African dwarf frogs are an interesting little amphibian. They are in the family Pipidae, toungeless frogs. There are at least three species of African dwarf frogs (genus Hymenochirus). While it is almost impossible to visually tell the species apart, it is known that Hymenochirus boettgeri is the most common species on the pet trade. The care for all African dwarf frog species is the same.
In the wild, their populations are declining due to pollution and habitat destruction. However, they have been quite popular on the pet trade for some time.
African dwarf frogs are not to be confused with African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis). Clawed frogs grow to be much bigger than dwarf frogs, and are much more voracious eaters. Clawed frogs have “buggier” eyes that are placed more on the top of the head than those of the African dwarf, which are on the side of the head. Clawed frogs are also usually more heavy-bodied than dwarfs, especially as adults. The best way to tell these frogs apart is to look at the front feet. African dwarf frogs have webbing between the front toes, while African clawed frogs do not.
These frogs are very fun to keep. They have entertaining eating habits and seem to enjoy interacting with other frogs and fish in the aquarium. They are most active at night, but are quite visible in the daytime as well, floating among plants and resting on the bottom of the tank. When conditions are properly met and maintained, African dwarf frogs make very rewarding captives for keepers of any age.
Habitat and Distribution
African dwarf frogs are native to the tropics of Central Africa where they live in slow-moving to still permanent bodies of fresh water. They have well-developed lungs and must have access to breathable air to survive.
The adult size is 1-1.5 inches from snout to toes on outstretched legs.
African dwarf frogs have been reported to live up to 20 years or longer in captivity, but the average lifespan is about 4-8 years if properly cared for.
African dwarf frogs must have sinking food. In the wild they are mostly carnivorous bottom feeders, so they will be the same in captivity. Only on rare occasions will a particular frog eat floating flake fish food, which people commonly try to feed them. Flake food often does not contain the nutrition the frogs need, either.
Dwarf frogs should be fed sinking foods such as shrimp pellets, chopped earthworms, and live or frozen/thawed bloodworms (red mosquito larvae). They may also eat live food such as larval ghost shrimp, daphnia, brine shrimp, and even small fish if they can catch them. The frogs should be fed every one to two days. Do not expect them to consume all the given food in one feeding. If by the next feeding some food is still left in the water, do not feed until it has been eaten, to avoid clouding the water too much.
Not every individual will eat all these foods. Try different things and see what your frogs like. They should have a varied diet, not consisting of only one type of food.
Caution must be taken on feeding bloodworms. Make sure not too feed your dwarf frog too many bloodworms, live or frozen/thawed. Bloodworms can cause what is known as “bubble frog disease” or “balloon frog disease.” This is the accumulation of excessive fluids or gases beneath the frogs’ skin. The condition is not well understood, and there could be factors other than bloodworms involved such as poor water quality and vitamin and/or mineral deficiency. This disease is fatal and is difficult to treat. Provide a feeding of bloodworms no more than 1 or 2 times a week. (For more information on “balloon frog disease” and other diseases along with treatment options, visit this webpage: http://www.pipidae.net/faq_illness.php)
A temperature between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit is suitable. Any temperature more than a few degrees above or below this range can quickly kill your frogs.
You must give the frogs adequate space to live in the aquarium. A good general rule is to provide at least 1 gallon of water in the tank per frog. However, more is always better. If you have other animals in the tank, such as fish, their space requirements must also be provided for. Water depth should be at least 10 inches.
It is important to provide a filter for these frogs to minimize the amount of suspended particles and organic toxins in the water. Commercially sold aquarium filters will suffice. However, they must be appropriately sized for the tank they are to be used in, and they must not be so powerful as to overpower the frogs when they swim near it. The filter should be cleaned and the necessary parts replaced as suggested by the manufacturer. Partial or complete water changes should also be performed as needed.
African dwarf frogs need to have water that is almost entirely free of harmful chemicals such as ammonia and chlorine. To rid the water of this, use water conditioner, sold at nearly any pet store that carries fish or fish supplies. Follow the directions given on the product.
The water in the aquarium should not be too “hard,” meaning that it contains high amounts of dissolved minerals. If you live in an area with relatively hard water, consider using store-bought bottled water to fill the tank.
The pH of the water should be at about 7-8, or as close to neutral (7) as possible.
These frogs do fine without any direct lighting on the aquarium. However, if you use live plants, you may want to use a plant growth bulb or similar device solely for the benefit of the plants. If you use a lamp, be sure to provide plenty of shady hiding places for the frogs. Also make sure that the lamp does not cause the water temperature to rise too high.
-Plants and Accessories
Dwarf frogs need lots of hiding places in the water, on the bottom and at all other levels. Live or fake plants work well for this. Almost any commercially sold aquarium plant can be used with African dwarf frogs. They will often be seen floating among and hiding in submerged vegetation, and perhaps even hunting if you choose to provide live food.
Feel free to use any decorative furniture pieces in the aquarium. It is recommended that you clean them thoroughly (see links below) before putting them in the tank. You may also choose furniture that can function as hiding places for the frogs as well as look nice.
Regular pea gravel works great as a substrate. Be sure to use a size that is too large to be ingested by the frogs. Along with pea gravel, just about any substrate sold commercially for aquariums is suitable, but you may find it easiest to use something in which the particles are not too large or oddly shaped for live food to easily hide in between.
African dwarf frogs are small and delicate, they should not be kept with any other animals that are big or aggressive and may cause the frogs harm or stress. Guppies and small goldfish make good tank mates. Corydoras, snails, and other small to medium sized, gentle bottom-feeders can also be kept with African dwarfs, but they will compete with the frogs for food, so make sure enough is provided for all inhabitants.
Cleaning and Disinfecting
The following links provide information on how to clean and disinfect cage furniture, tanks, and other materials and objects that you may use in your aquarium:
African dwarf frogs are relatively easy to care for, but only once all their proper conditions are met. They can make a rewarding pet for any keeper. With the proper aquarium conditions, care, and maintenance, these frogs can live long and happy lives providing entertainment with their intriguing behavior and obvious adorableness.
More great African dwarf frog caresheets on the web: