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Caresheet: African dwarf frog | Hymenochirus genus

Last Updated May 21, 2020
african dwarf frog care

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African dwarf frogs from the Hymenochirus genus are a small aquatic frog species. Their size and silly look have made them popular in the aquarium hobby, but unfortunately, there is still a lot of misinformation about their requirements.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about African dwarf frog care and keeping African dwarf frogs in your own aquarium.

Minimum tank size15 gal/57 L
TemperamentPeaceful
DietCarnivore
Temperature75-82 °F/20-25 °C
pH5-7

Name

Hymenochirus boettgeri, Hymenochirus boulengeri, Hymenochirus curtipes, and Hymenochirus feae are the four species that make up the Hymenochirus genus. The members of each species are commonly known as the African dwarf frog or as the dwarfed claw frog in fish keeping. The main differentiation between the four groups is their place of origin.

Natural Habitat

As their common name suggests, African dwarf frogs are naturally found throughout Africa with each species thriving in a different freshwater region:

  • H. boettgeri is native to Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • H. boulengeri is specifically from the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • H. curtipes lives in the western parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and into the Republic of the Congo.
  • H. feae is endemic to Gabon.

Here, their habitat depends on the season. In the wet season, you can find them in shallow rivers and ponds with calm water. During the dry season, they move to the flooded canopies of the forest. Their dark appearance allows them to camouflage from larger fish while they graze on plants and detritus above the substrate.

Identification

African dwarf frogs are small, brown-greyish freshwater frogs that grow to a maximum size of around 3 inches (7.5 cm). Although African dwarf frogs are commonly confused with African clawed frogs, there are a few easy ways to tell these freshwater amphibians apart. The pet you’re looking for has:

  • Four webbed feet
  • Eyes positioned on the sides of its head, not on top
  • A pointed snout with no curve or flatness

If this matches your frog, then you have identified the correct species for your tank! Sexing these frogs can be a little difficult, but females are generally larger and rounder than males. Males also have a small gland behind their front legs and may help your pet “sing” when it is ready to mate.

African dwarf frog requirements

Although these amphibians don’t have many requirements when it comes to housing and care, there is a lot of misinformation out there. For example, many sites list a minimum of 5 gallons (19 L) or even make mention of a “1 gallon (3.8 L) per frog” rule. This is way too small! 

African dwarf frogs are messy eaters and need quite a bit of water to swim in. 5 gallons (19 L) per frog is a good place to start, but these are social animals that should be kept in groups of at least 3; this means you’ll need an aquarium of at least around 15 gallons (57 L). Because they need to swim to the surface of the water to breathe air, a longer tank is more preferable than a taller tank.

These frogs prefer a habitat with calm water and lots of plants that offer coverage from larger fish and invertebrates. Avoid filters with very strong flow, use live plants for a natural ecosystem, and use hides such as these. Plant-wise, floating plants are especially appreciated and will be used by the frogs to hang out near the surface and easily go for gulps of air. Because medium sized gravel can accidentally be eaten and cause damage to the intestinal tract, it’s best to provide a sandy substrate.

Can you hold your African dwarf frog?

While they make for a great pet, these amphibians should not be handled. Like terrestrial frogs, aquatic frogs are skilled jumpers. They need water to survive and will quickly dry out and die without it, so be sure to always use an aquarium lid to prevent your frogs from escaping.

African dwarf frog tankmates

These frogs are often kept with Betta fish. Unfortunately, these pets are not compatible; the frogs are easily outcompeted for food and might be bothered by a nippy betta. The average betta fish tank is also not large enough to sustain a group of African dwarf frogs, so it’s just not ideal. You can find a list of better betta tankmates here.

Because African dwarf frogs are easily outcompeted and pretty vulnerable, many aquarists choose to keep them in a single-species frog aquarium without any other fish. If you do want to add other fish or inverts, go for calm species and avoid anything that can fit into your frog’s mouth. Schooling fish and bottom dwellers such as bronze Corydorasare a common pairing.

African dwarf frog diet

African dwarf frogs are carnivorous amphibians that should be fed a protein-based diet. (Thawed) frozen foods like mosquito larvae and worms, such as bloodworms and white worms, will provide the nutrients your pet needs! Setting up your own worm tank might be a good idea if you want to have plenty of worms on hand – it doesn’t require a lot of time and care and your other aquarium inhabitants will love regular wormy meals!

Keep in mind that these dwarf frogs are not the most skilled feeders. Just tossing food into the tank usually won’t be enough, as the frogs probably won’t notice. This can result in bad water quality and skinny frogs, so an alternative feeding method is needed. Target feeding is a good option: place the food near the frog using a turkey baster or a pair of tongs and make sure the food is eaten. Remove any uneaten food bits as soon as possible to prevent problems with water quality.

Like many other aquatic pets, African dwarf frogs will eat anything they can find and keep eating until all food is gone. Juveniles can be fed daily but adults don’t need nearly as much food and are prone to getting fat. Feed your adult frogs every other day or every two days to prevent obesity.

African dwarf frog behavior

African dwarf frogs are appreciated by aquarium keepers for their often silly and awkward looking behavior. They spend much of their time suspended in the water, resting on plants, or occasionally darting to the surface to breathe. You may even find them at the top of your tank in an oddly-outstretched position. Don’t be alarmed! They may look like they are dead, but this is actually a completely normal behavior called “burbling.”

Since they are nocturnal animals, they stay pretty quiet during the day. But when the lights go out, they become very active. They are especially clumsy while feeding and might be spotted making strange movements during their molting process!

African Dwarf Frog Care Guide

Breeding African dwarf frogs

As long as all care requirements are met, breeding shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. While imitating the rainy season can help initiate the breeding process, this might not even be necessary. When ready to breed, female frogs will become considerably rounder and male frogs will start their singing.

The male will start the process by tightly grasping the female. The frogs will then make their way to the water surface, where the female lays her eggs and the male fertilizes them. When the egg-laying process is completed the female will turn her back and remain motionless for some time. Don’t worry, she’s fine!

Be sure to remove either the frogs or the eggs to prevent the parents and other fish from eating their own eggs or fry. Tiny tadpoles will hatch after a few days and can be fed infusoria until they are large enough to consume other foods. They can be moved back in with the parents once they have completed the transformation to small frogs.

If you have any more questions about African dwarf frog care or want to share your own experiences with this adorably awkward aquarium inhabitant, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

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10 Comments

  • ReplyLouiOctober 6, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    Hi I want to put a few adf in a tank with shrimp and Pom Pom crabs it’s a 59 gallon planted tank would their be any problems there

    • ReplyJennifer DollOctober 9, 2020 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Loui!
      For the most part, African dwarf frogs and pom pom crabs are both pretty solitary and don’t move around too much. My main concerns are that the crabs are very small and could potentially become a meal for your frogs despite the frogs being relatively poor hunters. My other concern is that a 59 gallon tank is tall and it might be difficult for your frogs to go to the surface for air. Just as long as some of your plants/decorations create a resting area higher in the tank for your frog on their way up and down, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
      For the most part, African dwarf frogs seem to do okay with larger shrimp. Just be aware that your frog may also go after juveniles/smaller species.
      Also keep in mind that pom pom crabs are expensive. If you really want to try this pairing, I would make sure that there are plenty of hiding places and that everyone is regularly fed. I would also only maybe get one frog when starting out.

  • ReplyRutherfordJanuary 4, 2020 at 1:09 am

    So I have a 10 gallon tank and i wanted to get some ADF to put in it. Could I get 2 and then get 7 Pygmy Corydoras? And maybe add a pair of Dwarf Gouramis?

    • ReplyJennifer DollMarch 6, 2020 at 9:20 pm

      Hi Rutherford,

      I would suggest only doing one or the other: African dwarf frogs and the dwarf gouramis OR the frogs and the pygmy corys (maybe not quite 7 of them). Either of these options should work as long as you have good filtration and do regular water changes, but that is the maximum for a 10 gallon tank.

      Happy fishkeeping!

  • ReplyAndreaFebruary 25, 2018 at 5:23 am

    Hi, I’ve had a female African dwarf frog for about 2 and a half years now. Recently I’ve noticed that she won’t open her ‘hands’ on her front legs.. she keeps them clenched and moves and swims like that. She eats the same and behaves the same, she appears to look the same as normal other than that.. I’m just wondering if this is of any concern?

    • ReplyMariFebruary 25, 2018 at 12:21 pm

      Hi! That’s interesting. Have you checked ALL your water values, temperature, their diet and anything else that might affect her health? If everything is in the normal range then I’d say there is probably not much you can do and I wouldn’t worry about it. 🙂

  • ReplyJennifer LectoraNovember 15, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    I have 2 African dwarf frog 1 Black & 1 Albino
    They share the 30 gallon tank with 6 gold fish
    I currently noticed the black one has a cyst
    On the chin! I really need help figuring out
    What I should do next! Please any advise is
    Appreciated!

    • ReplyMariNovember 22, 2017 at 11:34 am

      Hello,

      I can’t really diagnose your frog without more information but I can unfortunately tell you that your aquarium setup is a bit of a mess. Goldfish cannot be kept with African dwarf frogs nor can you keep 6 goldfish in a 30 gallon. Fancy goldfish need 20 gallons PER FISH and common (single tailed) goldfish are not aquarium fish in any way, shape or form. They need 100 gallons per fish and should only be kept in ponds. So what I’d do before worrying about ANYTHING else is rehoming those goldfish as soon as possible. Almost everyone has a family member/friend/colleague with a pond, so if you don’t have one yourself you can try finding someone who does. Those goldfish should be out of there yesterday – they will die in there and so will the frogs if nothing changes.

      After the goldfish have been rehomed the frogs will likely feel better. Don’t add any other fish; as discussed in the articles they do best without any tankmates.

      Good luck! I really hope you’ll take my advice.

      • ReplyTed BInJuly 3, 2018 at 9:29 am

        I didn’t realize everyone knew someone who owned a pond? lol

        • ReplyMariJuly 3, 2018 at 10:20 pm

          That’s why it said ALMOST everyone 🙂

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