Bizarre Behaviour – Surinam Toad

In this new series, I will introduce you to some organisms with strange behaviours. The first one is the Surinam toad (genus Pipa). Upon first encounter you would probably not give this animal a second look – that is, if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon it. It is a dull brown or grayish toad that lives in water and only occasionally needs to come to the surface for air.

But this animal comes with some weird features. The most salient of these is its reproductive behaviour. At first it starts out just like almost every animal: Male meets female and they decide to reproduce. Here, things begin to differ, because the Surinam toad loves to make acrobatic moves during the whole process. The male attaches itself to the back of the female and they begin with a series of somersaults. At some point, the female disperses some eggs (3 – 10) in between her and her partner. The male then begins to fertilise these. This repeats itself numerous times until 60-100 eggs are dispersed. Now here comes the strange part: Instead of laying the eggs somewhere in the environment, the eggs are distributed and dissolved in the skin on the back of the female. It is the male that distributes the eggs over the females back with his big hind legs. Ahh, isn’t it nice that he gives her a back massage!? But of course, what goes in must come out, so after the incubation period of approximately 4 months, in which the tiny toads undergo their complete metamorphosis from egg to tadpole to actual toad, the babies crawl out of their mother’s back leaving it with holes. Now stretch marks doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

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When I first encountered this toad, I wondered whether or not the holes would go away and if the females are in pain when “pregnant”. Apparently, the holes do go away, since the skin is shed afterwards. Moreover, before the eggs get dissolved in the skin, the skin swells up and in so doing forms an extra layer in which the eggs are incubated (somewhat like a pouch). And since the skin is dead, it is likely that the toad is not in any serious pain. Still, it is a creepy sight, so be warned when watching the video below!

One of the things I love to do when I hear of bizarre animal behaviours is thinking about the implications when humans would do it in the same way. In this case, I think the toads are on to something here. Instead of swimming through a blood and slime filled birth canal, you would just break through the skin of your mother’s back and be free. On the other hand though, as a pregnant woman, you would probably suffer from a lot of itching on your back, which you cannot scratch, because that might kill your offspring! And I suspect that everyone else (partner included) would find it an unpleasant sight.

Which way would you prefer to be born or give birth?

General information on the Surinam toad:

http://amphibiaweb.org/cgi/amphib_query?where-genus=Pipa&where-species=pipa&account=amphibiawebb

A link describing the breeding process in more detail by an owner:

http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2008/11/07/breeding-a-skin-brooding-amphibian-the-surinam-toad-pipa-pipa/#.VWYpBWyJjIU

*The featured image for this post is from this source

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