Fishkeeping is a fairly well-established hobby that most people are familiar with, but what about frog-keeping?
If you’re a newbie to the world of frogs, the African dwarf frog might be a good place to start.
These tiny critters are not only adorable, but they’re relatively easy to look after. Since they’re fully-aquatic frogs, they’re the perfect variety to keep in an aquarium.
This article will cover all the basics you need to know about African dwarf frogs and how to care for them.
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The African dwarf frog, Hymenochirus boettgeri, is occasionally confused with other frogs in the Hymenochirus genus. This species, however, is much more commonly found in pet shops across the US.
Correct identification is important as different species have different care requirements.
H. boettgeri can be differentiated from the African clawed frog Xenopus laevis – a species with which it is sometimes confused – as H. boettgeri has webbed feet but X. laevis does not.
The bodies and heads of African dwarf frogs have a flattened appearance, but it’s not as pronounced as in some other species.
Though their skin has tiny warts or bumps, these are smaller than in other members of the Hymenochirus genus.
What Colors and Variations Do They Come In?
African dwarf frogs aren’t exactly visually striking, but they are quite cute!
Their coloring has evolved so that they blend in with leaf litter on the bottom on ponds and pools, so it’s quite subtle.
Their base color ranges from brown to gray to olive green-ish color, but their rough dorsal surfaces are mottled or spotted with slightly darker hues.
Adult males have a red or white spot behind the armpits when they’ve reached sexual maturity.
How Big Do They Get?
The clue’s in the name – African DWARF frogs – the ‘dwarf’ part suggests they are only small.
On average, they are are around 1.5 inches length, but they can reach a maximum of 2 inches.
Females tend to be slightly larger than males, by roughly 25 percent.
How Long Do They Live?
Thy are a surprisingly long living species.
Looked after in optimal conditions, they can live for over 10 years. Some reports have them living for up to 18 years.
However, their average captive lifespan is anywhere between 5 and 10 years.
History, Origins and Development
African dwarf frogs are native to several countries in the continent of Africa.
They’re common in Gabon, Nigeria, Central African Republic, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Equatorial Guinea. They can also be found in Cameroon, but they’re rarely seen there.
In their native habitat, they live in freshwater areas. Generally in quiet pools off streams or in still, shaded water in areas of lowland rainforest.
They are fully-aquatic, so they live their life completely in the water, unlike many frog species who spend much of their time on dry land. They do occasionally come up for breaths of air, but they can probably survive no more than 15 minutes out of the water.
While we’ve talked about their native habitat, any African dwarf frog you buy in the United States is likely to have been bred in captivity, which is great as it preserves the native population.
The species hasn’t been deliberately developed for captivity, but it is possible that some breeders have developed cross breeds with other frogs from the Hymenochirus genus.
Keeping African dwarf frogs has become increasingly popular in the past few years, so it’s possible that there will be room for development of the species in future.
Are They Easy or Hard to Keep in a Home Aquarium?
Compared to other species, African dwarf frogs are relatively easy to keep and don’t have especially complex care requirements.
That said, in order to keep them healthy and living into the high end of their lifespan, you have to have done a fair amount of research. It’s not as though you can just stick them in a tank and hope for the best.
As long as you’re dedicated and have a little time to give to make sure their environment is up to scratch, you should have no trouble keeping these little guys.
African Dwarf Frog Care Considerations
One thing that some potential keepers might not realize is African dwarf frogs are social creatures. As such, you should never keep them without other members of their species, always house at least three together in the same tank.
If you notice one of these critters floating motionless in the middle of the water, don’t assume they’re dead. They’re known for chilling out in this way and enthusiasts call it the “zen position.” Unless they’ve been in the same spot for many hours, you shouldn’t be concerned.
African dwarf frogs like a well-planted aquarium as they like hiding out in the foliage, but it’s not 100 percent essential if you have trouble keeping plants alive.
What they do need, however, is someplace to hide out from the light. Rocks and aquarium decorations – especially anything cave like – are ideal. Though, if you’re on a budget and aren’t worried about it looking nice, PVC tubing will do. It’s important not to pick anything they could easily get trapped under or stuck in. Since they need to breathe air, if they get trapped for too long, they will suffocate.
Frogs are, of course, good jumpers, so your aquarium should have a secure, well-fitting lid with no gaps large enough for an African dwarf frog to fit through.
Diet and Feeding
They are carnivorous – in the wild, they would eat insects and fish fry – and they can be picky eaters. So, feeding them a healthy diet they don’t turn their noses up at can be one of the trickiest parts of keeping them.
While some people say they will happily accept flake or pellet food, others insist they won’t touch anything but fresh, frozen or live food.
This probably differs from individual to individual, so it may be a case of trial and error.
If you want to try a flake or pellet food, pick one that’s designed for clawed frogs or carnivorous fish. Plenty are available, but some good examples include Repto Min and Tetra Prima. Catfish pellets may also be suitable.
If you prefer to feed a fresh, frozen or live food (or if your frogs won’t accept flakes or pellets), variety is the key to giving them a balanced diet.
Some good foods they might accept include bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, black worms, white worms or small earthworms. They can also be fed small chunks of raw fish, such as tuna or tilapia, but this should be considered a treat and not fed more than once per week.
They normally eat off the aquarium floor, but if you keep them with fish, you may need to feed them with tongs, a pipette or a turkey baster. If left to fend for themselves, the fish are likely to eat their food before they get a chance to and they could eventually starve.
Young frogs, under a year old, should be fed daily. Older ones, however, only need to be fed once every two to three days. Keep an eye on their weight and feed appropriately. While they shouldn’t be thin, they shouldn’t look chubby, either.
Your aquarium is your frogs’ home for life, so you want to make sure everything is just the way they like it.
We’ll talk you through what you need to know about creating a good aquarium set up for optimal African dwarf frog care.
Tank Size and Shape
Although they are small, this doesn’t mean that tiny tanks are ideal for them. Frogs actually like to have a lot of space and may get stressed in too small an aquarium.
We always advise to pick the largest tank you have room for; after all, how would you like to be confined to a tiny room for the whole of your life?
Although you may be able to get away with slightly smaller, our recommendation is to allow five gallons per frog. Since they should be kept in groups of at least three, you’d need a minimum of fifteen gallons to start out. That said, in a fifteen-gallon tank, there should be room for a handful of fish in addition to the three frogs.
Longer, shallower tanks are best for these frogs, since they need to go to the top of the aquarium to breathe air and they’re not amazingly strong swimmers. Something with a maximum height of 24 to 36 inches is ideal.
If you’re keeping just African dwarf frogs, filtration isn’t 100 percent necessary, as they breathe air rather than getting their oxygen from the water, but it is recommended.
Frogs don’t like a strong current in their water, so something like a sponge filter or a small hang-on-back filter is best. If the latter, choose something with a very gentle flow.
If you’re keeping fish in the same tank, you may need something strong, such as a canister filter. Again, make sure it’s something with a low flow or an adjustable flow, so that it won’t disturb your frogs.
Should your chosen filter have an intake pipe, securely cover it with a fine mesh, otherwise, your frogs could get their limbs trapped.
Choosing the right substrate for your African dwarf frogs is essential.
They have poor eyesight and they feed off the bottom of the aquarium. So, if the substrate is too small, they can mistakenly eat it while feeding. These stones or pieces of gravel get lodged in the digestive system and the frog dies.
Make sure you pick a substrate with rocks that are definitely too big for your frogs to swallow.
Regular aquarium lighting is sufficient for and most people use whatever comes with their tank.
Keep the lights on for 8 to 12 hours of the day and off for the rest to simulate a regular day-night cycle.
If you’re keeping live plants, keep the lights on closer to 12 hours per day to give your plants enough light to grow. For optimum growing conditions, you’ll also need full-spectrum lighting.
African dwarf frogs are a sub-tropical species. So, unless you live in a particularly warm climate, you’ll need a water heater to keep the tank’s water temperature at the correct level. A minimum of 70 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended, but closer to 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
If you don’t already have one, you can choose an appropriate model from our best aquarium heater roundup.
Video: A Close Look at the African Dwarf Frog
This video is a long one, but it just goes to show how entertaining simply watching these adorable frogs can be.
In this video, you’ll see them being spot fed with a pipette to ensure they all get some food.
You can also hear them singing. If you’re not sure which gender you want to keep, it’s worth noting that only males sing.
Tank Mate Compatibility
African dwarf frogs are fairly easy going and can be kept with the majority of peaceful community fish.
Bottom dwellers and algae eating fish are often named as particularly suitable choices. Platies, small catfish, swordtails, guppies and some goldfish varieties are all contenders.
Definitely don’t house them with any large, carnivorous fish. They’re only small so they could end up as someone’s dinner.
Even smaller aggressive fish will harass them, though they can’t eat them, so these aren’t recommended either.
Goldfish are often touted as suitable tank mates, but not all goldfish are appropriate choices. Single tailed varieties are potentially aggressive, so aren’t suitable.
For the sake of the fish, avoid those with long, flowing tails. African dwarf frogs have poor eyesight and will sometimes mistake these tails for food, and bite or grab hold of them. This is distressing for the fish and can cause them injuries.