While we all know there are a great many fishes that can add novelty to a tank, you might want to consider something different. Behold the African Dwarf frog. Fun, active, and impossibly cute, the African Dwarf frog can turn any dull display into a neverending amusement. Although this aquatic pet isn’t recommended for beginners, this frog will squeeze its way into the hearts of every type of aquarist!
The table below gives a quick overview of the African Dwarf Frog profile:
|Color(s)||Olive, green, brown (with spots)|
|Maximum SIze||3 inches (8 cm)|
|Minimum Tank Size||20 gallons (community)|
|Tank Setup||Aquatic (planted, with hiding spaces)|
Below is our African Dwarf Frog care guide, continue reading to find out more about its appearance, size, breeding and more.
African Dwarf Frog Overview
When we say the name African Dwarf frog, it actually pertains to four species of the genus Hymenochirus. Specifically, there is H. boettgeri, H. boulengeri, H. curtipes, and H. feae. While different species, the aforementioned frogs all have a primarily similar appearance. African Dwarf frogs are also known as Dwarf clawed frogs, because of the claws on their forelegs; and because of that as well, they are often mistaken for the African Clawed frog, a different species altogether.
In nature, African Dwarf frogs are found distributed along different parts of Equatorial Africa, such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Congo River Basin. They mostly live in rivers, creeks, and some forests. These frogs are small, fun, able to breathe atmospheric air, and live exceptionally long lives. First introduced to the world of aquariums sometime in the 1970s, African Dwarf frogs are now some of the most popular creatures in the hobby.
Truth be told, the African Dwarf frog is not the showy, striking presence you expect to see in your aquarium. As a matter of fact, their entire design is unassuming and for the sole purpose of camouflaging in the wild. African Dwarf frogs typically come in shades of brown and olive green. This seemingly bland color is also overlaid with dark-colored spots all over its entire body. Meanwhile, its legs and abdomen have a lighter shade than the rest of its body. Male Dwarf frogs are also generally very slim compared to females, and possess a gland at the back of their legs. This gland thereby forms an obvious bulge that is absent in female Dwarf frogs.
For both genders, these minuscule critters have the odd traits of not having any teeth or tongues. Indeed, they don’t use these to eat their food. Instead, they use their webbed feet for the task. Can you imagine? All of their feet are webbed, which separates them from the similar-looking African Clawed frog. They also have a more pointed snout, with eyes placed far apart, on the sides of their heads. While these descriptions may seem a tad disturbing to some, they actually lend a disarming cuteness to the Dwarf frog.
For those of you with limited space to spare, good news! The African Dwarf frog is probably one of the tiniest little frogs you will ever meet. These unassuming fellas are so small, most don’t grow any longer than 3 inches. Male and females don’t achieve the same sizes, however, as the female frog can be larger than the males by 40%! These females are fatter as well, and so the males end up looking a bit thin.
In theory, these frogs can live up to 20 years in perfect conditions. However, these cases are very rare. In reality, these little buggers typically only live around 5 years; under the assumption that nothing untoward happens such as disease or accidents. You might be encouraged by the fact that these guys live much longer in captivity than in the wild (no predators).
A couple of factors influence the lifespan of your African Dwarf frogs. These factors are all equally important, and must all be followed if you want your frogs to last you a long time. Firstly, it’s essential to get your dwarf frogs from a reputable source or seller. Many pet stores or breeders sell African Dwarfs that are already sick, so when you get them, they only have a bit of life left in them. Alternatively, buying from good breeders ensures that your frog comes to you not only healthy, but having good genetics.
Secondly, keep the water conditions consistent and optimal. Quite simply, the frog’s environment heavily influences its lifespan. Sudden environmental changes aren’t good for any creature, especially the African Dwarf frog. Last but not least, feed your frogs right! These tiny tots absolutely need a balanced, and healthy diet to thrive properly. Not to worry-we’ll discuss what you should feed your African Dwarf further in this guide.
African Dwarf Frog Care
African Dwarf frogs can be the very best addition to any tank. They bring novelty and entertainment that will get you perpetually amused. However, they’re not recommended for complete novices. Great care should be taken with environmental conditions, and diet, to keep these cute frogs happy (or alive).
One or two dwarf frogs can live full, comfortable lives in a 10-gallon aquarium; 5 gallons for each frog you keep. But if you’re planning for a community tank with other fishes and ornaments, you would need a much larger tank. A tank of at least 20 gallons should suffice, so long as it is a tank on the shallow side.
One of the primary reasons why we classify this frog as moderate in difficulty, is due to their water parameters. African Dwarf frogs have quite strict requirements, because they don’t do well in poor-quality water. In fact, many beginners will have a devil of a time trying to monitor these parameters all the time.
- Temperature: 68-78 F or 20-26 C (tropical)
- pH levels: 6.5-7.8
- Water Hardness: 5-20 GH, 4-15 KH
- Water flow: mild to moderate
The vast pH is actually more for your observational benefit. Dwarf frogs aren’t stern when it comes to the pH of their environment, since they can handle a wide range of alkalinities. What’s more important is you conduct 10% water changes weekly, and 25% monthly to ensure the utmost cleanliness.
With cuteness, comes great hosts of disease. Well, not exactly, but the African Dwarf frog is, unfortunately, susceptible to plenty of diseases. One of the most common ailments you might encounter with your frog is Dropsy. The cause of Dropsy is yet unknown, but symptoms of this disease can easily be noted. When your frogs have Dropsy, they become bloated and move erratically, as if anxious. Depending on whether it is caused by bacteria or parasites, Dropsy is sometimes easily treated, or extremely contagious.
African Dwarf frogs are also quite susceptible to both fungal and other bacterial infections. Fungal infections commonly manifest on your frog’s skin as white tufts. Upon seeing these patches, isolate your frog immediately, and contact your vet.
As for bacterial infections, African Dwarf frogs usually show symptoms like reddened eyes, lethargy and lack of appetite when sick. While easily treated with medication, it’s best to prevent these diseases altogether. Keep your water conditions optimal, stable, and give them a nutritious diet. Frequent fluctuations in your water parameters can stress these little guys out and make them more vulnerable.
African Dwarf frogs aren’t exactly fussy, however, you do have a lot to think about when setting up your tank. These frogs need some sunlight in their lives, so let them bathe in some sun for 8-12 hours. This is what is normal to them in the wild, but at the same time, keep your tank in a not-so-bright location. A screened lid or lighted aquarium hood should provide enough light for your purposes.
If you can, situate your tank in an area where there isn’t much traffic. People fussing about the tank 24/7 will end up stressing out your little friends, which isn’t good for them. For the choice of substrate, aquarium gravel should do well for your African Dwarf Frogs. Keep your tank well-planted; African Dwarf frogs love plants possibly more than anything else in an aquarium. It doesn’t even matter whether the plants are alive or plastic; they will still sit and laze around on the leaves.
African Dwarf frogs also love hiding places in their habitats. In the wild, these frogs are always hiding from predators, so giving them caves can help them feel right at home. When decorating however, it’s important to make sure your tank decorations aren’t sharp anywhere. African Dwarf frogs can be a little dumb, so they frequently get stuck on ornaments or accidentally hurt themselves.
When it comes to clean up and maintenance, get an aquarium heater with 5 watts of power for every gallon. Get an under-gravel filter or just any filter that’s capable of cleaning your aquarium 3-5 times per hour as well. Remember to pick one that doesn’t have a current too strong, lest your frogs be swept away. But don’t just leave it all to the filter. Scrub out the sides of your tank, ornaments and vacuum the gravel substrate every now and then to get rid of any algae buildup or food debris.
Food & Diet
Regrettably, these frogs can have a bit of an appetite for much smaller fish, and alternately, they can also end up in a fish’s stomach. African Dwarf frogs are slow-eaters, so during feeding, make sure their tank mates aren’t swooping in and stealing their food. In terms of their feeding schedule, keep to regular mealtimes twice a day. The food you give at each time should be food that can be easily consumed in 3 minutes or less. The best times to feed your little frogs would be once in the morning and once at night.
Many owners run into the problem of overfeeding these cute little amphibians, so set a regular schedule. Overfeeding your frogs can lead to a multitude of health issues. Keep to your feeding schedule, and make sure you give them a variety of meal choices. This will ensure your African dwarf frogs live happy and long lives in your care.
African Dwarf Frog Preferred food includes:
- Sinking pellets (frogs tend to stay at the bottom of the water)
- Brine shrimp (frozen or live)
- Mysis shrimp (preferably frozen)
- Tubifex worms
Mating & Breeding Behavior
Breeding is one of the easier aspects of African Dwarf frog keeping. In fact, they can pretty much breed even without your help. All they really need are good and optimal water conditions and a nutritious diet, and voila!
Steps you can do are to first recognize your male and female frogs. Females are usually fatter, and larger than the males, with a more pronounced genital area. Meanwhile, males have glands at the back of their legs, often seen as an evident bump. Prep your frogs with a sumptuous diet of bloodworms and daphnia to get them in the mood. Set the temperature at a higher than normal range, around 82F as well. These measures are usually enough to trigger their spawning.
What soon follows is a fascinatingly intimate mating dance. The male usually makes loud noises to attract their potential mates, and then the pairs embrace. As they dance around the tank, the eggs scatter all over. After the eggs are released, immediately remove the parents from the tank. African Dwarf eggs usually hatch within a couple of days.
African Dwarf Frog Tank Mates
These cute little frogs are generally peaceful. They’re social, but the best choice for companions would be other African Dwarf frogs, around 3 to 4. This does not mean they can’t get along with other aquatic species though. These frogs may be housed with other peaceful fish, with no trouble at all. The only mates you need to avoid are large, aggressive, or incredibly small fish, and you’re good to go.
Compatible Tank Mates for African Dwarf Frog:
- Cory catfish
- Tetras (Neon, Rummy nose)
- Shrimp (Cherry, Ghost, Bamboo)
African Dwarf Frog Temperament & Behavior
African Dwarf frogs are aquatic, but still amphibious. Upon adulthood, they develop lungs instead of gills. In fact, they can only stay out of the water for around 20 minutes before they have to submerge once again. The cruelty is that they can only stay underwater for around 15 minutes too! What’s a frog to do? This way of life seems highly inefficient, and as a result, these frogs are constantly going back and forth between rising to the surface, and getting back underwater.
Many owners make the mistake of believing that because of their lungs, they can take out these frogs for an indefinite amount of time. This can be fatal to your sensitive African Dwarf frogs. If you absolutely must take them out, limit it to around 5-10 minutes only. Unfortunately, these adorable little froggies aren’t the smartest of the bunch either. It’s very common that African dwarf frogs kill themselves unintentionally.
What you may also find fascinating is that these frogs have very funny habits. Watching them will never be a bore, as you can always find them doing something amusing. African Dwarf frogs can camouflage or hide when threatened, but when there are no threats in the tank, they are more themselves. Happy Dwarf frogs sometimes float around on the water surface, their arms stretched out, relaxed. They can also be quite noisy when they please, making lots of funny-sounding vocalizations.
While not beginner-friendly, African Dwarf frogs are some of the most interesting aquatic pets you can ever have. They’re quirky, fun, unique, and cute as a button! Truly, once you know how to care for them, all you’ve got to do then is enjoy your time with these immensely special frogs.
Note: Please consider the environment before printing this African Dwarf Frog care sheet.