Childbirth isn’t exactly pretty for any species, but watching a Surinam toad (Pipa pipa) giving birth can make even the most hardened naturalist take pause. Rather than lay eggs somewhere in the water like many toads, the Surinam mother keeps her eggs close. Insanely close. Under her actual skin close. Yes, the female Surinam toad holds her eggs in holes in her back until they are ready to hatch.
Although the story of the eggs hatching is amazing yet completely horrifying, these toads exhibit fairly unique behavior from the onset of courtship. As soon as the rainy season sets in, the toads start looking for love. Instead of attracting a mate using croaks, the male toad makes a clicking sound with his hyoid bone. He then mounts the larger female by crawling onto her back. If the female is receptive, she quivers in response to his grasp. Then, it’s game on for coitus that can last more than 12 hours. Talk about stamina!
With the male holding on tight, the pair begin to do somersaults in the water. During this display while the pair are upside down, the female will express a few eggs at a time. The male then catches the eggs with his body, fertilizes them, and rolls them into the holes in her back. Females can average about 60-100 eggs per breeding, and the skin begins to resemble a pus-filled irregular honeycomb.
Soon after the female’s back is fully loaded with eggs, skin grows over the holes, protecting the developing offspring for the four months of pregnancy. During this time, the mother takes special care to protect herself and her young from predators and is rarely seen.
When the eggs are ready to hatch, the babies begin to punch their hands through the holes, until they are able to make their way through. In a short amount of time, up to 100 fully formed toads will come out of their mother's skin. The emerging offspring aren’t the tadpoles that might be expected; they actually come out as toadlets. The larval tadpole stage occurred in the mother’s back prior to hatching. This method allows the offspring to head out and find their own food immediately after birth, and they will not require any further care from their mother.
Surinam toads live in the waters of tropical rainforest in South America. Though its conservation status is currently listed as “least concern” by the IUCN, officials warn that the widespread habitat destruction caused by human development throughout the rainforests could put the toads at risk.