African clawed frogs get their name from both the three claws on their hind feet which are used to tear food apart. They have become popular household pets in large part because they're easy to care for and live a long time.
Scientific Name: Xenopus laevis
Common Name: African clawed frog
Adult Size: About 4 to 5 inches long
Life Expectancy: Between 20 and 30 years
Behavior and Temperament of African Clawed Frogs
In the wild, African clawed frogs are considered pests in many areas. They adapt easily and are hardy predators, with some even able to survive cold weather other frogs could not. They're known to eat the young of other frogs. African clawed frogs also are used extensively in laboratory testing.
These frogs reach maturity at about nine months.
Housing African Clawed Frogs
There are many variations in suggested tank size for these critters, but being a fairly large-sized frog, African clawed frogs require some space. Ten gallons per frog is a good rule of thumb to follow when setting up a tank for your amphibian.
While African clawed frogs do not need a land area, the water should only be about 12 inches deep so that the frog will be able to easily reach the surface, since they must breathe oxygen (a minimum of 6 inches is recommended to allow the frog room to maneuver).
A secure lid is also a must as these frogs are adept at propelling themselves out of the water and escaping when they are given the chance (escaped frogs have contributed to invasive populations outside of Africa).
A gravel substrate can be used on the bottom of the tank but avoid small gravel; you don't want your frog to ingest it. Use rocks, wood branches or logs, and flower pots to decorate the tank and provide hiding places (African clawed frogs with no place to hide may become stressed).
Live plants can also be added to the tank but the frogs will dig up and generally destroy them, so many people go the artificial route instead.
Heat and Lighting
One big benefit to caring for African clawed frogs is that you don't need to worry about special lighting for your amphibian. Your frog tank can be kept at room temperature 68 to 75 degrees and no special lighting is required. Some people do provide indirect lighting or use a simple aquarium light to make sure there is a normal 12-hour light to a 12-hour dark cycle.
African clawed frogs have a sensory system (lateral line) instead of ears that allow them to sense vibrations in the water, so some experts believe that using filters provides constant stressful stimuli to the frog, similar to a human constantly being exposed to the noise from a jackhammer.
However, gentle filtration is used by some owners with success, and this will keep your frog's water a lot cleaner than going without a filter. African clawed frogs live in stagnant water in the wild but that is not the same as dirty water in an aquarium' natural bacteria, rain, and ground filtration exist in their natural habitat. If no filtration is used in your tank, be sure to change the water every week, if not more often.
The water in the tank must also be de-chlorinated using a product from the pet store designed to remove chlorine (and chloramine, if necessary) or it can sit out for at least 24 hours to allow the chlorine an opportunity to evaporate.
African clawed frogs can also be very sensitive to the toxic effects of metal ions in the water, so ensure that the water you use also does not come in contact with metal.
Food and Water
African clawed frogs will eat a variety of foods, live or not. Many owners feed floating reptile or amphibian sticks with success. While these sticks are typically well balanced, feeding a variety of food is still a good idea for your African clawed frog.
Items such as waxworms, earthworms, feeder fish, bloodworms, brine shrimp, and even some dog and cat food are all good options.
In addition, commercial food for clawed frogs can be purchased from some companies that sell frogs and food to research facilities. Since these frogs are used fairly extensively in research, supplies are readily available. As long they eat balanced food, supplementation with vitamins and minerals is not necessary.
In general, overfeeding is more of a problem than underfeeding, so feed daily and keep an eye on the body shape of your frog. If it seems to be getting overweight, then cut back your feedings to once every other day.
African clawed frogs often become quite tame over time, taking food directly from their owner's fingers. They do sometimes accidentally nibble on fingers, but they lack teeth so this is not an issue. These frogs also lack tongues and eat by stuffing food into their mouths with their front legs. They can be quite messy as a result but also fun to watch.
Common Health Problems
African clawed frogs are prone to two types of infections: bacterial and fungal. The signs of a more serious type of fungal infection include a white growth that resembles cotton on the skin, as well as discolored eyes.
Like most aquatic frogs in captivity, African clawed frogs are prone to red-leg disease. This is a parasitic infestation which gets its name from an early symptom of reddened legs. This condition is easily confirmed and treated by consulting with a vet who specializes in reptiles. They can also get dropsy or edema, which is a disease.
If the frog has a bacterial infection, it may be due to poor water quality in its tank. A bacterial infection is marked by cloudy eyes and redness or sores on the skin.
If you're concerned that your frog is unwell, don't try to treat it with a home remedy. Always consult a qualified veterinarian for advice.
Choosing Your Dwarf Clawed Frog
Healthy frogs are active swimmers that hide frequently and have clear eyes and smooth skin. Try to get a captive-bred frog from a reputable breeder, that way you know about any health issues it has. A lethargic frog that doesn't readily accept food when it's offered is likely sick and probably not going to make a very good pet.
Similar Species to Dwarf Clawed Frogs
African clawed frogs are sometimes confused with dwarf clawed frogs. The African clawed frog has eyes on the top of its head, while the dwarf frog's eyes are on the side of its head. Clawed frogs have flat snouts while dwarf frogs have pointed snouts. And African clawed frogs have webbed back feet and digits on their front feet (similar to hands), while dwarf frogs have four webbed feet.
You also may want to check out our other frog profiles.