Revised! Extensive African Dwarf Frog Article/FAQ


Superstar Fish
Common Name: African Dwarf frogs
Scientific Name: Hymenochirus boettgeri/ Hymenochirus curtipes
Temperature: 70-84F
Max Size: 1.5 in

What are African Dwarf frogs (ADF’s)?

ADF’s are fully aquatic frogs that spend their entire life under water. They do not need or use land at any point in their life. Dwarf Frogs belong to the Pipidae family, which consists of tongueless, mostly warm-water tropical frogs.

Why are there two scientific names listed?

While most information (online at least) pertains to the name Hymenochirus boettgeri, there may be another species of frog that is nearly identical to the layman (in appearance, size, behavior etc.), called Hymenochirus curtipes, which may have less “warts” or bumps on its skin, although there is debate as to the identification (or even existence) of the two species. It seems as though any major distinction between the two is in the larval and egg stage. Both are interchangeable in an aquarium setting.

If you are interested in reading more about the difference between the two species you can Click Here .

Further more, there may be four species in the Hymenochris genus, with the other two being: H. boulengeri and H. feae.

In actuality, the differences between these purported species are not well documented and little is known about the state of the species. Some suspect that the vast majority of frogs are now a crossbreed between two species - with "pure" specimens seemingly impossible to find in the wild due to habitat destruction. Because the vast majority of these frogs are captive-bred, the possibility of them actually being hybrids is valid.

In other words, no one really knows. The lines of descent and relation between members of the Hymenochirus genus are widely contested.

For all intents and purposes, using Hymenochirus boettgeri is accepted. There are no differences in the care required for the animal and nomenclature is of little importance to the well-being of this creature in the aquarium.

If they are fully aquatic, how do they breathe? I don’t see any gills.

They breathe much like a betta or other anabantoids - except they cannot take any air in directly from the water; they must breathe atmospheric air just like us. If you watch a frog for a few minutes, you will see that they come up to the surface very quickly and strike the water. This is them taking in a gulp of air (sometimes, they will let out little bubbles after they take a breath). Then, they will frantically swim back down to the bottom - and they usually don’t care if anything is in their way! Rocks, plants, fish - doesn’t matter. They’ll zoom to the substrate.

Are these the same thing as African Clawed frogs?

Absolutely not! Clawed frogs get many, many times larger than African Dwarf frogs and will harm and/or eat even large fish, and will eat small fish. For more information regarding Clawed Frogs, look under the scientific name Xenopus laevis. (Note: Clawed Frogs are illegal in several states; be sure to check out the laws before you buy some illegally – without knowing it.)

How do I know if I have an African Dwarf frog and NOT an African Clawed frog?

The fastest way to tell is to look at their front feet. If they are webbed, they are African Dwarf frogs. If the front feet are not webbed, it is a clawed frog. A true African Dwarf Frog has 4 webbed fingers on each front foot and 5 webbed toes on the hind feet. Also, for the most part, there are no albino ADF’s. If you see a frog that is albino, it is safe to assume that it’s a Clawed frog. Yet another way to insure a proper ID of your frog is to look at the eyes. An Clawed frog’s eyes are positioned more on the top of the head, whereas a Dwarf frog’s eyes are located towards the sides of the head. It is important to look closely when purchasing your frog because young Clawed frogs are similar in size to young African Dwarf Frogs and can be easily mistaken for the dwarf form; it’s hard to see those tiny toes – look close!

But my supposed ADF has claws! Isn’t that a Clawed frog?

No. True ADF’s do have very small claws. They have three black claws on each of their hind feet. They do not use them to attack fish or eat their food, but they are useful to the frogs for digging and grabbing hold of surfaces to stand on.

The claws are evident in this picture of a frog lazily floating above a CO2 jet.

What kind of set-up does my frog require?

The best set-ups will be between 5 gallons and 29 gallons. The reason for these numbers is that 5 gallons of water is much easier to maintain than a smaller amount. If one can be very conscientious about water quality and sustaining consistent water parameters, a tank of 2.5 gallons would be acceptable for a frog or two. Tanks that are larger than 29 gallons can make finding your frog difficult since they do like to hide out, and because of ADF’s eating habits, they can be difficult to feed in larger tanks which can lead to starvation. It is therefore highly recommended that these frogs be kept in a tank no larger than 29 gallons.

Frogs, just like fish, are sensitive to ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. Therefore, these frogs require a filter. Any filter that is acceptable for fish is acceptable for the frogs. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting the filter: 1) Frogs are not very strong and can easily be sucked up against a very over-powered filter; 2) Small/weak frogs are especially susceptible to this happening and it is advisable to ensure that the filter intake is covered - their arms and legs can get caught inside and broken (unfortunately, this isn’t a rare occurrence). Sponges/small filter covers will work to cover the filter intakes. This prevents any limbs from being sucked in.

Frogs also require a heater. Temperatures between 70-82F degrees are acceptable, though frogs can withstand higher temperatures around 86-88F if unavoidable (during summer months, for instance).

African Dwarf frogs can be a little shy and require a few hiding spaces. Caves made from smooth, aquarium-safe rocks make ideal hiding places. Aquarium-safe pots, PVC pipe, store-bought ornaments, real or fake plants, and driftwood also make wonderful safe-spots in which the frogs can hide or rest. Without sufficient hiding places, ADFs have been known to become restless and unhappy - especially if the tank has bright lighting. If your frogs feel secure and comfortable, and know that they have somewhere safe to retreat to, they are more likely to exhibit normal behavior and will come out more.

If you are setting up a Frog-Only tank, you may want to consider using a smooth sand substrate. These frogs really like to dig around looking for food or making little holes to sit in. Sand is also very gentle on their skin since they are almost always in contact with the substrate. ADF’s, however, will be perfectly fine if placed with regular aquarium gravel - anything that isn’t particularly sharp will work.

But no matter what type of tank you use, it ABSOLUTELY MUST BE COMPLETELY COVERED. Use duct tape or window screen if necessary to eliminate any and all gaps near filters, heaters, CO2 lines, etc. ADF’s are notorious jumpers and will sometimes fly out of the water when striking the surface for air. These little guys won’t live very long on your carpet (they can dry out within minutes and endure a long, slow death since they breathe atmospheric air – it would just be a matter of time as to how long before their skin hardens and dries), so make sure that there is no way for them to escape!

To be continued...

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Superstar Fish
Part II

Can I keep more than 1 African Dwarf frog in my tank, or will they fight?

Keeping more than 1 frog in a tank is perfectly acceptable. In fact, if size permits, it is suggested to keep a couple frogs. Not only can be a lot of fun to watch several frogs interacting with each other but they really seem to enjoy huddling up together and having pals to play with. They are very peaceful towards one another and may even sleep piled on top of each other! You may occasionally witness what seems to be a frog-fight, but it is extremely unlikely that any damage would result. It is usually a situation where one frog saw the other frog move and thought it was food! After a quick taste, he’ll let go.

As far as how many can be kept together, that depends on tank size. A very general rule to follow would be that one African Dwarf frog is approximately equal to a small/medium tetra in terms of bioload.

Can African Dwarf Frogs be kept with fish, too?

Yes, although it naturally depends on the fish. Just as some fish do not get along together, some fish are not a good combination with African Dwarf frogs. Tankmates that would not be suitable are fish that are nippy (Tiger Barbs), are aggressive and/or have large mouths (most cichlids and any large fish that is capable of consuming a small frog), or stake out their own territory on the substrate (loaches/catfish). Fish that are suitable include most peaceful community fish: tetras, rasboras, otocinclus, corydoras sp., gouramis, bettas, etc.

Most frogs can even be safely kept with smaller fish such as pygmy corydoras and shrimp.

HOWEVER: Problems can/do arise when ADF’s are kept with fish. The biggest problem is that the fish will try to consume all of the food before the frog can eat - which will eventually starve the frog. Frogs must be carefully fed and monitored to prevent this when in a community tank.

I have heard conflicting advice about whether or not I can keep ADF’s with Bettas, which is true?

Well, that all depends. Normally, African Dwarf frogs make excellent tankmates for Bettas. Mostly, the deciding factor in this situation is the temperament of the Betta the frogs will be housed with. Some bettas will not tolerate anything else with them and will nip and bite the frog. Many, if not most, bettas, will only regard the frog with mild interest and will then move on to their own business.

Sometimes, people will say that their ADF’s are vicious and attack their betta’s fins. But! - this is usually a case of mistaken identity that may be easily remedied. Also, the damage that the frog inflicts is often unnoticeable - they simply grabbed onto the betta’s fins with their mouth and hung on for a second or two while the fish moved around, trying to get the frog off.

It is relatively safe to assume that the frog saw the betta’s colorful, flowing tail and thought “Mmmm. Dinner,” and tried to take a nibble. It is generally a very innocent mistake - a mistake that occurs mostly because dwarf frogs have poor eyesight.

This may also be an indication of a hungry frog. If your frog begins to bite onto your betta’s tail, simply start feeding them more so that they are not interested in trying to get a meal out of the fish!

What do I feed my African Dwarf frog?

Because the frogs spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank, foods that float are a very poor choice for frogs. Flakes will often get eaten by the fish before the frogs can get to them and will quickly dissolve into the water - which doesn’t do anyone any good.

Sinking foods, such as Shrimp Pellets, can be used, but they carry some problems. Because frogs cannot see very well, they must use their sense of smell to detect food. Much of the time, the pellets may dissolve into the water before the frogs find them (Foods that remain uneaten and foul up the water are one of the reasons some people mistakenly believe frogs to be messy. In reality, it’s the method that is being used to feed them that is dirty!). Some frogs may try to eat the pellet before it has soften, which can cause intestinal problems leading to bloat/blockage and possibly death.

One method that works well for both the frog and the owner is to use either a small turkey baster-like apparatus (or even the little suckers that come with test kits to suck water out of the tank and into the test tube), or a pair of long tweezers (For example: Tweezers like these). Tweezers have a bit more control than the turkey baster method.

Frozen Bloodworms are a great frog food. Thaw the worms in a small cup. When thawed, grab a couple using either the tweezers or the turkey-baster and dangle them in front of your frog. They will strike quickly and will swallow them whole. Other foods can include very small pieces of frozen krill (too big and the pieces can be hard to digest), peas, live black worms, earthworm pieces, or whatever your frog likes to eat.

PLEASE NOTE: Some people report that feeding freeze dried foods can cause bloat and/or death in their frogs. This is likely due to the frogs eating large volumes of the food before it is moist – the freeze dried food then expands in their stomachs and is very painful and can be deadly (similar to why you are not supposed to throw real rice at a wedding; the birds can eat the rice and die). Also, if possible, when feeding frozen krill, removing the “meat” from the shell (in the tail) and feeding only the meat can reduce the chances of a frog having trouble digesting the hard shell part.

Using a method like this one ensures that the frogs are eating enough and that the fish cannot get the food that is meant for the frog.

Feed the frog until its belly is rounded and full looking.


Superstar Fish
Part III

Do I have a female frog, or a male frog?

Sexing can be difficult when the frogs are young and very small, but as they become a little more mature, it is much easier to distinguish.

Males: Behind the front arms (on their side), males have distinct white “bumps” or “pads,” which are called “nuptial” pads and sometimes referred to as “Post-Axillary Subdermal Glands.” These somehow play a part in mating. While some females have small, indistinct pads, males will have very prominent ones.

Females: Females have small protrusions between their back legs where a tail would be and lack distinct pads.

This shows a female - Notice the lack of white pads behind her arms.

This picture also shows a female. Note the small bump between her back legs.

This photo shows a prominent white patch behind the arm of the bottom frog. This is the pad of an adult male. (Notice how they pile on each other!)

Can I breed my frogs?

Yes, it is possible to breed them in an aquarium setting but it is very difficult and many resources should be consulted to ensure proper care. The young are very hard to feed due to their small size when they are tadpoles.

Occasionally, you may hear a buzzing sound coming from your tank - something that sounds like an electrical hum or rattling filter. This is the sound of a male frog that is “in the mood.” Not all frogs will do it, so don’t be alarmed that your frogs aren’t happy if you don’t hear this sound.

Click here to listen to a quick clip of a male frog’s mating hum:

Click Here To Listen New Link, New Sound File; 800+KB but worth it.

Click Here to Listen to Another Sample - The old file. Longer, but less audible.

What’s that white skin hanging off my frog? Is he sick?

No, he’s probably fine. ADF’s shed their skin! They do it much like a snake. It will start in a few pieces (immediately before shedding the frog will look a little dull and his eyes may appear milky) and it will eventually peel off of their entire body. Sometimes it peels off bit by bit, other times it peels of in nearly one sheet! Where does it go? They eat it! A little unaPEELing, perhaps, but a nutritious treat nonetheless.

Here, you can see a sheet of skin coming off of the frog’s back.
He used his mouth to pull the skin off and ate it.

Some frogs will shed every week, some will naturally shed much less. It can often be hard to notice since they may do it in the night. Just don’t be alarmed if it looks like his skin is falling off! Also, some people confuse the beginning stages of shedding as a fungal infection. Please make sure your frog isn’t just shedding!

Frogskin left behind in glosso carpet after a shedding.

My frog doesn’t swim around very much and stays in weird positions. Is he okay?

Chances are, he’s fine. ADF’s can be very lazy creatures, and some prefer hanging around one spot all day. Some will hide in their cave, some will come out and balance on their two hind feet for hours. Some will float at the surface as if they are dead (Don’t be too alarmed at first. Poke them gently if you feel the need and they should prove to be quite alive.). Some will do headstands and some will practice odd Yoga positions. It’s just their amusing nature.

Are ADF’s okay to keep in my planted tank, or will they harm the plants?

Directly? No. Indirectly? Maybe a little. That is, frogs will not eat your plants. They may nibble at algae (only because they see a strand of squiggly hair algae as a potential delicious worm) or because they think a snail on the leaf might be tasty (until they realize that snails have shells!), but they have no interest in eating your plants.

However, ADF’s like to hide under leaves and may cause initial trouble if trying to establish a new ground cover such as glosso or dwarf hair grass, but once the plant takes root and grows, it will be fine.

My ADF isn’t fully aquatic like you say they are…I keep catching him trying to get out of the tank!

Every so often, someone will encounter a problem – their frog keeps trying to exit the water. This is an indication that something, somewhere, is amiss. Test the water to make sure that ammonia/nitrite/nitrate levels are where they should be (0/0/<40, respectively). If the water quality is poor, sometimes frogs will try to alleviate the discomfort by exiting the water (which is bad!). Another reason is that the filter current may be too strong and the frogs are trying to find a safe place. Whatever the problem is, make CERTAIN that there are NO gaps for the frogs to escape out of the tank and that the water quality, heater, filter, and other fish are all okay.

I have a biotope tank and would like to know where Dwarf Frogs originate from. Where are they from?

Dwarf Frogs are from the Congo region of Africa in Central and Western Africa.

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Superstar Fish

Other related links: - Focuses on diseases that pertain to aquatic frogs (specifically Clawed Frogs, but the science is the same for Dwarf Frogs). There are numerous links on this site to just about everything one could imagine. Most pertain to Clawed Frogs, but some are still worth a peek. - A somewhat technical article, written by Dale DeNardo, D.V.M., Ph.D., an Associate Veterinarian at the University of California, Berkeley. The article talks of amphibians for laboratory use, including the African Dwarf Frog and African Clawed Frog, among others. The important parts in this link involve the documented importance of water quality to amphibians for non-believers. There is also some detailed information on anesthetization and euthanasia using chemicals, physical methods, etc. (The information provided therein is not necessarily recommended or suggested to be 100% accurate or acceptable for the average home aquarist. It is merely provided for curiousity’s sake.) There is a large bibliography of amphibian-related publications. - A National Geographic Article (based upon a juried scientific study) on the very rare feeding behavior of African Dwarf Frog tadpoles, using extreme speed and suction to suck in their prey! A neat read!

The End :)

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Small Fish
May 13, 2005
The horror, the horror....... My oldest male frog just commit suicide today. He was absolutely fine for several weeks and appeared quite fat. I found him 10 feet away from the tank and dried out (damn tiny gaps in the hood for filter and electrical cords). He must have been scared by my wood airstone, co2 reactor, and two filters creating a vortex of current.

May 9, 2005
Thanks for the great info. You've helped me so much with my frogs! Unfortunatly like I told you one of mine died within two weeks that i got him. No signs before hand found him sunken and really pale. So now I have one taht sings EVERY night after I turn out the lights. Will he get lonely? Should i get another? And also, if i get another and its also male what will happen? Im worried about getting another that might seem perfectly fine then possible die. Do you have any tips on selecting?


Small Fish
Jun 18, 2006
thanks for the article! I reciently got a dwarf that was tiny, and i always thought he looked a little too thin. i was afraid he wasn't eating the freeze dried blood worms that floated on the surface of his tank. So i tried using long nosed tweesers to feed him directly, and it worked! Now i just look for that full belly and i know he's eaten. :)

thanks again,

I don't think frogs are not that slow growing. The dual-size scheme is just a way for them to make more money, IMO. Petco occasionally does that here with "large neons" and "medium neons", with the "large" ones being twice the price.

They will all grow to the same size. The "medium" one is just a younger specimen.

daughter said:
thanks for the article! I reciently got a dwarf that was tiny, and i always thought he looked a little too thin. i was afraid he wasn't eating the freeze dried blood worms that floated on the surface of his tank. So i tried using long nosed tweesers to feed him directly, and it worked! Now i just look for that full belly and i know he's eaten. :)

thanks again,

Whoops, I somehow missed your message and turtle's before yours.

To reply, I'm glad you've found a method that works!:) The tweezers work so well for feeding. You may want to switch to frozen worms, though, because of the potential for bloat with freeze dried foods. Alternatively, mine also realllly enjoy frozen beefheart that is broken into manageable pieces.

As for tips on selection, look for frogs with no fungus (preferably ensuring the whole tank is fungus free) and that there are no red patches or slimy patches. I would try to find a frog that is not malnourished and that looks well fed (this indicates it has an appetite)...but don't get one that appears bloated, obviously. Find one that seems active and if they go to net your frog and it doesn't put up a fight, ask for another one. You don't want a listless frog. Other than that, a little observation goes a long way. You could also wait until a few days after a new shipment comes in. Weaker frogs will die off first or will be caught first. Spunkier frogs would be more likely to live longer and to try avoiding the net with more fury.

As for the singing, it is not lonely, but it is looking for a mate. He seems to be in the mood;) You could get another - they get along fine. Of course, you could end up with another male, which wouldn't suit your current frog's purposes;) Two males are not a problem though, they are such docile creatures. You'll just have more singing!)