear of holes in the skin, is triggered when people suffering from this condition sees these toads.
What do they look like?
Surinam toads have mottled brown skin that are warty, filamented or thread-like with sunken and flat bodies that looked like they’re decaying even when they’re on the peak of their good health. Their heads are narrower than their triangular-shaped bodies. An adult Surinam toad has no teeth and tongue and sometimes appear that there’s no sub-division between the head and the body. They are normally 36-45 millimeters (4-7 inches long) in length but can grow as big as 171 millimeters in size. Females of this species are larger than the males and can also be distinguished through the ring-shaped swelling at the reproductive organ or the urino-genital opening called “cloaca” that is visible when they are ready to mate and breed.
Their limbs are short and chubby with webbed toes. The fingers are long with forked lobes at the tips that are highly sensitive and acts as little feelers that they use to detect their prey or food. Their hind limbs are stronger than their fore limbs that are good for swimming.
Resembling an uncanny corpse-like look because of their skins, Surinam toads’ backs are dark-grayish black and their stomachs are a dirty, yellowish grey. Their eyes do not have eyelids. They have pale bronze eyes with blackish-brown spotting.
Tadpoles have dark-grey colored-skin with a silver-white underside. During this stage, they develop tail fins but do not have keratinized (stronger formed because of keratin common to most creatures with hair and nails) mouths. Their bodies are only a third of their whole length.
Where can they be found?
Surinam toads are highly aquatic. Their natural habitats can be found in moist forests, freshwater marches and in swamps. They also thrive in shallow pools, which are slight depressions in the ground that collects rainwater and do not have fish.
A larger Surinam toad can be seen in flood plains and any tropical and sub-tropical environment.
In recent years, their natural habitat is slowly diminishing because of water pollution and the destruction of forests. This condition is the catalyst behind the decline in the population of Surinam toads.
Conservation measures are being implemented, however, there’s still a need for more to preserve the species since they are listed as one of the endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN.
How do they reproduce?
Surinam toads are known for their remarkable, elaborate and distinguishable way to reproduce in the animal kingdom. Compared to other toads and frogs, Surinam toads cannot attract possible mates through croaking sounds. They make sharp, clicking sounds in the water instead. Upon hearing the call, the female will rise from the ground or water. The males will then position themselves above the female, grasping them close in an “inguinal amlexus” position (often called the mating embrace) on the lower part of the female’s body.
If the female is not receptive, it wiggles free of the male and may be released from the clasp. If receptive, the clasp can last for more than a day.
During breeding, the female’s back will become soft as the blood supply in the area increases. Then, the pair will flip through the water in somersaults, prompted by the female. While making these arcs, the female releases about 3-10 eggs that will then embed in the skin on the female’s back by the male’s movements, usually upside down in the water. When the eggs are released, they’re caught by the male’s belly wherein sperm is released to fertilize the eggs. The whole turning lasts around 11-14 seconds and the spawning is repeated around 15-18 times. Approximately 40-200 eggs are released during spawning. If the movements are not synchronized, the eggs will eventually fall and are lost to the bottom of the water.
After the implantation, the eggs will submerge into the skin and will form protective pockets to hold them in place in a matter of days, making the back of the female Surinam toad resemble a honeycomb.
The larvae will develop through the tadpole developmental phrase inside these cyst-like pockets. After 80 days of incubatory period, they will emerge from their mother’s back as full, developed Surinam toads unlike other species of frogs or toads.
Once they let go of their mother’s back, these young Surinam toads will leave and start a solitary life of their own.