The African Dwarf Frog is one of the few species of frogs that you can keep with fish.
Unlike other frogs, they are completely aquatic and do not ever live on dry land.
These little amphibians are active and enjoyable to watch and to care for. You never really know what they might get up to next.
When you keep a group of them they will get up to some truly amusing antics. You can listen to them chatter, hear them sing, or watch them leap across the tank.
If you are thinking of adding the African Dwarf Frog to your aquarium then keep reading to learn how to care for them…
African Dwarf Frog 101
There are two different species of African Dwarf Frog:
- Zaire Dwarf Clawed Frog (Hymenochirus boettgeri)
- Western Dwarf Clawed Frog (Hymenochirus curtipes)
Both species have almost identical care requirements, so this article is applicable to both species.
They both come from the Pipidae family and can be found throughout most of Africa, including Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, and the Congo.
Just like the Axolotl, this amphibian is loved by fish keepers because they are fully aquatic. Once fully grown the African Dwarf Frog does not move on to dry land and it can safely live with many popular aquarium fish.
They are also loved because they are very easy to care for.
Do not confuse them with the African Clawed Frog, which is sometimes mislabeled as an African Dwarf Frog. Be aware of the differences as the Clawed Frog is certainly not fish friendly.
The easiest way to tell the difference is to look at the front feet. Clawed Frogs have separate clawed toes on their front feet, while the Dwarf Frog has thick webbing between all of their toes. The color of the frog is another giveaway. Clawed Frogs are usually green or tan, whereas most Dwarf Frogs are grey or dark brown.
African Dwarf Frogs can grow up to 3 inches long and have a lifespan of around 5 years.
Expect to pay around $5 per specimen.
- Experience Required: Freshwater fishkeeping.
- Nicknames: Zaire Dwarf Clawed Frog, Western Dwarf Clawed Frog.
- Color Forms: Grey, olive, brown, gold, albino.
- Size: 3 inches.
- Tank Size: Minimum 10+ gallon.
- Tank Temperature: 72°F to 77°F.
- Compatible with fish
- Beginner friendly
- Affordable and easy to find
- Can be kept in small tanks
- Should not be touched or handled
- Carries diseases that can be passed to humans
- Susceptible to skin infections
African Dwarf Frog Care Sheet
African Dwarf Frogs are excellent starter aquatic frogs but there are a few things you need to know first.
They should never be touched or picked up with your bare hands. Their skin is very sensitive and can become infected when exposed to bacteria from the air or from your hands.
You should never expose them to dry air for longer than 15 to 20 minutes. They should also never be taken out of the tank except for cleaning.
In addition to the diseases you can transmit to your frog, your frog can also transmit diseases to you. Salmonella infections from pet amphibians and reptiles are common.
If you need to handle your frog at all then use an aquarium fish net and always wash your hands thoroughly before and after.
African Dwarf Frogs are very susceptible to fungal infections, which occur when the skin makes contact with spores or an adult fungus. Chytridiomycosis is both the most common and the most serious infection to watch for. Decreased activity and decreased appetite are often the first signs. Your frog will develop red lesions across their skin and some parts of their skin may appear fuzzy.
This disease is fatal if left untreated but can be treated by antifungal medication when caught early. Any change in your frog’s activity level is worth a trip to the vet’s office.
Another thing to watch out for is bloating.
If your frog has a bloated belly then dropsy is the likely culprit. Dropsy can affect frogs just as it can affect fish, and a distended abdomen is the primary symptom. The bloating will affect the frog’s balance and coordination in the water, leading to a decreased activity level.
The bloating itself can be treated at a vet’s office by surgically draining the extra fluid. However, since dropsy is usually the symptom of a bacterial infection, the cause must be identified in order to fully treat it. You should bring your African Dwarf Frog to the vet right away if you notice that its belly is swollen and bloated.
Diet and Food
In the wild their favorite foods are insect larvae and other zooplankton, small worms, snail veligers, and larval fish. They will also eat plants and algae on occasion.
Within the aquarium you will want to provide high protein meals.
Live prey is the best way to do this.
Worms, daphnia and moina, brine shrimp, insect larvae, and mysis shrimp are all good choices.
In addition to live prey you can supplement their diet with pellet foods made especially for amphibians. These pellets should contain a mix of protein and greenery.
There is no harm in giving your African Dwarf Frog a treat from time to time, so long as you keep these high calorie foods to a minimum. The best treats include beef heart, krill, and cuts of frozen fish.
Only froglets and young frogs need to be fed every day. Adult frogs are fine with being fed once every 3 days. The rest of the time they will eat whatever is available in the tank.
African Dwarf Frogs are very quirky creatures.
Their vocalizations and amusing behaviors will keep you entertained.
Even though they lack vocal cords they can talk by rattling the rods in the back of their throats. They may chatter to one another or buzz in anticipation of a meal. Males are able to produce a long, droning song to attract a mate. The females are usually silent but may click or chirp to communicate with other frogs in the tank.
They are very timid and will only socialize with their own kind. They will spend all of their time on the substrate unless they are surfacing for air.
While rushing to the surface you might see them take a flying leap out of the water. They can jump surprisingly high and far for such little frogs.
Every so often you might spot your frog lounging on the surface of the water with its arms outstretched. This is called zen position and it is the frog’s way of taking a nap.
A frog in zen position will float at the surface of the water with its legs stretched out behind it and its arms stretched out in front. If you are unfamiliar with this behavior, it can be a bit alarming to see at first. It may appear as though the frog is ill or dead.
This is a perfectly normal behavior and it is simply the way that a tired frog takes a nap.
Another interesting behavior to watch for is the way they eat.
This frog eats by sucking in large amounts of water through its mouth, swallowing any small prey in the water column. It uses its claws to catch anything it might have missed.
Just like reptiles, amphibians shed their skin from time to time. Molting can occur up to 3 times a month and your frog will want to keep out of sight while it is going on. Shedding can take up to 2 days and your African Dwarf Frog should not be disturbed while it is undergoing a molt. Once the frog is finished molting it will usually eat the shed skin.
African Dwarf Frog Tank Setup
These frogs do not live on dry land.
Instead, they inhabit shallow lakes, ponds, and rivers.
Since they need to breathe air, they remain where water levels are low and the currents are very light. Usually they can be found close to the substrate, hiding behind rocks and logs.
They prioritize moist and wet environments that are full of floating prey for them to eat. The water temperatures are usually around 75°F in areas where they are found. When the river beds dry up during the hottest months of the year these frogs will migrate to flood zones to breed.
Most frogs need a paludarium or terrarium but you can keep African Dwarf Frogs in a 10 gallon aquarium.
To set up their tank you must make sure the water levels are shallow enough for the frogs to surface for air. Only fill the tank up to a little over halfway full.
As for water parameters:
- Temperature: 72-77°F
- pH: 6.0-8.5
- Water Hardness: 2-20 dGH
In the wild African Dwarf Frogs come from a wide variety of habitats with different salinities.
The substrate should be made of sand or very fine gravel. Make sure that the grains are not large enough to cause a problem if they are swallowed.
Filtration is very important too. You want a filter that is powerful enough to remove excess waste, but not strong enough to create a rough current. We do not suggest using any kind of internal filter as they can be quite noisy and will disturb your frogs. A low-flow external filter is the best option.
These frogs do a lot of jumping too, so you will need a hood on your tank.
For lighting you can use a basic aquarium bulb set for 3 watts per gallon for 12 hours every day.
Smooth pebbles, logs, and bits of driftwood make great natural decorations for your frog’s tank. Your frog will seek out these objects to rest and hide behind.
This is not the best setup for keeping plants. Your frogs are likely to munch on them or dig them up.
Plants are for practicality rather than decoration in these tanks.
The best species are those that you can anchor directly to rocks, logs, and other surfaces.
Consider keeping Java Ferns, Anubias, and Congo Ferns in your Dwarf Frog’s home.
|Minimum Tank Size||10 Gallons|
|Substrate||Soft sand or fine gravel|
What Size Aquarium Do They Need?
With a 10 gallon tank you can keep up to 4 African Dwarf Frogs.
After this you will need to add 5 gallons for each new frog.
This is quite an unusual looking frog.
Their flat body and webbed feet are made for swimming rather than walking.
This streamlined body allows the frog to maneuver through water and keep up with currents close to the river bed. Even so, it has a rather slow and clumsy swimming gait.
African Dwarf Frogs have four long, skinny legs, each with a webbed foot. They do not walk on land so their feet have thick webbing between each toe for easy swimming. Each toe has a small claw at the tip which helps them to catch floating prey.
They do not have a long sticky tongue like other frogs use to catch prey.
Most adults grow to 2.5 inches long although some can grow up to 3 inches.
They have a very flat head with a pointed snout, and their eyes are positioned on the sides of their head.
You can find them in grey, brown, and tan, with a sprinkling of black dots that allow the frog to blend in with the substrate. Gold and albino morphs have been bred for aquariums.
There are two different species of Dwarf Frog:
- Hymenochirus boettgeri: The Zaire Dwarf Clawed Frog comes in a grey, olive green, or brown color.
- Hymenochirus curtipes: The Western Dwarf Clawed Frog comes in shades of brown or tan, but may be bred for a gold or albino color morph.
It is easy to tell the difference between males and females.
If you look at a female’s underside you will notice her ovipositor (which is used for laying eggs). Males lack the ovipositor and instead have two white glands behind their front feet. These glands are thought to release pheromones during courtship and breeding.
African Dwarf Frogs are community friendly.
They do not have teeth and are generally very peaceful.
In the wild you will find them living among freshwater fish rather than other frogs. For the most part they pose no threat to these fish, but they do eat their offspring.
The best tank mates are those that are too small to be prey and too large to be a predator. The following is a list of suitable tank mates:
- Congo Tetras
- Rummy Nose Tetras
- Black Skirt Tetras
- Kuhli Loaches
- Cory Catfish (non-venomous)
- Zebra Danios
- Giant Danios
- Nerite Snails
- Rabbit Snails
- Gabon Shrimp
You might be surprised to learn that you can keep Dwarf Frogs and Betta fish together.
These frogs can get along just fine with Betta fish. The Betta is too large for the frog to eat, and the frog is not likely to fall victim to the Betta’s aggressive behavior. Your frog may attempt to go after your Betta’s food so never feed your Betta and your frog at the same time of day.
Never try to keep them with other frogs, unless it is another species of African Dwarf Frog. Other frogs are far too aggressive and erratic.
You should also use caution when keeping them with small fish such as Pygmy and Chili Rasboras. The frog will swallow anything that it can suck into its mouth.
Never add large or aggressive fish such as Cichlids and Sharkminnows. You should also avoid snakes, turtles, and other reptiles that may eat your frog.
Keeping African Dwarf Frogs Together
If you keep a group of African Dwarf Frogs then you will be able to see some of their most amusing behaviors!
Your frogs will be at their most active when they are in a group. You will be able to hear them sing and chatter to each other and perform their best leaps and jumps.
When a male finds a female attractive he will sing to get her attention. A group of chatty Dwarf Frogs can be quite soothing to listen to.
If you are going to keep a group then make sure to have at least 3 frogs in your group.
History and First Sighting
Hymenochirus boettgeri was the first species of African Dwarf Frog to be discovered.
It was classified by Gustav Tornier in 1896.
28 years later Hymenochirus curtipes was discovered by Gladwyn Noble in 1924. Neither of these species would reach the aquarium hobby until the 1960s.
In 1964 a specimen was found living in Florida as a result of an aquarium release. This was one of the first signs that the species was gaining traction in the aquarium hobby.
Both species were introduced to the aquarium hobby at around the same time, but H. curtipes became the most popular as a wider variety of color morphs became available.
By 1999 both species were listed as two of the most popular aquatic frogs.
Between 1998 and 2002, over 188,000 H. curtipes and over 72,000 H. boettgeri were harvested for the pet trade.
African Dwarf Frogs are now found in pet shops and aquarium suppliers all over the world.
Due to their compatibility with fish they are much more popular with aquarists than with herpetologists.
Breeding African Dwarf Frogs
Breeding these frogs is fairly straightforward.
Always isolate potential mated pairs from the rest of the community. You will need to alter the tank conditions to get them to breed.
First you will need to lower the water levels to 3 inches high over the course of 4 weeks. This simulates the dry season when breeding naturally occurs in the wild.
Next, partially fill the tank with new warm water with a temperature above 80°F.
Increase the amount of live prey in the frogs’ diet too. You can feed them live bloodworms and brine shrimp.
When a male is interested in mating he will sing to attract the female’s attention. An interested female will wrap her arms around the male and copulation will occur. The male and the female will swim around the tank with their arms wrapped around one another and the female will lay up to 1000 tiny eggs on the surface of the water.
Remove the parents once the eggs have been laid and wait about 24 hours for them to hatch.
The newborn tadpoles will remain at the water’s surface until they lose their yolk sacs in another 5 days.
Free-swimming tadpoles must be fed infusoria and liquid algae until they grow in their legs and reach the froglet stage. After this they can be given larval brine shrimp. Your froglets will develop into adult African Dwarf Frogs after about 27 days and will be fully mature in 2 months.
Care Guide Summary
|African Dwarf Frog|
|Other Common Names:||Zaire Dwarf Clawed Frog, Western Dwarf Clawed Frog|
|Scientific Name:||Hymenochirus boettgeri, Hymenochirus curtipes|
|Color:||Grey, olive, brown, gold, albino|
|Minimum Tank Size:||10 gallons|
|Tank Mate Compatibility:||Peaceful community fish and invertebrates|
The African Dwarf Frog may be the most fascinating addition to your fish tank.
You might not expect a frog to get along with fish but this one will.
This is one of the best frogs for beginners and even children. They are widely available, easy to care for, and can be purchased for a low price.
They do a great job at blending the aquarium and herpetology communities together. They can be kept in an aquarium or a paludarium and even a few of your favorite terrestrial plants can be incorporated into their environment.
A frog in your fish tank will certainly start a conversation.
Do you have an African Dwarf Frog in your fish tank? Let us know in the comments section below…