African Dwarf Frogs – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

African Dwarf Frogs (Hymenochirus boettgeri)

African Dwarf Frogs (Hymenochirus boettgeri) are interesting little frogs that can be a great addition to your aquarium. They are really something, so it is no wonder these frogs have been such a popular choice in the aquarium community for years. On top of that, they are sold at most pet shops and at economical prices.

Even though African Dwarf Frogs are very hardy and beginner-friendly, they do have some specific requirements you will need to know about.

In this guide, I will share some practical tips and take you through everything you need to know on how to take care of them and should you choose African dwarf frogs as your pets.

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Quick Notes about the African Dwarf Frogs

Name African Dwarf Frogs
Other Names Congo frog, African Dwarf Clawed Frog, West African Clawed Toad and Zaire Dwarf Clawed Frog, ADCF, ADF, DAF (abrev)
Scientific Name Hymenochirus boettgeri
Tank size (optimal) 5 gallons (~20 liters)
Keeping Easy
Breeding Medium – Difficult  
Size 5 – 7 cm (2 – 2.5 inches)
Optimal Temperature 23 – 26 °C (73 – 79 °F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 7.5 
Optimal GH 5 – 20   
Optimal KH 4 – 12
Nitrate Less than 20 ppm
Diet Carnivore / omnivore
Temperament Peaceful (with caution)
Life span up to 8 years
Color Form From olive green to brown with black spots

Taxonomy Problems and Identification

There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding in our hobby. Pet stores and aquarists often use multiple terms describing different species and subspecies. For example, such terms as ‘African Dwarf Frog’, ‘African Dwarf Clawed Frog’, ‘West African Clawed Toad’ and ‘Zaire Dwarf Clawed Frog’ have all been applied to describe the animal commonly kept as a pet.

In most cases, all these terms imply to the genus Hymenochirus within the order Anura that consists of four species:

  • Hymenochirus boettgeri (Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon),
  • Hymenochirus boulengeri (Democratic Republic of the Congo),
  • Hymenochirus curtipes, (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
  • Hymenochirus feae (Gabon).

They all look pretty similar. So, it can be difficult for a hobbyist to see the difference between all 4 species. Note: However, in practice, the most common recipient of the name is Hymenochirus boettgeri.

Origins, Natural Habitat of the African Dwarf Frogs

African dwarf frogs are native to tropical Central Africa, where they live in very shallow ponds, rivers, swamps, etc. surrounded by shaded tropical forests.

Description of the African Dwarf Frogs

African Dwarf Frogs (Hymenochirus boettgeri)The African Dwarf Frog is a small animal. We will usually purchase them in pet shops at 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size but they can reach 2.5 inches (7 cm) in length (snout to vent) when fully grown. With most fogs typically measuring at around two inches (5 cm).

Although these are fully aquatic amphibians, they do not have gills but rather have lungs. So, they still need to obtain the oxygen on the surface of the water.

These frogs do not have good eyesight. They mostly rely on their smell and water vibrations. The African Dwarf Frogs have a very delicate structure with lateral lines across their bodies. These lines can detect changes and movements in the water that can help them find food.

While carnivorous, African Dwarf Frogs do not have a tongue or teeth for that matter.

With a little care and attention, the life expectancy of these frogs is 5 – 8 years old. There have been reported cases of them living as long as 10 plus years. So, they can be an ideal pet in any home and you might be able to get to enjoy your frogs for many years to come.

Difference Between African Dwarf Frogs and African Clawed Frogs

Sometimes African Dwarf Frogs are also referred to as African Clawed Frogs (Xenopus laevis) because they do have little claws on their feet. It is extremely important not to make this mistake!

The problem is that the African Clawed Frog is a particularly voracious predator. It is not unheard of them to attack and kill fish even larger than themselves. They use powerful clawed hind feet to rip them apart and literally shove them in the mouth with strong arms. These frogs will eat other frog species as well.

The introduction of the African Clawed Frogs (Xenopus laevis) into a community tank will result in a massacre. They absolutely cannot happily co-exist alongside other fish, shrimp, frogs, etc.

Be very careful in pet shops, because these two species might look similar when they are small, therefore, some pet stores keep and sell the African Clawed Frogs as the African Dwarf Frogs.

  African dwarf frogs (Hymenochirus boettgeri) African Clawed Frogs
(Xenopus laevis)
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
Skin rough smooth
Eyes eyes positioned on the side of their head eyes on the top of their heads
Noise males males and females

Warning: African Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis) is an invasive species. They are illegal to own, transport, or sell without a permit in the following US states: Arizona, California, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Hawaii, Nevada, and Washington state. However, it is legal to own Xenopus laevis in New Brunswick (Canada) and Ohio.

The Behavior of the African Dwarf Frogs

The African Dwarf Frogs spend their entire life underwater. Even though they come up to the surface of the water for air from time to time, they do not require any dry surface in the tank.

They are very shy frogs and a lot of times they will swim away from you when you get near them. However, African Dwarf Frogs are also pretty smart for their kind. So, with time they will recognize you.

From time to time you can also see them floating motionless on the surface of the water. While this might seem strange, it is absolutely normal. It allows them to breathe in repose rather than swimming up and down the water column.

By the way, African Dwarf Frogs are not the best swimmers. They can even drown if they cannot reach the surface.

In most guides about the African Dwarf Frogs, you will see that they are calm and docile creatures. Well, this is true… but only to some degree because they are still predators. In the aquarium, they will try to eat anything that fits in their mouth.

They are mostly nocturnal. They sleep for long periods of time (up to 12 hours) and usually active during the night.

African Dwarf Frogs are not territorial. On the contrary, they are social meaning that they would rather be in groups of their own.

Because of their poor eyesight, they are super clumsy.

Molting African dwarf frogs

They shed their skin every two to three weeks. They will rub themselves against various surfaces to just help quicken the shedding process.
It is recommended to leave it there as they will eat their shed skin. However, if the old skin is still in the tank after 24 hours, you need to remove it. Otherwise, it can foul up the water.

Feeding African dwarf frogs

Despite lacking tongues or teeth, African Dwarf Frogs are scavengers-carnivores. So, ideally, they should feed at the bottom of the tank by picking up some sinking foods in the form of pellets and granules and wafers. In reality, it may be not that simple.

When it comes time to feeding, I believe that this is the most problematic part of caring for them. It is not that they are picky eaters. No! They are simply slow and inefficient eaters. As I have said before, African Dwarf Frogs do not see very well, so they have to rely on smell and water vibrations. It makes them really horrible at finding their food sometimes.

African Dwarf Frogs are best fed on a variety of raw meat. Their diet can include:

  • tuna,
  • shrimp,
  • brine shrimp,
  • bloodworm,
  • earthworm,
  • tubifex worms,
  • trout,
  • salmon.

They will readily eat plankton (daphnia) some pellet foods and, when young, flaked food. Basically, any fish food will do as long as it sinks.

Note: Brine shrimp can be messy.

Important: If you decide to feed them freeze-dried/dehydrated food, they might just be bloated. If so, try switching to live food for a week or so to see if it clears up. The same is about blood worms. It is not recommended to feed them blood worms more than 1 – 2 times a week (only as a treat). These worms are high in fat and can cause major bloat or obesity.

How often do you feed them?

Adult African Dwarf Frogs typically only eat every other day or slightly less, depending on the tank setup. Juveniles should be feed daily or 4 – 6 times a week.

Tip: If their food is not eaten within like 30 minutes to an hour you should remove it and try again a few hours later.

How much do you feed them?

Some aquarists say that they feed African Dwarf Frogs until they won’t eat anymore. Is it good?

Actually, it depends on the feeding schedule. For example, it may be OK if we feed them this way 2 – 3 times a week.  However, if we feed them every day they will end up obese if they are overfed.

How to feed them in a community tank?

African Dwarf Frogs cannot really compete with fish in a community tank. So, you must ensure that the food doesn’t get eaten by other fish or it can even starve them. There are some ways to do that:

  1. By feeding simultaneously, but at different areas of the tank.
  2. Use a long syringe and feed each one individually with brine shrimp and bloodworms. Eventually, they will recognize the syringe and actually go to it when they see it. But it’s a lot of effort.
  3. Use a feeding dish.
  4. Net feeding. Put enough food (for fish and frogs) in the net and let them eat from it. By doing so, you will not leave a bunch of extra food that will rot and ruin the water. Note: Do not leave the net for more than 5 – 10 minutes there. They can get caught and not be able to swim up for air!

What best to Feed your Frogs?

There is no easy answer to this question. The most important thing is that the African Dwarf Frogs need diversity in food. It will be a bad idea to give them 1 or 2 variants of food all the time. Change up their food.

Keeping and Housing African Dwarf Frogs

African Dwarf Frogs are usually straight forward and easy to care for. However, for optimal results, here are some handy tips that you should follow in order to keep them in an aquarium.

·      Tank Size

African Dwarf Frogs (Hymenochirus boettgeri)I do not like to use bad language but “The one gallon a frog” thing is a complete nonsense and should not exist. Of course, you can keep them this way but will they thrive? I seriously doubt so. In addition, it is always easier to maintain the aquarium if there is more volume.

For these reasons African Dwarf Frogs need long tanks (not tall) and should be housed in a 5-gallon (20 liters) tank minimum.

Keep in mind that they come from shallow bodies (often less than 20 inches or 50 cm). So, do not put them in high or deep tanks because it is stressful for them. Remember, they are not the best swimmers. Ideally, the water should not be more than 10 – 12 inches (25 – 30 cm) deep or so.

Tip: It is safer to have a lid for your tank because they can really be escape artists. Ensure that none of the elements placed in the tank reach high enough for the frogs to crawl out.

·      Water parameters

Make sure you have your PH levels at least 6.5 – 7.5, KH 4 – 12 and GH 5 – 20 for the best results.

As the name suggests, African dwarf frogs are natives of temperate regions, they prefer a warm habitat. A tank kept between 23 – 26 C (73 – 79 F) would be within the correct range. However, heaters and any other electronic elements should be carefully hidden or placed out of reach, so that the frogs cannot interfere with them while they are exploring their environment.

It is really good to have a thermometer to keep track of your water temperature to see if it’s in a range for them.

·      Filtration

African dwarf frogs do not produce a lot of waste. Therefore, depending on the tank setup you might not need a filter. For example, if you have a lot of plants and do 30-50% water changes weekly.

Personally, I still recommend using filtration, especially if you are planning to keep fish as well. It definitely helps the tank stay clean.

The tricky part here is that these frogs prefer relatively still or slow-moving water and bubble filters, aeration, etc. cause a lot of disturbance in the water. As a result, the vibrations really stress out the frogs. In addition, because of their clumsiness, African dwarf frogs can get stuck in intakes.

That is why:

  • Use sponges to cover intakes.
  • Choose filters where you can adjust the flow.
  • Use sponge filters, so the frogs don’t get blown away by a mechanical filter.

·      Substrate

You can have a bare bottom, soil, gravel, or sand. Every choice has pros and cons.

  • A bare bottom tank is safe and the easiest to clean. You can just use a turkey baster to remove any of the waste or any uneaten food. But it does not look esthetic. In addition, it absolutely does not replicate African dwarf frogs’ natural habitat and will stress them out eventually.
  • Make sure that it is large enough that it will not be swallowed accidentally during feeding. Swallowing gravel will lead to intestinal blockage and death in the African dwarf frogs. Also, these frogs have very delicate skin and they can easily injure themselves. So, you want to make sure that you are using a smooth substrate without any sharp edges. It can reduce the risk of laceration of the skin.
  • Soil or Sand is generally more favorable as substrates. It gives the aquarium a more natural and realistic look. African Dwarf Frogs often spit it out. So, it poses a limited risk of physical injury.

·      Plants and Decorations

Plants, leaves and decorations will offer a natural environment for them and they also provide them a sense of security and make them feel safer in the tank.

As an option, you can also use Pothos plants in the tank. Their roots will create a wonderful environment for the frog.

Always use aquarium friendly decorations that do not have sharp edges. Another word of caution, quarantine anything you put into the aquarium for at least a week. African dwarf frogs are especially sensitive. Their skin is very absorbing.

·      Maintenance

Clean the tank once a month just like any other aquarium. Get a kit (net, scrubbers, etc.) and clean inside (algae) and outside. Do not forget to test the water parameters and do water changes accordingly.

Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Sexing African Dwarf Frogs

It is rather easy to tell the difference between males and females.

  1. Males are slim and smaller than females. The females are often 30 – 40% larger than males when fully mature. They have also pear-shaped bodies because their abdomens fill with eggs as they reach a mating stage.
  2. Females have a small little tail in between the legs.
  3. Males have a red/whitish bump near their armpit. They are on both sides. These are so-called breeding glands. These breeding glands secrete pheromone to attract the females. They develop during sexual maturation and enlarge during the breeding season.
  4. Males can “sing” or “hum”, it is like a little zippy or buzzing noise. They will typically do this at night. It also attracts females.

Mating African Dwarf Frogs

They reach sexual maturity at roughly 9 months of age. When a male and female meet and they are both sexually prepared, the male clasps the female just above her rear legs as she swims around. This is known as Amplexus.

The female lays her eggs at the surface of the water, and as she does this, the male fertilizes them. Mating often occurs over the course of a single night, although sometimes it can take even longer.

Breeding African Dwarf Frogs

tadpoles African Dwarf Frogs (Hymenochirus boettgeri)Females do not lay all the eggs at once. Each spawning releases only a dozen eggs. In general, depending on the size of the females, they can produce between 150 – 700 eggs.

Temperature plays an important role in breeding. The point is that eggs will not hatch at temperatures below 22°C. Under normal conditions, the eggs hatch within 1 – 2 days of oviposition.

During the next 4 – 5 days, hatchlings remain at the water surface attached by a mucous thread. Only after that, they start swimming. They get their back legs in about 10 days or so and then their front legs develop around 24 days. Fully grown tadpoles reach about 2 cm (0.8 inches). It takes them around 1 month to transform into frogs.

The tadpoles are entirely carnivorous and, due to their tiny size, require micro-organisms on which to feed during the first few days.

African Dwarf Frogs are also cannibalistic. They usually eat all of their eggs before they even hatch. They will also eat their own tadpoles. So, you will need to remove eggs and raise the babies separately.

African Dwarf Frogs and Suitable Tankmates

They are social creatures and like the company of their own kind. The ideal situation for the African Dwarf Frogs is a species tank. However, if you are planning to keep them in a community tank you should know their instincts.

African Dwarf Frogs and Fish

African Dwarf Frogs can and will try to eat anything that fits their mouth. Therefore, any fish that is less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) length can be/will be eaten one day. Do not keep them with small Tetras, Guppies, Gourami, etc.

Also, there is another side of the coin. You would not want to keep them with any fish that are big, aggressive or nippy. For example, Goldfish, Cichlids, puffers, etc.

Lots of time people ask the question about compatibility African Dwarf Frogs and Betta. There is a possible chance depending on your Betta. They are like every species; some are more aggressive than others. There are countless reports where African dwarf frogs make great companions with Bettas! However, unfortunately, there are also many negative ones.

African Dwarf Frogs and Dwarf Shrimp

African Dwarf Frogs will eat all your dwarf shrimp. It is simply inevitable.

However, some species can be big enough to swallow. For example, Amano shrimp and Ghost shrimp can grow up to 2 inches (5 cm). So, they do have a chance to survive.

African Dwarf Frogs and Snails

They will sometimes eat baby snails or snail eggs. In other cases, African Dwarf Frogs will not bother freshwater snails in the tank. Even if they can fit them in the mouth, their hard shells will discourage them.

African Dwarf Frogs and Crayfish

Absolutely not. Do not keep African Dwarf Frogs and crayfish together. Crayfish will eat your frogs.

Disease and Infections of African Dwarf Frogs

Unfortunately, diseases and infection are not rare things between dwarf frogs. The most common are:

Bloated Frog aka Dropsy

Causes:

  • Internal bacterial infections almost always fatal.
  • Abnormal accumulation of serious bodily fluids due to improper body metabolism. It is not lethal and often aquarists drained it with a needle themselves, where the leg and belly met.

Personally, I DO NOT recommend to play a doctor. If you stick a needle in the wrong place you can cause damage to an organ that can be lethal. Even if it helps, it does not solve the problem, as a result, it usually comes back. 

Red Leg

If you see some red lesions that sometimes form on the hind legs and swellings, it is the sigh of the bacterium Aeromonas hydrophila.  Other signs include muscular spasms, lethargy, and vomiting. Once it gets into the blood, the animal will not survive.

Treatment: (Tetracycline oral: 1mg/5g body weight for 5 days).Use salt at a concentration of 100 mM and add 100 micrograms per ml oxytetracycline to the water for a week. Change the water every day. Isolate infected animals and all animals it had contact with. Disinfect all nets and tanks.

Fungal Infections

Fungal and bacterial infections often go hand in hand.

Causes: by infection of the skin by the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (fungus).

The skin of the African Dwarf Frogs becomes thicker, which reduces its ability to act as a permeable barrier for electrolytes. As a result, it leads to an imbalance in the blood chemistry. It is usually fatal.

Treatments: Mardel Maroxy® Anti-fungal solution available at pet shops. Maroxy is also effective against some bacteria.

If you see some problems with your African Dwarf Frog:

Handling African Dwarf Frogs

African Dwarf Frogs are not pets you can play with. Do not take them out of the aquarium. Their porous skin can result in fatal dehydration within 15 – 20 minutes. They simply cannot survive outside of water.

However, if you need to transfer them from one aquarium to another, use a soft net, covering the opening to ensure African Dwarf Frog does not jump out.

Do not touch them with bare hands unless there is no option. In this case, they should be absolutely clean and wet. Keep in mind that any residue on our hands (even soap) African Dwarf Frogs will absorb through the skin. Ideally, you need to use gloves.

Note: When you handle them you interfere with their tender skin. It can leave them open to infections or even death.

Do not touch African Dwarf Frogs from different aquariums wearing the same gloves. You can transfer infection.

Potential Health Hazards

African Dwarf Frogs is a potential source of Salmonella. In fact, if you buy them from a pet store, they can have you sign that you have been instructed about this problem. To prevent transmission:

  1. Use gloves.
  2. Wash hands thoroughly after contact.
  3. Do not clean the tank equipment (including nets, feeding dishes, etc.) in sinks where food preparation occurs.

Buying African Dwarf Frogs

When you choose African Dwarf Frogs at the store make sure that they are healthy and active. They should be swimming away when the store staff is trying to fish them out for you.

In Conclusion

Hymenochirus boettgeri, commonly known as the African Dwarf Frogs, are low maintenance and simple species to care for. They do not require large tanks, so even beginners will be able to keep them without problems since they are hardy and undemanding.

African Dwarf Frogs are the cutest little animals and are widely accessible and sought after as pets.

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2 thoughts on “African Dwarf Frogs – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

  1. hi so i have two african dwarf rfog in a 10 im getting more soon i am trying to breed them as fast as possible should the ,ale be smaller than the female

    1. Hi Neeku June Nemati,
      As I mentioned in the article African Dwarf Frogs males are slimmer and significantly smaller than females. In addition, females have a small little tail in between the legs. While males have a red/whitish bump near their armpit.
      Best regards,
      Michael

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