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African Dwarf Frogs - Care, demands and forum

Resized image of African dwarf frog, 1 Resized image of African dwarf frog, 2 Resized image of African dwarf frog, 3 Resized image of African dwarf frog, 4

Brief Description

This page is devoted to raising Afircan dwarf frogs in fish tanks, their diet, sexing and breeding, and FAQ. We'd love to hear about your frogs, so submit your story via the form that can be found at the bottom of this page. You're also welcome to share your experiences or ask questions!


African dwarf frogs (Hymenochirus Boettgeri) are a very popular choice of aquarium addition as they are so easy to keep, no more difficult than keeping a goldfish.

One of the biggest problems with these is when you actually go to purchase them from the pet stores. Some of clawed frogs may be labelled as dwarfs but they are not. Clawed frogs will grow quite large in comparison and are not so hardy. Two ways of spotting the difference are, if they are albino then they are not a dwarf species, also the dwarfs will have smaller eyes compared to the clawed frogs.

Pictures of African clawed frogs (click to enlarge) African clawed frogs, resized image 1 African clawed frogs, resized image 2

They originally came from the Congo region in Africa, but unfortunately due to land clearing and the change in the eco system it is thought that they may have become extinct in the wild. Most of the frogs sold in the pet stores were originally bred in India where it was quite a large concern; large amounts were bred purely to be sold into the pet trade. This proved to be a valuable move as it has prevented this species from being extinct altogether. The dwarf species will grow to 1-1.5 inches (2.54 - 3.81 cm) and their lifespan is approx. 5 years.

Shedding of the skin takes place every week to a fortnight; it will start with the skin loosening underneath the frog, then with repeated kicks from the hind legs, the rest of the skin will be removed. The shed skin will be found floating around the tank, this whole process is very quick, because of this it is often missed by the keepers.

Habitat for the frog

The tank set up is a fairly simple one, always allow 1 Imperial gallon (4.55 litre, 1.20 US gallon) of water for each frog. The substrate can be either sand or gravel; do not add any rocks or large pebbles, as sometimes the frogs can trap themselves under these. The tanks should not be too deep, shallower tanks will allow the frogs to come up for an occasional gulp of air, however with this species they may not do this very often.

You must provide hiding places for these as they can be timid, so this strategy will help put them at ease a little better. Plant pots or some of the more modern aquarium decorations are fine, as are adding some live plants. They will not destroy the plants but if you wish to add artificial ones then use the silk variety, plastic plants can damage their delicate skin. They are escape artists so a lid is a must, having said that allow room at the top of the tank for an air pocket. I have heard many keepers recommend the Anubias plant as it will grow in a bushy formation, providing lots of hiding places.

If you wish to use a bare bottomed tank to make cleaning easier, you can still add plants buy purchasing the pre potted ones that come with a small terracotta pot, or even plant them in a small glass vase. Anubias is normally sold attached to a small piece of bog wood; this is certainly a good choice.

Water temp should be kept between 70 - 75°F (~ 21 - 24°C), good filtration is a must. If using a very small tank then weekly water changes will suffice, larger tanks will need some form of internal filter, but do not set it to disturb the water surface; this can upset the frog when going up for air. Whatever filtration you are using, a weekly water change must be done. pH is fine at 7.0 – 7.2, lighting if used must be turned off at night, it is purely a matter of choice if it is used or not.

Dietary needs

Feeding your dwarf frogs is not very complicated; they will take most meaty foods. Frozen bloodworm, frozen brine shrimp are good for a main diet, reptomin, gammarus and finely chopped earthworms are good supplements to the diet. How the food is given to the frogs is the most difficult part. A small terracotta plate or similar is ideal to feed the frogs with, a small amount placed on it at a time. Just adding the food to the tank is not ideal; the frogs will not do a lot of foraging trying to find their meals, if the food is left in the substrate it can lead to fouling of the water. Only feed small quantities at a time, some keepers will only feed their frogs every two to three days. If the food is to be added to the tank direct, there are a couple of tricks to get the frogs to eat straight away. Always drop the food in the same place, they will pick up the scent of the food and return to the same spot at the next feeding time. The frogs can be tamed enough to be hand fed, feeding this way will ensure that all of your frogs get their share of the food. If they will not accept it from your hand straight away, keep persevering, they will take it eventually.

Using a turkey baster will have the same effect as hand feeding; the frogs will soon associate the baster with food.

Any food that is left in the tank must be removed after 5-10 minutes, either siphon it out or use the turkey baster to remove it.

Sexing and breeding

The males are slightly smaller and leaner than the females, but the main difference that can be spotted straight away are small pinkish glands behind each of the male’s armpits. The females will have a prominent bump between their legs; this is for the purpose of egg laying and waste. Both sexes should reach maturity at about 9 months.

When the male is ready to find his female for mating he will “sing” out to her, this will be in the form of a hum. While he is doing this he will arch his back and kick out with his legs as though he is displaying to her. If the female is receptive to the male then he will approach her and grasp her body just above her legs. The female will then swim to the water surface with the male attached, laying her eggs at the top of the tank. While she is doing this the male will fertilize them at the same time. After the egg laying is finished the couple will drop to the bottom of the tank, it will appear that the female is dead, do not make this mistake, she is only resting. After a short period of time, the male will release his grasp and leave the female alone.

Hatching the eggs and raising the tadpoles

The eggs will be scattered about on the water surface of the tank, so if you wish to hatch them and raise the tadpoles, they will need to be siphoned into a separate tank. The reason for this is that the pH will need to be raised higher than in the parent’s tank. Transfer the eggs to a 10 gallon (45.46 litre, 12.01 US gallon) tank, leave the tank without substrate, this will ensure that as you clean it the water quality will remain high. The pH needs to be set to at least 7.5 - 8.0; this can be achieved by preparing the water with added sodium bi-carbonate. The temp will also need to be raised to 80°F (26.67°C). Unlike raising common frog tadpoles, these are very delicate; the mortality rate will be high. As these are dwarf frogs water changes need to be done carefully, the tadpoles will be very small, change at least 10% twice a day. Feeding the newly hatched tadpoles can be difficult to start with, prepared liquid fry food seems to work well, these are available to buy from pet stores, they will not be able to digest larger foods until they are slightly bigger.

When they have grown on, newly hatched brine shrimp should be offered to them. This diet should keep them going until they are ready to complete the morph into juvenile frogs.

Although these frogs are quite easy to look after, as with any fish they could develop problems, especially if the water quality is not as high as it should be.

Dropsy can be a problem and unfortunately there is not a lot that can be done for the frog if this develops. This can be recognised by swelling of the abdomen, the only course of treatment is to remove the infected frog to a hospital tank, adding anti bacterial meds to the water. As a back up, the main tank should be treated as well.

Fungal infections can also occur; maintaining high water quality should deter this but if fungal patches are appearing on the frogs, then remove the infected ones to a hospital tank, adding an anti fungicide for treatment.

If handled incorrectly or if incorrect décor is in the tank, the frogs will be injured. Wounds should heal themselves if the injured frog is placed in a hospital tank and the water quality is high, avoiding the injuries in the first place is the best prevention. Do not net the frogs if possible; this can lead to open wounds or even broken bones. If you have to move the frogs, try to do it carefully by hand. If they are going to be kept in a community tank do not add them with larger tank mates, aggressive fish will injure the frogs, and definitely do not keep them with African clawed frogs, they could end up eating the dwarf species.

Many keepers worry about the health of their frogs as they do not seem to be coming up for air very often. This is not a problem, they can survive for hours under the water, this is perfectly normal. Sometimes they will float to the surface with their arms and legs out stretched, again this is normal.


On March 25th 2011 the following question and answer were added here due to merging with related articles.

  • Why do I find my dwarf African frog on its back?

    Answer: Dwarf frogs spend a lot of time crawling about the tank and do slip off the décor occasionally. If they land on their back they will turn themselves the right way.

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