The African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) is an excellent choice for hobbyists seeking for a new, fun, and exciting pet to add to their aquariums.
This frog species is relatively hardy and easy to care for, and it can thrive for years under favorable growth conditions.
The African clawed frog is renowned for its use as a model organism for a variety of biological and biochemical studies.
Interesting fact: The African clawed frog was the first vertebrate to be cloned in a laboratory, this event happened in 1962.
Keep reading for everything there is to know about the African clawed frog and how to care for it in the aquarium.
Quick Notes about the African Clawed Frog
|Name||African clawed frog|
|Other Names||African claw-toad frog, Common platanna.|
|Scientific Name||Xenopus laevis|
|Tank size (optimal)||10 gallons (~40 liters)|
|Breeding||Medium – Difficult|
|Size||12 – 14 cm (5 – 6 inches)|
|Optimal Temperature||20 – 25 °C (68 – 77 °F)|
|Optimal PH||6.5 – 7.5|
|Optimal GH||5 – 20|
|Optimal KH||4 – 12|
|Nitrate||Less than 40 ppm|
|Diet||Carnivore / omnivore|
|Life span||up to 20 years|
|Color Form||From olive green to gray. Albino|
Taxonomy and Origin of the African Clawed Frog
The African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) is a species of African aquatic frog of the family Pipidae. This is a family of frogs that are primitive, toothless, and entirely aquatic.
The African clawed frog belongs to the genus Xenopus, and it is a genus of aquatic frogs indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa.
Xenopus comprises twenty species and the most popular species of this genus are Xenopus laevis (African clawed frog) and Xenopus tropicalis (Western or tropical clawed frog).
The taxonomical hierarchy of the African clawed frog is summarized below:
Common names include: African clawed frog, African claw-toad frog, and common platanna.
Natural Habitat of the African Clawed Frog
This species of aquatic frog inhabits the shallow rivers, ponds, and lakes of sub-Saharan Africa; in both arid and semi-arid climates.
Their native range includes Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, etc. As an invasive species, they have been introduced to other parts of the world and can be found in countries like Chile, France, Mexico, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
The African clawed frog is tolerant to changes in its environment and will survive in almost any body of water.
They are also capable of aestivation during dry periods, migrating to new habitats, and surviving in waters with high salinity.
Description of the African Clawed Frogs
The African clawed frog is an aquatic and dull-colored frog species. They are characterized by the presence of three short claws on each of their hind limbs. The frogs use these claws to shred pieces of large food before ingesting it.
They also possess eyes (without eyelids) which are positioned on top of the wedge-shaped heads, and forelimbs. These forelimbs are small and unwebbed while the hind limbs are large, muscular, and webbed.
Also present are cartilaginous tympanic disks located just beside their eyes, these aid in hearing since they have no external eardrums.
African clawed frogs are excellent swimmers, they have fully developed lungs and powerful hind limbs for swimming and leaping toward prey or food item.
African clawed frog varies in size, the males being smaller than the females, and adults are usually 5 – 6 inches (12 – 14 cm) in size.
Their smooth slimy bodies are flattened and are covered in spots, typically grey to olive green with brown or dark grey spots on their backs and limbs, whereas the underside is pale yellow or off-white.
Their posterior orifice serves as an opening for the digestive, reproductive and urinary tracts.
Additionally, the African clawed frog derives its name from the claws present on the hind limbs and the continent which they are naturally domiciled.
This aquatic frog species can live for 15 years in its natural habitats and up to 20 years in captive care.
Difference Between African Clawed Frogs and African Dwarf Frogs
It is extremely important not to make this mistake!
The African clawed frogs are voracious predators. For example, there are documented reports when they attacked and killed prey (like fish) even larger than themselves. They use powerful clawed hind feet to rip them apart. These frogs will also eat other frog species as well.
Although the African clawed frogs and African dwarf frogs are very much similar in appearance, they can be distinguished by a few notable differences.
- African clawed frogs have eyes situated on the top of their heads while African dwarf frogs have eyes positioned on the side of their heads.
- African clawed frogs have flat snouts whereas that of African dwarf frogs is pointed.
- Lastly, African clawed frogs have webbed hind limbs and autonomous digits on their forelimbs, while African dwarf frogs have webbed fore and hind limbs.
|African dwarf frogs (Hymenochirus boettgeri)||African Clawed Frogs
|Color||from olive green to brown with black spots||often greenish-grey|
|Albino||No albino form confirmed||possible|
|Size||5 – 7 cm||12 – 14 cm|
|Webbed||four webbed feet||webbed hind feet while their front feet have autonomous digits|
|Eyes||their eyes positioned on the side of their head||eyes on the top of their heads|
|Noise||males||males and females|
So, you have to be very careful in pet stores, especially, when you need African dwarf frogs. They might look similar when they are small, however, this mistake can lead to a massacre in a peaceful community tank.
Behavior of the African Clawed Frogs
In the wild, the African clawed frogs migrate from their habitat to nearby water bodies during droughts, or they can burrow into the mud, becoming dormant for up to a year. They will only re-emerge to the surface when favorable conditions return.
They are voracious eaters and will consume a variety of diets ranging from tadpoles, fry, worms, etc.
The African clawed frogs are aroused by the scent of food, whether alive or dead and will swim around in search of it until they grasp it.
Catching prey is quite easy due to their extremely sensitive fingers, an acute sense of smell, and a lateral line system on their bodies which gives them the ability to sense movements and vibrations in the water.
The short forelimbs are used to direct food to the mouth while the muscular hind limbs are mainly used to propel the frog through the water column.
Since African clawed frogs do not have tongues, they rely on the forelimbs to aid in the feeding process; catching and moving prey to the mouth for consumption.
Occasionally, they will use the claws on their hind limbs to dig out worms, food particles, and organic matter from the mud.
Feeding African Clawed Frogs
During the larval stages, African clawed frogs conduct filter-feeding to obtain nutrients from plankton in the water. On the other hand, mature African clawed frogs actively scavenge for dead insects and pieces of organic waste in their habitat.
Also, they tend to consume live tadpoles, worms, crustaceans, snails, small fish, and any other organism within their reach.
In captivity, they can be fed a variety of healthy food. These include:
- tubifex worms,
- feeder fish,
- and commercially prepared food meant for amphibians.
Try to feed them a varied diet daily and closely monitor the size of your frog.
If it exhibits signs of being overweight, change your feeding schedule, and serve meals every other day. In the same vein, if they look too slim and unhealthy, then you should consider feeding them more often.
Frogs will stop eating once they are full, and at this point, you need to remove the uneaten food items.
Do not overfeed!
It is better to feed small rations that they can finish off within a short time.
If your frogs are not feeding well, you can try using tweezers to feed them directly to their mouths. After a while, they may become accustomed to this method and will reach out for food whenever they see it coming.
Keeping and Housing African Clawed Frogs
A 10-gallon (40 liters) tank is the minimum tank size for housing one or two African clawed frogs.
Since this aquatic frog is an excellent escape artist, do well to fit your aquarium with a secure lid to prevent it from darting out of the water.
Temperature: The ideal water temperature range for the African clawed frog is 68 – 77 °F (20 – 25 °C).
pH: Optimal pH is between 6.5 – 8.0, and this is best for your frogs.
Hardness: African clawed frogs will feel best in the water hardness between the ranges of 5 – 20 GH.
The African clawed frog will do just fine with a LED aquarium light. They do not require special UVB light like some frog species.
Provide a 12/12 light cycle; 12 hours on & 12 hours off sequence, the cycle can be set with a timer. This is to mimic their natural environment since they are used to regular light and dark periods.
If you have plants in the tank, lighting should be adapted to the needs of plants.
Use medium or large-sized gravel on the bottom of the tank and shy away from using small grains or pebbles because the frog may accidentally ingest it.
The presence of small gravel in its gut can cause severe injuries and even death, hence go for gravel that cannot fit into the frog’s mouth.
Provide lots of hiding places using cave works, rocks, pipes, and hollow woods. You can also decorate the tank with strong live plants like Anubias, Java fern, etc. that do not require nutrient-rich substrate.
The frogs will love the ample hiding places which the decorations provide.
Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)
How to Care For African Clawed Frogs
Although this frog thrives in still or stagnant water in its natural environment, you should not allow them to dwell and swim in unclean water while in captivity. Good water quality helps them stay healthy and disease-free.
Carry out partial weekly water changes (25%) to keep the tank water clean, the installation of a good filtration system is also essential. However, since the frogs are very sensitive to movements and vibrations in the water, avoid using powerful filters that will make the water turbulent thereby stressing your frogs.
The water should be dechlorinated before usage, and a water conditioner (like Seachem Prime – link to Amazon) can be used for this purpose. Alternatively, you can allow the water to sit for at least 24 hours.
Try to keep the depth of the tank water around 7 – 12 inches (17 – 30 cm), this provides ample space for swimming and permits the frog to reach the surface at intervals to breathe.
Handling African Clawed Frogs
The body of the African clawed frog is slimy due to the secretion of mucus, and this makes them very slippery.
So, it’s best to avoid handling them at all unless it is for an important reason.
Ideally, you need to use gloves. Do not touch them with bare hands unless there is no option. If you must, be sure to clean your hands, and grip them properly to prevent them from slipping.
Sexing African Clawed Frogs
Male and female clawed frogs can be easily distinguished due to the morphological differences between the sexes.
- The males are smaller than the females.
- The males have slim bodies and legs while the females are bigger and plumper.
- Apart from the variations in size, the males also develop black nuptial pads on their forearms which aid in clasping the females during amplexus.
Breeding African Clawed Frogs
Reproductive behaviors can be induced by simulating a spring rain. This is achieved by lowering the water temperature to 66 – 68 °F (18 – 20 C) for a duration of 4 to 6 weeks. In addition to the reduction of the water level to 4 – 6 inches (10 – 15 cm).
Be sure to carry out partial water changes during this period to keep the aquarium clean.
Afterward, top up the water level and increase the temperature to 78 – 82 °F (25 – 28 C) for 1-2 weeks, and make sure that the lights are turned off.
The male signifies readiness to mate by making a mating call, this sounds like a metallic click. The female will respond by making a matching clicking noise.
The male will then stretch its forearms to grasp the receptive female just above the hind legs, this mating embrace is known as Inguinal Amplexus.
The pair will move in a circular motion until all the eggs are laid (up to hundreds), and the male will then proceed to fertilize the eggs. This process can last from 2 hours to 2 days.
The female lays 200 eggs or more. Depending on the temperature, incubation lasts 3 – 7 days.
Hatching African Clawed Tadpoles
Important: The adult African clawed frogs are known to devour their own eggs. Hence, you need to place the eggs in a separate tank with clean, dechlorinated freshwater at a temperature of 80 – 82 °F, (26 – 28 C) the eggs will hatch in 2-4 days.
After hatching, the tadpoles hang on aquatic plants and other objects, attaching themselves with the secretion of special glands.
On the 3-4th day after birth, the muzzle of the tadpole becomes wedge-shaped, and long tactile threads appear in the corners of the mouth.
The newly hatched tadpoles start feeding only on the 7th day by filtering micro-organisms from the water and will transform into froglets within 2 months and reach maturity at 16-24 months.
Problems associated with African Clawed Frog
Dropsy: One of the common diseases that plague African clawed frogs is dropsy (edema). This condition is signified by severe bloating of the abdomen and legs.
It is mostly caused by abnormal accumulation of fluids as a result of improper body metabolism, and this exerts extreme pressure on the vital organs of the frog. A proper measure is to take your sick frog to an expert to release the fluids.
Other causes of bloat include internal bacterial infections, poor diet, and ingestion of gravel or rocks. Bloats caused by internal bacterial infections can be treated with Maracyn plus.
Red leg: Another typical disease of African clawed frogs is the Red leg.
This is caused by Aeromonas hydrophylia (a gram-negative bacteria). Common symptoms are red legs and swelling, this condition can worsen to the point where the skin of the legs rots off. Contact a vet to check on your frog and possible solutions.
Fungal infections are also detrimental to the health of your frogs.
African clawed frogs are easy targets of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. The fungus that causes amphibian chytridiomycosis. To prevent its spread to other frogs, you need to quarantine the infected frog and treat with Mardel maroxy anti-fungal solution. Methylene blue can also be used to cure fungal infections, it can be deployed as a tank treatment or dip.
Make efforts to keep the tank water clean always, and adopt a good feeding schedule to prevent the build-up of harmful toxins and microbes in the aquarium.
If you see some problems with your African Dwarf Frog:
- remove that frog and put it in a separate tank,
- check out this site about frogs and their illnesses,
- ask professional vets,
- contact with the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians.
African Clawed Frog and Suitable Tankmates
African Clawed Frogs are aggressive and very persistent predators with a great appetite. They are omnivorous and can easily hunt down small and medium-sized fish. Therefore, it is not recommended to keep them with small fish, dwarf shrimp, or freshwater snails.
But it is undesirable to keep with large ones as well. They are able to bite off their fingers.
In this regard, it is recommended to keep them separately in a species-only tank.
One African Clawed Frog female and several males can live in this group. However, individuals need to be matched to a similar size due to the frogs’ tendency to cannibalism.
African clawed frogs are amazing creatures. Although they do not suit community aquariums very well, they will still definitely be one of the most interesting and colorful aquatic inhabitants to house.
A single African clawed frog costs about $20-$30, and it is readily available for purchase in local pet stores and online- through reputable breeders. Healthy signs to look out for include smooth skin, flattened body, clear eyes, and activeness. Try as much as possible to avoid lethargic frogs, they are passive and unwilling to consume food.
Lastly, maintain good water quality, feed your frogs well, and they will live healthily for a couple of years.