A Basic Care Guide for African Clawed Frogs and African Dwarf Frogs

A Basic Description

Male African Dwarf Frogs grow to about 3″, with female about an inch smaller. Estimations of their life span are mixed. They range from 5 to 15 years. They are a dull brown with a brown and black calicoing across their backs. They have webbing on their front and back feet, with the back feet being substantially larger than the front. Females can be distinguished from males by a lump on one side of the body near the front leg.

Male African Clawed Frogs grow to about 5″ , with females about an inch smaller. Estimations of their life spans also vary widely and range from 5 to 30 years. They are identical to the African Dwarf Frogs, except their adult size is significantly larger. Additionally, they have five toes on each back foot with black claws on each of the three inside toes. Females can be distinguished from males by a bump, called a cloacal extension, near the vent that can be seen when they are swimming.

Both types are strictly aquatic and will quickly dry out if left out of the water. However, both types breathe air and must be able to access the surface or they will drown.

Basic Tank Set Up and Maintenance

When selecting a place for the tank, avoid extremes. In particular, do not expose the tank to any direct sunlight, very bright artificial light, or temperatures above 90 degrees or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The frogs are most comfortable with indirect lighting during regular daylight hours and a temperature range of from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, customary indoor temperature. As a rule of thumb, if you’re comfortable in the environment where the tank is located, the frog will be also. Avoid placing the tank in a noisy, high traffic area.

The Water

First, do not use bottled, filtered water with African Frogs. Bottled water manufacturers put additives in the water that can be harmful to frogs. Use dechlorinated tap water brought to room temperature. However, if you have contaminants in your tap water such as Sulfur, you should find another source. I recommend Jungle Brand dechlorinator. Above all things you should understand the nitrogen cycle of water. When water is left to stand, it will go through a cycle in which ammonia and nitrogen levels will peak and fall off intermittently. The entire cycle takes seven weeks. However, adding a bacteria called Spirilina can cut the cycle down to two weeks. If you are starting an aquarium for fish, you should either wait seven weeks for the water to cycle or add Spirilina. When setting up a tank for African Frogs, I recommend a different approach. Spirilina has been tested for use with fish, but not African Frogs. Frogs are extremely sensitive to fungi, bacteria, chemicals, temperature changes and metals. Therefore, I do not recommend bringing Spirilina into the equation at all. I recommend adding dechlorinator to tap water and letting the water stand uncovered for at least 24 hours. Once the primary water has been established, you should do 90% water changes once a week, every week, faithfully. Always prepare your water with dechlorinator at least 24 hours before the water change and allow the temperature to acclimate to the temperature of the water in your tank. Remember, in the water cycle, the ammonia will begin to spike after one week. For this reason your African Frog’s water must be changed weekly to cut off the cycle before the ammonia can spike, which would be harmful to the African Frog. This is very different than the standard for fish. The standard for fish is a 25% water change every four weeks. This does not prevent the ammonia spike, but reduces it to a level that will not harm the fish. Frogs are different because they must not be kept in a tank with an air pump or filter. I will explain the reason for this next. Because the water is not being filtered, 90% of it must be changed out. This leaves the ammonia problem, which is accounted for by faithfully changing the water once a week.

Pumps and Filters

An African Frog’s skin is lined with a layer of extremely sensitive nerves called lateral lines. The African Frog uses this system to detect water movement, which signals the presence of prey. This sense can be paralleled to the sense of hearing in humans. If an African Frog is exposed to constant water movement its senses will become overwhelmed much like a person would become overwhelmed if constantly exposed to loud music 24 hours a day. As one can imagine this would prevent the person from sleeping or being able to really think. Eventually the person would begin to break down psychologically. This is exactly what happens to the African Frog. For this and other reasons, African Frogs cannot be kept in aquariums with fish, who require pumps and filters.

Water Depth

Frogs, especially when babies, are not the greatest swimmers. Their bodies are better designed for scooting along the bottom in shallow water. Additionally, African Clawed and Dwarf Frogs are air breathing. They do not have gils and cannot breathe water. They must swim to the surface for air. If the water is too deep, they will quickly become exhausted from the continual effort required to swim to the top. For this reason, African Frogs should be kept in water that is only deep enough to require one to one and a half swim strokes to reach the top. As the African Frog grows and becomes stronger the water depth can be increased. I have watched my African Frog give up while trying to swim to the top and flop onto the bottom of the aquarium in exhaustion and frustration. Frequently when relaxing, African Frogs will simply float at the top. If the water is being constantly moved by a pump or filter, floating is nearly impossible, causing the African Frog to be continually exhausted.

Decorations

Frogs are shy and prefer a tank with plenty of places to hide. Providing them with plastic “caves”, propped rocks, plants, etc. will help to prevent stress. One thing to note, African Frogs like to dig. Make sure your decorations will not fall over and harm the African Frog if it attempts to dig under something. I would not bother with live plants, which will just be routinely dug up. Watching African Frogs eat is really interesting and makes one wonder how life would be different if humans ate like African Frogs. When African Frogs eat they grab the food in a full body lunge after stalking it like a cat. Once the decision has been made to make a grab, they lunge without looking again. If the aquarium substrate is small enough for the African Frog to swallow by mistake, eventually it will. Frogs usually die from this.

Cleaning the Tank

The frogs must be kept in water while the tank is being cleaned. Otherwise, their skin will quickly dry out and they will die. Frogs are slippery. Be cautious when removing them from the aquarium. Do not use a net. Their fingers are delicate and can easily be amputated if caught in the netting. Frogs are extremely sensitive to toxins. Do not clean the aquarium with soap or a metal scrubber. They are nervous and can become stressed easily. Therefore, do not tear apart the aquarium for cleaning unless it is absolutely necessary. If you have one African Frog in a five gallon aquarium, you will have to tear it apart about once a month, but use your judgment. If the water smells and/or appears to be cloudy, it will have to be cleaned.

Save 10% of the water. Dump everything else. Rinse the substrate and all of the decorations by hand, in hot water. Do not put them into the dish washer as soap residue could get on the decorations. Use a towel to remove algae from the sides of the aquarium. Put the tank back together and add 90% dechlorinated tap water that has been left to stand for at least 24 hours.

Food

Frogs cannot eat fish flakes. They will attempt to eat them if offered nothing else, but cannot digest them. Therefore, they do not offer any nutritional value. Frogs can eat freeze dried tubifex worms, HBH Frog and Tadpole Bites, freeze dried krill, crunched up reptile sticks and frozen or freeze dried blood worms. About blood worms, African Frogs LOVE blood worms. Unfortunately, they can carry a bacteria that when ingested can cause an illness referred to as dropsy or bloat. It is an awful thing to see. The African Frog’s entire body will literally swell up like a balloon. It will float at the surface, miserably until it dies or you take it to an amphibian veterinarian that can and is willing to remove the fluid from its body. Hikari brand makes a freeze dried blood worm. They claim it is free from bacteria. I have not tried it.

Many sources recommend feeding a sinking food. In fact HBH Frog and Tadpole Bites heavily advertise their sinking quality. I have always had difficulty getting my African Frog to eat from the bottom. Unless she watches the food sink right in front of her face, she probably will not find it. I do use the bites because they are nutritionally balanced, but have my aquarium set up so the African Frog can watch me put the food right in front of her. Additionally, I like this setup because it allows me to measure how much the African Frog has eaten. Lack of appetite is commonly a sign of illness. If this is not an option. I recommend freeze dried food that will float such as freeze dried krill or tubifex worms with bites as a staple when you have time to deal with them. I have read that when living in communities females tend to be surface eaters, while males tend to be bottom feeders. This may be true. However, I do not have any supporting evidence either way.

Fungal Infections

Unfortunately, African Frogs are extremely susceptible to fungal infections. This is also true in their natural habitats. For this reason you should diligently keep an eye on their water quality. This does not mean clean the tank fastidiously, but be aware of it on a daily basis. Observe your African Frog daily. I like to feed by hand at least once a day. This allows for an evaluation of the water quality, depth, temperature and an examination of the African Frog’s skin. Fungal infections usually appear as white, red or white fuzzy areas on the skin. They should be treated immediately. I once rescued an African Frog from a pet store only to have it die within days because it succumb to a preexisting fungal infection. Good products are Melafix and Pimafix fish treatments. However, I use half the dosage recommended for fish. I have learned from experience that African Frogs are more sensitive to medications than fish.

Bloat/Dropsy

This illness, as discussed previously, is caused by a bacteria commonly found in blood worms. It results in the swelling of the African Frog’s entire body due to fluid obstruction in the circulatory system. It can be treated by having an amphibian veterinarian remove the fluid with a syringe followed by the administration of antibiotics.

Red Leg Disease

This is a bacterial infection that causes the back legs to become inflamed. This illness is nearly impossible to treat and usually results in death after it spreads to the internal organs. It can be prevented by maintaining a clean tank.

Malnutrition

This commonly occurs when African Frogs are fed fish flakes. Symptoms include thin, spindly legs, and a pale color. Using a nutritionally complete frog food can prevent this problem.

Cuts and Abrasions

These should be treated by a thorough cleaning with hydrogen peroxide and the application of Betadine Ointment one to two times daily. Severe injuries, especially those in which a break is suspected, should be referred to a veterinarian.

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