African clawed frogs get their name from the three claws on their hind feet, which are used to tear apart food. These aquatic frogs, which are found mainly in ponds and rivers throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, have become popular pets in large part because they're easy to care for and live a long time. They can be quite enjoyable for owners to watch, and a proper tank setup for them is fairly simple to accomplish. African clawed frogs are sometimes confused with dwarf clawed frogs. However, the African clawed frog has eyes on the top of its head while the dwarf frog's eyes are on the sides of its head. Moreover, African 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.
Common Names: African clawed frog, African claw-toed frog
Scientific Name: Xenopus laevis
Adult Size: 4 to 5 inches long
Life Expectancy: 20 to 30 years
African Clawed Frog Behavior and Temperament
In the wild, African clawed frogs are considered an invasive species on four continents. They are hardy predators, with some even able to survive cold weather other frogs could not. Plus, they can adapt to a variety of food sources and are even known to eat the young of other frogs.
African clawed frogs can be fun pets to watch, but they’re not meant for handling. As aquatic frogs, their skin dries out quickly when they’re out of water. However, some African clawed frogs can learn to take food from their keeper’s hands, which can be a fun alternative to holding your pet. They do sometimes accidentally nibble on fingers, but this is not an issue because they lack teeth. Due to their hardiness and relative ease of care, they make good pets for first-time frog keepers.
Housing the African Clawed Frog
A 10-gallon aquarium is considered the minimum appropriate size for one African clawed frog. While African clawed frogs don't need a land area, the water should only be about 12 inches deep for the frogs to easily reach the surface to breathe oxygen. A secure lid is a must, as these frogs are adept at propelling themselves out of the water and escaping when given the chance.
The water must be dechlorinated using a product from a pet store designed to remove chlorine. Or it can sit out for at least 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate. Moreover, African clawed frogs are sensitive to the toxic effects of metal ions in the water, so ensure that the water you use does not come in contact with metal.
African clawed frogs have a sensory system that allows them to sense vibrations in the water. Thus, some experts believe using filters causes constant stress to the frogs, similar to a human constantly being exposed to noise from a jackhammer. However, some owners opt to use gentle filtration, which keeps the water a lot cleaner than going without a filter. If you don't use filtration, change the water at least every week.
A heat source usually isn't required for African clawed frogs, as they do well at room temperature. Use an aquarium thermometer to make sure the tank stays at around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius).
African clawed frogs typically don’t need special UV lighting. Some people choose to provide indirect lighting or use a simple aquarium light to maintain a normal day-night cycle of around 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness each day.
Substrate is the material that lines the bottom of your frog’s aquarium. It can help to mimic the animal's natural environment and anchor plants and other decor. A gravel substrate can be used. However, avoid small gravel; you don't want your frog to ingest it. Use items, such as rocks, wood branches, and logs, to decorate the tank and provide hiding places. (Frogs with no place to hide can become stressed.) Live plants can also be added to the tank, though the frog might dig them up. Many people go the artificial route instead.
Food and Water
Many owners feed their African clawed frogs floating reptile or amphibian sticks. While these sticks are typically well balanced, feeding a variety of foods is still a good idea. 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. As long as you provide a good balance, supplementation with vitamins and minerals is usually not necessary.
In general, overfeeding is more of a problem than underfeeding. Feed daily, and keep an eye on the body shape of your frog. If it seems to be overweight, cut back your feedings to once every other day. Also, consult your veterinarian on the proper amount to feed.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
African clawed frogs are prone to bacterial and fungal infections. They can also get dropsy, or severe bloat. Bacterial infections are often marked by cloudy eyes and redness or sores on the skin. The signs of a serious fungal infection include white growth that resembles cotton on the skin, as well as discolored eyes.
Moreover, like most aquatic frogs in captivity, African clawed frogs are prone to red-leg disease. This is a parasitic infestation that gets its name from an early symptom of reddened legs. This condition is easily confirmed and treated by a veterinarian.
Disease is often due to poor water quality in the tank. 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 African Clawed Frog
It's best to select a captive-bred frog from a reputable breeder or rescue organization. The group should be able to tell you the animal's origin and health history. Expect to pay around $20 to $30. Healthy frogs are active swimmers that hide frequently and have clear eyes and smooth skin. Be wary of a lethargic frog that doesn't readily accept food when it's offered, as such an animal is likely sick.
Similar Species to the African Clawed Frog
If you’re interested in similar pets, check out:
Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your new pet.
African Clawed Frogs. Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute
McNamara, Sean et al. Husbandry, General Care, and Transportation of Xenopus laevis and Xenopus tropicalis. Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.) vol. 1865 (2018): 1-17. doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-8784-9_1
Johnston, Jessica M et al. Collagenoma in an African Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis). Comparative medicine vol. 66,1 (2016): 21-4.