African Dwarf Frog (A Complete Care Guide)

African Dwarf Frogs are one of the best aquatic frogs you can bring to your aquariums.

They have a good inclination of staying active. And while these energetic frog species bring entertainment to your aquarium life, they are fully able to coexist with different freshwater fish species. Whether you’re a novice or someone with prior fish-keeping experience, their low-key maintenance is worth admiring.

In this article, I’ll provide you with a detailed care sheet for African Dwarf Frogs to help you understand their elemental needs. So, make sure you walk through this article without skipping anything essential.

Key Takeaways

  • African Dwarf Frogs can live up to 10 years in aquariums
  • They need at least 10 gallons of aquarium space to thrive
  • They are peaceful that do best with schooling fish that take up the middle and top of the aquarium

An Overview of African Dwarf Frogs

Scientific NameHymenochirus
Common NamesDwarf Clawed Frog
FamilyPipidae
OriginEquatorial Regions, Africa
DietOmnivore
Care LevelIntermediate
ActivityEnergetic
Lifespan5 to 10 years
TemperamentPeaceful
Tank LevelBottom
Minimum Tank Size10 gallons
Temperature Range74 – 80 F°
Water Hardness5 to 20 dGH
pH Range6.5 to 7.8
Filtration/Water FlowLow
Water TypeFreshwater
BreedingEgg Layer
Difficulty to BreedEasy
CompatibilityCommunity tanks
OK, for Planted Tanks?Yes

What are African Dwarf Frogs?

African Dwarf Frogs are technically recognized as Hymenochirus. They are a part of the Pipidae family from the order Anura.

Unlike other frogs that have a mixed interest in dry and watery lands, the African Dwarf Frog tends to stay at the bottom water levels throughout its lifespan.

African Dwarf Frogs make excellent community tanks. But failing to look after their dietary needs induces predatory behavior in them. And as a result, they munch on their tank mates to fill their stomachs.

Origin and Habitat

The African Dwarf Frogs are native to multiple African regions. Their natural territories are spread all over the continent of Africa. These include areas like Eswatini, Mozambique, Congo, and Cameron.

In addition to these localities, they also appear in West Africa including Nigeria.

The African Dwarf Frog was first sighted in the year 1896. Other species from the same group were discovered at minor intervals after these frogs were found.

Ever since entering the pet trade, they have never failed to connect their owners to their fun-filled activities.

Appearance

African Dwarf frogs are one of the most popular aquatic frogs to date. They are curious and energetic. Their cuteness can influence your passion for getting them a few tank mates from their own species.

How Does an African Dwarf Frog Look Like

African Dwarf frogs don’t have a traditional appearance. In fact, if you compare them to other frogs, they stand out pretty well because of their appearance.

They have flat, slender bodies with streamlines on them. This trait functions as a helping hand for trouble-free moving in waters. In the wild, African Dwarf frogs have to keep their pace intact with water currents that are closer to river beds. Their streamlined bodies help them do that.

The African Dwarf frogs compose a middle shade of dark olive green and light brown. They can also feature gray, a darker mud-brown shade, and sometimes a subtle tan color. On the base of their bodies, they have deep black dots dispersed throughout their bodies.

These spots help them mix in with the substrate, plants, and leaves to avoid predators in the wild. These frogs have a set of four legs that are slender with webbed feet. Because they don’t live on land, their webbed feet help them flit freely through the water.

African Dwarf Frogs are devoid of sticky tongues and teeth, unlike other frog species. So to chase down any floating living thing, they use their small claw that sits on the tip of each toe.

Aside from this function, the feet of the African Dwarf frog help it swallow the prey down its throat much more easily. They have smooth heads similar to their bodies with a prominent snout. You can see the pair of their eyes visible on the sides of their head like other frogs.

Differentiating a male and a female is quite easy. Apart from other differences, the major distinguishing characteristic is the abdomen of the female. The females have an ovipositor used for laying eggs. The males have a pair of white-colored glands sitting behind their feet instead of the ovipositor.

These glands give way to a subtle effect that makes the identification even easier. Another difference is their size. Females are larger than males with plump bodies and more projecting genital areas.

While African Dwarf Frogs don’t have teeth, they also lack ears. And to steer through the water, they use their lateral line. The lateral line also functions as a detector of environmental changes. The African Dwarf frog doesn’t have gills to breathe under the water. They often travel to the water’s surface to breathe air using their lungs.

Four Common Species of African Dwarf Frog

It’s essential to mention that mistaking a different frog species for African Dwarf Frogs is common.

African Dwarf Frogs are linked with the Hymenochirus genus. There are generally four species in the same genus having similar personalities and physical traits.

The variations in their diet and water temperatures are also quite simple.

1. Zaire Dwarf Clawed Frog

  • Scientific Name: Hymenochirus boettgeri
  • Temperature Range: 75 F° to 80 F°
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years

2. Gaboon Dwarf Clawed Frog

  • Scientific Name: Hymenochirus feae
  • Temperature Range: 75 F° to 82 F°
  • Lifespan: 5 to 10 years

3. Eastern Dwarf Clawed Frog

  • Scientific Name: Hymenochirus boulengeri
  • Temperature Range: 75 F° to 82 F°
  • Lifespan: 8 years

4. Western Dwarf Clawed Frog

  • Scientific Name: Hymenochirus curtipes
  • Temperature Range: 75 F° to 80 F°
  • Lifespan: 10 years

Typically, the African Clawed Frog (video source) is sold under the name of African Dwarf Frogs. While there’s nothing wrong with the former frog species, their size and temperament are very problematic.

The average size of an African Clawed frog is 5 inches. They can stretch themselves up to even more in length in the wild. Aside from the difference in size, there are some other notable features that African Dwarf Frogs have but African Clawed Frogs don’t.

The African Dwarf Frog has four webbed feet while the other species don’t. They also have a pointed snout, unlike African Clawed Frogs that have curved but smooth snouts. You will notice the different locations of their eyes. Your intended frog species have eyes sitting on the sides of their heads. But the larger species have eyes on the top of their heads.

Lifespan

The average life cycle of the African Dwarf frog is 5 years. But species like Zaire Dwarf Clawed Frog can live as long as 20 years in captivity.

African Dwarf Frogs are pretty resilient. And this makes them ideal to house in aquariums even if you’re just starting out as an aquarist. But like other freshwater species, they also go through common diseases. And if you want to improve their longevity, you need to properly look after them.

Average Size

African Dwarf Frogs don’t grow above 3 inches. Even in the wild, this is the typical size they can hit.

A female African Dwarf Frog, however, is slightly bigger than the male African Dwarf Frog. They look even bigger during the breeding season.

African Dwarf Frog Care

Before starting off with the idea of purchasing African Dwarf Frogs, understanding their behavior and natural scaling system of growth is essential.

The apparently easy-going frogs can sometimes do things contrary to their typical practices.

The African Dwarf Frog has a good tolerance for its tank mates. But if the dwarf frogs are starving, they can eat the undersized fish easily. A proper tank setup can improve the life quality of your African Dwarf Frog. As in their natural habitat, their association is always with warmer temperatures, you should construct their tanks with that in mind.

Aquarium Setup

African Dwarf Frogs spend their time inhabiting shallow water levels with still to moderate water currents.

And while they pay great attention to exploring their accommodation, they still chatter about what’s missing in their tank. These frogs don’t live on land. In their natural habitat, water areas with warm temperatures and plenty of hiding spaces help them stay happy.

They don’t have gills. So to breathe air, they regularly travel up to the surface of the water. This can last for as long as they want. Since they prefer moisture in their environment, you’ve to replicate that condition in their aquarium.

Although African Dwarf Frogs are completely aquatic, they can jump out of the tank at any moment. You need to secure the surface of the tank with a tight lid to control their potential sudden movements.

Tank Size

The minimum African Dwarf Frog Tank should be at least 5 gallons. It’s better to bump that number up to a 10 gallon tank in order to give them enough space to freely move.

If there are other fish with these fully aquatic frogs, get them a larger tank.

For example, you should have a 20-gallon tank for 5-6 frogs. And fish species with higher demands will influence the number, too.

Water Parameters

Their preferred water temperature is 74° F to 80° F, with water hardness around 6.5 to 7.8.

They live in slightly acidic water and can tolerate water hardness ranging from 5 to 20 KH.

These frogs can put up with warmer temperatures. The reason is inhabiting areas that are sometimes at their hottest during the year.

Filtration and Aeration

African Frogs have sensitive skin. Like oxygen, they can absorb toxins like ammonia and nitrate through their skin which eventually ends their life.

So no matter what species from their genus you go for, proper water filtration is equally important as other care measurements. Generally, African Dwarf Frogs like water areas that contain natural minerals. So, using tap water will be extremely toxic for them.

Before there’s an outbreak of ammonia and nitrate levels, get a power filter or a canister filter for proper filtration.

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Also, occasional water changes up to 30% are great for further water cleanness.

Make sure any filtration system that you use doesn’t disturb water currents.

Pro Tip: Don’t leave your pet without water for more than 15 minutes. Because exceeded time can cause severe dehydration or even death. These frogs are 100% aquatic and should be out of water!

Lighting

You don’t have to use bright lighting for the African Dwarf Frog Aquarium. Mild exposure to Natural sunlight or standard aquarium lights is more than enough.

These frogs love to hide in any manufactured caves that you introduce to their tanks. And if there’s none, they will hide behind plants and rocks to feel at ease.

Aquatic Plants and Decorations

As far as decoration goes, the African Dwarf Frog is good to go with pretty much everything you put in the tank.

Most frogs from their species act shy. And to feel good, they resort to hideaways. To give them that secure environment, you can use manufactured caves, clay-pot caves, or stones for creating ideal hideouts. You can also go for smooth rocks as hiding spaces.

There’s nothing wrong with using plastic plants. But live plants are always better for boosting oxygenation within the tank. The frogs need to regulate their breathing cycles. Live plants help with that.

Some great choices can be live plants like:

Pro Tip: Make sure the plants are not hindering their free movement. Especially, when they go up to the surface of the water for breathing. African dwarf frogs while needing to live completely in water, do need to go to the surface to breath oxygen as they have lungs instead of gills.

Also, avoid using decor items with rough edges. While swimming, African Dwarf Frogs can hurt their frail skin if they bump into rocks.

Tank Maintenance

As far as tank maintenance goes, the procedure is pretty simple.

Apart from cleaning tank water using a strong filtration system, you have to clean the tank, decorations, and plants as well.

Pro Tip: Never use any liquid or a bar of soap that contains chemicals. These frogs can sense the presence of chemicals and can absorb them through their skin. And if they do so, they can get seriously sick!

Substrate

They live at the bottom of the tank. Hence, substrate holds intrinsic value to their overall physical fitness.

Choosing the color of the substrate is entirely up to you. But make sure the grains are not too small for your pet to consume. If you use larger grains, that too can host problems for the pet.

So, layer the base of the tank using the sandy substrate. Fine aquarium gravel is another great option for layering the foot of the tank.

Add rocks, caves, and live plants throughout the tank as well.

Community Tank Mates

They do well with a number of peaceful community fish species. Though they can attack small fish if hungry, any aggressive fish can do the exact same to them.

In most cases, the behavior African Dwarf Frogs display is friendly and encouraging. However, under certain situations, they can act hostile to non-aggressive fish or fish that are smaller than them.

To avoid their predatory conduct or getting attacked by other fish, here’s a list of some of the ideal tank mates you can select for your pet.

  1. Congo Tetras
  2. Swordtails
  3. Mollies
  4. Kuhli Loaches
  5. Giant Danios
  6. Zebra Danios
  7. Black Skirt Tetras
  8. Rummy Nose Tetras
  9. Guppies
  10. Platys
  11. Rabbit Snails
  12. Nerite Snails
  13. Gabon Shrimp
  14. Cory Catfish
  15. Betta Fish

Poor Tank Mates

Any aggressive fish or frog will be a poor choice to group up with your pet. Or, if the fish is too small and with poor defensive skills, your African frog can make them their next meal.

  1. African Clawed Frogs
  2. Goldfish
  3. Shrimp

Breeding African Dwarf Frogs

These amphibians are easy to breed as long as you know your way around carrying out the procedure.

To successfully condition these frogs for breeding, create a separate breeding tank. It’s always better to guide the intended pair to the tank, excluding them from the other African Dwarf Frogs until the breeding process lasts.

Over a course of three weeks, you have to keep water levels 3 inches deep. With that, start gradually raising the temperature up to 85° F degrees. Here is a quick video from IHTW Reptiles/Amphibians that has some additional tips.

While they can breed on their own, you’ve to stimulate a proper breeding season for them that resembles the season of their native towns.

Apart from the above, include protein-based foods on their menu to further increase the chances of successful breeding. You can feed them brine shrimp, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and insect larvae.

Also, make sure the frequency of feeding goes up for at least a couple of weeks. While you’re busy feeding them excessive amounts of food, don’t let the food scraps get piled up in the aquarium. Because neglect of cleaning the tank can raise nitrate levels.

The best way to know whether they’ve begun breeding is by looking at the size of females. The female frogs will appear larger because of the eggs. Within a span of two to three weeks, she will get swollen with eggs.

And once she is filled with eggs, the male will attract her attention by singing. He will then cover the lower half of her body with his before they travel up to the surface.

During swimming, the female will produce eggs in the water which the male will fertilize. He releases sperm into the water by traveling behind her.

After this, separate the pair from the fry. Within 3-5 days, all the eggs will hatch. The female can lay almost 1000 eggs in a single spawning. And that means you should prepare yourself for raising that many tadpoles.

The tadpoles will stay at the water surface for another set of 5 days until there’s no yolk sac.

But before you start feeding tadpoles brine shrimp, stick to infusoria for as long as it takes them to grow legs and hit the froglet stage. The juvenile frogs will take almost a month to develop into adults. They will get fully mature within 2 months.

And as I mentioned earlier, raising the eggs is pretty demanding. If you see the eggs sinking to the bottom, know that they won’t hatch and therefore should be removed from the tank. The eggs are sticky. As a result, you need to place a glass jar in the tank to collect them.

Unlike the parents, you need to lower the temperature of the water up to 80° F for the eggs to flourish. Similar to adult frogs, the fry also needs a clean water aquarium to stay healthy and upbeat. Because poor water quality is way more dangerous in their case than it is for adult frogs.

African Dwarf Frog Food and Diet

If fed properly, your pet will never attack any smaller fish to fill their stomachs.

But there’s one problem. These frogs will give you a tough time with eating anything. Before they actually start consuming the food down their throats, you have to train them.

It includes placing their food at the bottom until they get familiar with the spot. Aside from this, you’ve to set a proper feeding routine to feed them daily. This will get them used to both the routine and the spot, making it easier for you to feed and for them to eat.

They’re omnivores and can eat plant materials and algae. But for optimal nourishment, foods like brine shrimp, frozen brine shrimp, bloodworms, and insect larvae are recommended. You can also add fish fry and earthworms to their core diet. Some other great choices can be daphnia, moina, and mysis shrimp. Like other species, they also appreciate variations in their regular diets.

For that, you can go for tuna, salmon, and beef heart to make them happy. They are fond of fatty foods so make sure you don’t overfeed them. To monitor their fitness, feed them only once a day. But their diet should include high-quality foods as mentioned above to keep them healthy and active.

Common Health Problems

Their skin is extremely sensitive to bacterial infections.

If you touch them with bare hands or neglect weeding out toxins from their tank, your frog will end up developing different health issues.

While they are not too resilient, treating them is easy. But only if you know the cause of their disease. They are also susceptible to fungal infections and some other common ailments.

1. Fungal Infection

Contaminated water is the core reason your frog will catch this infection. If you fail to detect the presence of ammonia and nitrate levels within the tank, things can get pretty serious.

Here are some common symptoms your pet might show:

  1. Excessive skin shedding
  2. Reddening of the skin
  3. Seizures
  4. Patches on skin

2. Dropsy

This is another common disease among frogs. It usually occurs as a result of some bacterial infection or poor food management.

Here are some common symptoms:

  1. Severe bloating
  2. Lethargy
  3. Unusual behavior

Handling African dwarf frogs while they are infected is not that easy. They can easily spread diseases to other frogs, as well as humans. If you notice any symptoms in them, seek veterinary help immediately. Antibiotics can help them get rid of these ailments. But make sure to isolate the infected frog from the rest of their community.

Author's Note: African Dwarf Frogs shed skin at least once in a while. Before they do that, their skin will look whitish. These frogs shed skin while growing. So, it's perfectly normal behavior among them.

FAQs

Are African dwarf frogs easy to take care of?

They are pretty easy to manage. Their friendly disposition and ability to withstand slight water changes are some of their best qualities. But if your frog is infected, you will have a tough time managing them as a beginner.

How many African dwarf frogs should be kept together?

You can keep 4-5 frogs together. They appreciate social gatherings and therefore keeping African Dwarf Frogs in groups is easier than you think. As their size is small, you might want to increase the number. But doing this can result in overcrowding the tank and strong interruption in their day-to-day practices.

Do African dwarf frogs need land?

They have webbed feet that can’t sustain their movements on land. They are designed like this because they stay in watery areas almost all their lives. In fact, if you put them outside water for more than 10-15 minutes, they can get seriously dehydrated that eventually leading them to their death.

What do African dwarf frogs eat?

They can eat algae off the plants and other plant materials you give them. In the wild, they attack floating living things and eat worms to stay healthy. In your aquarium, you can give them brine shrimp and foods that are rich in protein.

How do I know if my African Dwarf Frog is happy?

If they display active physical traits, bright body coloration, and speed in eating food, know that your pet is completely fine and happy with you.

Do African dwarf frogs like being held?

Their sensitive skin doesn’t allow them to get in direct contact with humans. But since they’re social and friendly, you can play with them by taking precautions.

How big do Dwarf African frogs get?

They can grow a maximum size of 3 inches. It is necessary to feed them healthy foods for proper growth in your aquarium.

Can African dwarf frogs live in a tank with a filter?

They certainly can live with a filter that doesn’t disturb water currents. In fact, a strong filtration water system is extremely essential for water cleanness and overall fitness.

Closing Thoughts

African Dwarf Frogs are one of the most popular amphibians kept in captivity, and for good reason–they’re cute, active, and relatively easy to care for. However, as with any new pet, there is a bit of research that should be done before adding them to your tank. In this article, we’ve tried to cover all the basics so you can make an informed decision about whether or not ADFs would be a good fit for your aquarium. Have you kept African Dwarf Frogs before? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear about your experiences.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

1 COMMENTS

  1. Hi. WOW!! A lot of information. I have had these frogs for years now and still learned a lot.
    I had one frog that liked to hang out on top of heater that was out of water. After 2 hours, I would get worried and move the heater down until he/she swam away.

    I generally totally clean their tanks as suction is just to hard for me. I move them from old to new tank on my hand and 1 of them won’t get off my hand for a while and then jumps off.
    I don’t buy from pet stores any more as they are always hiding in sand and don’t adapt well when they come to me without sand. They just hide behind everything. When I do find some that are out and about, they are so cute and stand up etc when I sit in front of tank or gentle tap on it.
    After reading this, I will look into suctioning their tank 30% instead of completely.

    Reply

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