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African Clawed Frogs – the uncommon origin of a common pet

African Clawed Frog
I’d like to welcome Frank Indiviglio back to That Fish Blog for another interesting post. Although they’re amphibians, we’ve seen so much of the African Clawed Frog in the aquarium trade, I thought this was appropriate here. Enjoy!

I’ve always been interested in the process by which a species becomes established as a pet. Interesting stories abound, none more so, perhaps, than that of the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. Hailing from southern Africa, female clawed frogs were (somehow!) found to possess an unusual trait – exposure to a pregnant woman’s urine causes the immediate release of the frog’s eggs! Dwelling in a harsh habitat, females must be ready to breed on short notice, and nearly always have eggs ready to be fertilized. This, combined with the ease of maintaining them in the lab, soon led to their widespread use in the Hogben Pregnancy Test.

Millions of these frogs were imported to the US in the 1940’s, with many finding their way into the pet trade. Unfortunately, they also made it into local waterways, and today are well established in several states, including Texas, California and Arizona. Ravenous predators, clawed frogs have been implicated in the declines of a number of invertebrate, amphibian and fish species. Recent research also indicates that this species may responsible for starting the worldwide Chitridiomycosis fungal epidemic that is threatening scores of amphibian species.

Feral populations of African clawed frogs are also to be found in Mexico, Chile, France, Italy, Java, Japan, Indonesia, Great Britain, the Ascension Islands and elsewhere. Despite the species’ origins in warm fresh water, one population has adjusted to life in the underground wells of a castle in England, where the water rarely tops 50F, while another group thrives in brackish ponds (they tolerate 40% seawater) in Orange County, California.

These tongue-less, claw-bearing, aquatic frogs make fascinating pets (they are, however, illegal to own in some states). One kept by my frog-enthusiast mother attained 21 years of age, and the published longevity record is 30 years. Unlike most frogs, they will accept non-living food, and thrive upon Reptomin food sticks and frozen fish foods. I’ll discuss the care of clawed frogs and their relatives, African dwarf frogs, Hymenochirus spp. and Surinam toads, Pipa spp., in a future article. Until then, please write in with your questions and observations. Thank you. Until next time, Frank.

You can learn more about this frog’s spread into non-native waters at:

Thanks again for the great article Frank! If you’re interested in reptiles or birds, Frank also contributes to That Reptile Blog and That Avian Blog.

Until Next Time,



  1. avatar

    This article was very helpful. I recently obtained a very large aquatic frog the the pet store. They told me it was up for “adoption” and sold it to me for $20.00. They didn’t know the species or what it ate. I bought some crickets (5) and it ate them all. It’s fasinating to watch. It swims in our fish tank and hasn’t eaten our fish yet. The picture of the African Clawed Frog look like ours. Any other info?

  2. avatar
    Frank Indiviglio

    Thanks for your question concerning African clawed frogs. They are, as you say, fascinating to watch, and they make great pets. You should be able to train yours to accept food from your hand, and the frog may even swim to the surface in anticipation of a meal when you open the aquarium’s lid.

    Unfortunately, fish are a favored clawed frog food, and yours will likely sample them eventually (unless they are too large to swallow). This often happens at night, when most fishes become less active and are easier to catch, so all may seem fine by day. The frog may also harass the fish at night, even if they are too large to be eaten, and this will stress them. Please write in and let me know what types of fish you keep, and I’ll be able to give you more specific advice.

    If you decide to set your frog up in a separate aquarium, choose one of 15-20 gallons in size prod. This will enable you to keep 2-3 frogs if you’d care to expand. They breed readily in captivity and raising the tadpoles, while a lot of work, is quite an experience. Please write in for details concerning filtration and breeding if you will be getting another aquarium. A single frog will be ok in a 10 gallon aquarium, but lease see below re water quality.

    Clawed frogs have a near-suicidal impulse to leave the aquarium at night, and often dry out and die by the time they are discovered. They are escape artists and will find the tiniest of openings, such as the area surrounding a filter’s intake tubes. Secure such places with duct tape, and also be sure that the lid or hood fits tightly, as the frog may jump against it at night.

    The frog will produce more waste than most fishes, so be sure to check your tank’s ammonia levels prod often (the water can remain clear despite dangerously high ammonia levels). The most frequent cause of death among captive clawed frogs is ammonia toxicity. Be sure your filter is up to the job (prod) and do a 20% water change every 2-4 weeks. Normal room temperatures, or those at which you keep tropical fish, will suit the frog well.

    Reptomin Floating Food Sticks prod is a good choice as a basis of the diet, but as much variety as is possible should be offered. Your frog will also consume a bit of whatever foods you feed to your fish, as well as:
    Crickets – use ½ grown as opposed to adult crickets, which have a high percentage of indigestible wings and legs.
    Freeze dried krill prod
    Canned insects prod
    Small fish

    African clawed frogs are notorious gluttons, so be careful about overfeeding (the stomachs of obese frogs protrude). An amount of food equivalent to two small Reptomin sticks, given every-other day, should be fine (remember the frog will be stealing fish food as well!). Or you can feed smaller amounts daily, or 3 larger meals per week. In any case, a day or two of fasting each week is beneficial.

    Enjoy and please write in if you need more information. Please also look for my future articles on these interesting frogs and their relatives.

    Thanks, Frank.

  3. avatar

    If you feed your African Clawed Frog fish, do not feed them minnows or goldfish. They contain an enzyme that stops the frogs from absorbing vitamin B. Also, their spine can damage the frogs’ internal organs. Guppies, crickets, and earthworms are good choices when supplementing African Clawed Frogs’ diet with live food.

  4. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and for raising some interesting concerns that are often the source of debate and discussion.

    I was fortunate in having been involved in the incident that led to the discovery the possible nutritional problem with a goldfish-based diet during my early years working at the Bronx Zoo. It seemed that mata mata turtles in several zoo collections that were fed solely upon goldfish lived and grew well for about 5 years, then died suddenly. Necropsies revealed liver and kidney damage, and possible Vitamin A-related problems. For most fish eating reptiles and amphibians, goldfish are fine to use on an occasional basis, i.e. once monthly, but not as a staple.

    Frozen fish of any kind, used as a dietary staple for crocodilians and turtles, has been implicated in Vitamin E and other deficiencies; marine fish seem to block vitamin absorption when fed in quantity to fresh water animals.

    Live minnows are, in general, a good dietary item. Most are raised in outdoor ponds and feed on a variety of natural foods – their nutritional value varies with rearing location, but I’m not aware of any research linking them to nutritional difficulties. However, with the exception of a very few specialized species, i.e. the Surinam toad, fish should form only a small portion of the diet of any frog.

    Problems concerning damage to internal organs may be related to the fact that people often keep African clawed frogs in aquariums with tropical fish (many pet stores advise this), and like most frogs, they will try to swallow whatever they can catch. Many fish slow down at night, and become easy targets for the frogs – damage from dorsal and other fin spines, especially from catfish and some cichlids, is quite common in these situations.

    However, small minnows and, as you mention, guppies, crickets and earthworms, are fine to use on occasion. Stomach content studies of wild African clawed frogs reveal that they do consume small fish, and several under my care have lived in excess of 20 years on a diet supplemented regularly with small minnows.

    I have long-used Reptomin Food Sticks as the basis of clawed frog diets both in zoos and at home, and have bred several species while doing so. To this should be added ReptoTreat Gammarus Supplement and Zoo Med Canned Shrimp, along with the live foods mentioned earlier. They will also eagerly accept freeze dried bloodworms and other freeze dried invertebrates, all of which are important for increasing dietary variety.

    If you are interested in reading more about these fascinating frogs, please see my article on African Clawed Frog Behavior.

    Thanks again for raising these important points; please keep me posted on any interesting information you may come across.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    I bough yesterday a tiny little African clawed frog he is the size of half my thumb nail. He is so tiny that i don’t know what can he eats that fits inside his mouth. Then i saw that he likes to go on top of the tank to get air so should i buy a lily pad so he can rest and grab some air on top? my last question is that i though he might feel lonely and a companion would be a good idea but my tank is not that big, even though right now is pretty big for him. What should i do? thank you

  6. avatar

    Hello Ginette, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Your frog can be one of either 2 species, and as the care of each differs, it is important to first identify which you have. Look closely at the front feet (“hands”)…if the toes are webbed, then the frog is a dwarf clawed frog, Hymenochirus boettgeri. If they are not webbed, then it is a baby African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. (I would guess, from the size, that it is a dwarf frog, but please check as it could be either).

    Both are totally aquatic, and do not need to leave the water, although some floating plants to rest among are a good idea. The type of filter needed and the proper temperatures for each also vary, so please write back when you have identified the frog, and I’ll send along the information that you will need to get started.

    For the time being, either species will eat live, rinsed brine shrimp or live chopped blackworms, available at many pet stores. Dwarf frogs are live food specialists; African clawed frogs take a variety of prepared foods.

    I look forward to hearing from you,

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    Ijust bought a large goldfish to keep my frogs company. It bigger than both of my frogs but will they eat it? I ahven’t put it in the tank yet ’cause i’m still not sure please help.

  8. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Even if the fish is too large for your African clawed frogs to swallow, they will likely chase it around, grab onto its fins and make its life miserable in general.

    Also of concern is the fact that goldfishes grow rapidly, and excrete a great deal of ammonia into the water along with their waste products. This ammonia is invisible and odorless, but will kill your frogs if allowed to remain in the tank. Goldfish quickly outgrow most tanks are best kept in outdoor ponds…in any event, I would not put the fish in with your frogs. African clawed frogs are not at all social and do very well when kept alone or with another frog of the same size.

    Frogs also produce ammonia – an ammonia test kit should be used to monitor its levels in your aquarium. If you write back with details concerning the size of your frogs, aquarium capacity and the type filter you use, I’ll be happy to suggest a testing and water change schedule.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  9. avatar

    are african clawed frogs illegal in england?

    please help really want to get one

  10. avatar

    Hello Hugo, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Usually, the legality of pet species is controlled locally rather than nationally. For example, in the USA, ferrets are legal to own in NYC suburbs, not in the city itself; spotted turtles are legal in one state but not another, and so on. I believe the same may hold true in England – at least it did in the past regarding certain fish. I suggest that you get in touch with your local wildlife control or conservation agency. If you are not sure which agency to contact, try calling your local library, zoo or natural history museum for advice.

    African clawed frogs have become established in the wild in England and other parts of Great Britain, so they may very well be regulated.

    I’m sorry I could not be of more help…please let me know what you find out, thanks.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  11. avatar

    Ok Can they handel low brackish water? I have a goby(dragon fish) and I read it neds marine salt so I need to re do my 10 gallon to brackish and I want to know if I can keep the frog in the 10. Also I have and albino 1 in a 1.5 gallon is that tooo small for it?

  12. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    African clawed frogs cannot be kept in brackish water. There is 1 record of an introduced population (England) that has adapted to a tidal stream that is brackish at high tide. However, these animals probably adjusted over many years, and are likely able to move into fresh water if need be. Also, no detailed studies have been done regarding what salinity they tolerate. Other than a mangrove swamp adapted frog in Southeast Asia, amphibians inhabit fresh water environments.

    A 1.5 gallon tank is too small for your frog. Ammonia will quickly build up, even with filtration, and eventually kill the frog. Stunting is also common in small tanks. I would suggest a well-filtered 10 gallon tank at the minimum…female’s get much larger than males, and do best in a 15-20 gallon tank. Partial weekly water changes are important, even with a filter.

    If you’d like to send in more details on what species of goby you are keeping, I’ll try to provide information on ideal salinity levels.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

  13. avatar

    Hello Frank!

    So glad to have this opportunity to ask a very important question. I have 3 African Clawed frogs. I love them. I however have a problem with one of them. She is very skiddish compared to the other 2 and hasn’t eaten in quite some time. I am very concerned and at this point think it best to put her in her own tank. The other 2 will eat right from my hand. I always have to try to go to the bottom of the tank to get the other to eat and it just seems too stressful for her. I have a 29 gallon tank. I should also add that she came from a pet store that kept her in a very small travel size plastic thing for months upon months, who knows maybe a year, with like an 1 1/2 inches of water. As I stated she has not eaten now for quite awhile. What is the best way to reintroduce food to her without causing any digestive problems. I have never had to deal with a problem like this before. What do you recommened to feed her, how much and how often for she has lost weight and I am really concerned. Any information you can share to help me get her eating again would be greatly appreciated.


  14. avatar

    Hello Dannie, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    As you suspect, the frog’s time at the pet store most likely caused it a great deal of stress, and this is carrying over to the present. I’ve found these frogs to be quite complex and, as you have also observed, to exhibit differing “personalities”. Those I’ve kept in outdoor ponds change their behavior radically over the summer, and act differently when brought indoors (more alert and shy than indoor animals, better hunters, etc.).

    Yes, good idea to move the frog. Give it plenty of cover in the form of sunken plants and an artificial cave. Try not to turn on lights after dark – if you must, use the room light and not the tank light.

    You raise a very important point about feeding after a fast…this is overlooked by most people, Live blackworms, if available are a good choice; but do not use these if you have fine gravel in the tank, as the frogs tend to swallow the stones along with the worms. Reptomin is also easily digested, and can be used as a basis of the diet. Stay away from whole fishes and crickets for now.

    Good luck, enjoy and please let me know how you make out, or if you need further information.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  15. avatar

    I’ve been catching an odd frog while fishing for catfish with shrimp in riverside ca, and have been looking for images of and believe it may be the African clawed frog should I kill them as an invasive species, release them because they are cool ,maybe turn them over to the pet trade? caught three this week so there seems to be an . abundance of them

  16. avatar

    Hi David, according to Californiaherps.com African clawed frogs are banned for importation and possession in CA. As they are an invasive species, they can cause significant damage to native populations and ecosystems when they are introduced to waterways in temporate areas…contact your local wildlife authorities, they can give you the best course of action if you catch them and may be interested to know where you catch them if they don’t already know the frogs are present. Sad, they are cool (I have 2 in a large jar on my desk) but must be controlled for the good of native fish and amphibian populations as they are voracious eaters.

  17. avatar

    I have an adult african clawed frog (grow-a-frog from my classroom) that is a year old. And now have 2 more african clawed frogs that are new frogs (have probably been without their tail – maybe a month or less?) My question is when can I add these 2 little frogs with the older frog? Do I have to wait until they are the same size?

  18. avatar

    To be safe, if the size difference is dramatic I would keep them seperated until the smaller ones catch up. If they are close in size, and the older frog is not large enough to swallow the new frogs try putting them together and observe them…they should not bother each other in this case.

  19. avatar

    I have an african aquatic frog that i got as a “grow a frog” for my then four year old son… the frog is now pushing 22 years old. A friend had one that lasted 23 years. I have him in a 10 gal aquarium and he has eaten reptomin most of his life. i add a gallon of water about every 10 days. i just bought my fourth aquarium for him today (and a new air filter) because the old one is leaking. i suppose that i can work hard to keep most of the old water to ease his acclimation to the new tank. my friends wanted me to put him in a local creek…. mid atlantic region. i said no because i didn’t want to kill him with the wrong kind of water and didn’t know the impact he would have had on the ecosystem. Cross your fingers. Jolly has been a great little fella…. BTW, I have been feeding him 1 to 2 x a week the past few years. that may be the key to his longevity.

  20. avatar

    Hello Patsy, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the most interesting observation; great to hear of your success. You’re closing in on the record longevity for that species! I also appreciate the diet info – I’ve also had good luck using Reptomin as a staple for African Clawed Frogs, turtles and other aquatic amphibians and reptiles. Nice to have further confirmation of its value.

    Glad you did not release the frog – they are very hardy, but he would not survive the winter in your area; as you suggest, water quality, diet and other changes would also be fatal. Actually, clawed frogs are being investigated as a potential source of the Chytrid fungus epidemic that has decimated amphibian populations worldwide…they may be asymptomatic carriers!

    Good luck and please keep me posted; I’ll file your remarks for future reference and would appreciate updates when you have time.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  21. avatar

    hi. i own an african clawed frog. What should the ammonia level be? Thanks

  22. avatar

    Ideally keep it as close to zero as possible. If you perform regular maintenance the levels should remain low to none.

  23. avatar

    I find out really interesting that so many people use the reptomin turtle sticks to feed their frogs, I know from experience that they will eat them & will grow quite fast too. My first one is an albino female that was just a baby when I got her but i’m going to admit that I did some things I shouldn’t have even though they worked out for the best.

    Shr was originally kept in my 200 gallon acrylic corner tank with several species of animals including 3 large & very mean turtles that I only took because the person was going to just toss them in a pond here in Massachusetts. I never liked the turtles but took good care which caused them to be huge as well as vicious. The water turned brown after every feeding to the point that I couldn’t keep up. Long story short, I thought my frog was gone cause I could never see her & the damn turtles did their best to destroy the tank & kill everything in sight. I never bought food specifically for the frog for about a year. Fully got rif of the turtles, drained the tank and there she was in all her glory at about 9 inches long. As you know, turtles spit out more than they swallow so the leftovers accumulate in the corners of the tank, so she would gobble out all up & grew huge plus friendly.

    I’ve got more tanks & animals than I know what to do with at the moment but st least they’re all happy & well cared for. I even bred them which is super easy, I now have 2 adult albinos, male & female, 2 dark colored adults of each sex plus 15 juveniles after giving away a bunch. They are all in one big tank & have never been happier now that i’m doing things the right way.

    I have tons of info on behavior, feeding & how to keep them but I want to cross breed the albino with a non albino, is this commonly done?

    I can go to bed & have a thousand eggs in the tank by morning, they go at it for 12 hours on end, wish I had that kind of stamina, lol. I’m curious to know if cross breeding the two kinds is common, an idea of what the result may be and if the cross need ones are more expensive?

    I’ll be trading most of the youngsters away for store credit at a local pretty store that’s owned & operated by someone I know will give them a good home. Coolens Aquarium in Canton MA, just wanted to put the name out there because it’s a small but great place where all the animals are treated very well and he will keep any animal for as long as it takes to find a home for them. He’s got some rate stuff too.

    Of you guys like your frogs and have an extra tank with enough room then you should try breeding them at least one time. You can easily control the number so you don’t have more than you can handle. They will go from egg to tadpole in 24-72 hours depending on conditions and they will grow legs inside of two to three Weeks. Once legs are fully developed, you don’t even need to feed them because they digest they’re own tails. The albino tadpoles are totally clear & see-through, you can actually watch their little hearts beating and with each beat u r able to see the blood pumped through the few veins that they have. i’m not generally good at that sort of stuff but it’s so ready that it’s almost hard not to.

    Watching them go from egg to tadpole then into a cure little frog, is truly an amazing thing (very fast too), it’s honestly the best example of evolution that I’ve seen with my own two eyes.

    Too bad I can’t post a video or photos with this because my water frog tank has become truly impressive.

    Thanks for all the good info on this board & site, good stuff! I look forward to hearingyour take on the cross breeding too.

    Over the last two or three years I’ve learned so much anout these frogs

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.