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Breeding the African Clawed Frog

Clawed Frog PairHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The African Clawed Frog, Xenopus laevis, is an extremely popular pet and lab animal.  It is also one of the few amphibians that will sometimes reproduce “spontaneously” (that is, without being induced by artificial “rain storms” and other such tactics) in captivity.  Yet there is precious little available concerning how to breed this frog, or what to do if one is suddenly presented with eggs.

Natural History

Unlike most amphibians, African Clawed Frogs may reproduce at any time of the year.  This adaptation allows them to take advantage of favorable conditions whenever they occur, and is responsible for their ability to thrive as an introduced species in a great many countries.

Distinguishing the Sexes

Females are larger and stouter than males, and, when mature, bear 3 small, fleshy lumps around the cloaca (the opening that allows for the passage of eggs and waste products).  Males develop areas of roughened tissue along the inner forearms, known as nuptial pads, when ready to breed.

Inducing Reproduction

Normal fluctuations in room temperature, ample space and a good diet are often enough to induce breeding.  However, if you wish to assure reproduction, gradually lower the temperature of the water in your frogs’ aquarium to 66-68F for 4-6 weeks and drop the water level to 4-6 inches (be sure to filter well and do partial water changes, as ammonia will concentrate in the reduced water volume).  Then add water (68-70F) and, using a heater, allow it to rise to 78-82 F over a 7-10 day period.

After this mini “drought-flood cycle”, your males should begin issuing their metallic “click-click” calls and “gesticulating” by moving their arms about in what can only be described as “an excited manner”.  Soon they will begin to grasp at any frog in reach – if a male is grabbed, he will emit a unique release call and stiffen his rear legs in response.  Receptive females will be grasped about the waist in an amphibian mating embrace known as amplexus.

Amplexus and Egg-Laying

Most frogs utilize pectoral amplexus, wherein the male grasps the female just behind the arms.  Male African Clawed Frogs, however, latch onto the area just above the female’s rear legs, a position known as inguinal amplexus (please see photo of Dwarf Clawed Frogs in amplexus)Amplexus may last anywhere from 2 hours to 2 or more days.

During amplexus, the male frog changes the tone of his call, repeatedly tightens and loosens his grip and occasionally swipes his mate’s head with his clawed feet.  Related species such as Surinam Toads and Dwarf Clawed Frogs perform an elaborate, circular egg-laying “dance”, but African Clawed Frog pairs tend to just spin about in place or swim is semi-circles.  Females deposit 1-5 eggs at a time, which are fertilized by the male upon release.

When egg-laying has been completed, remove the adults as they will be hungry after their efforts and very willing to consume their progeny.

Amazingly, a female in my collection deposited eggs without entering amplexus, and a male fertilized the eggs the following day…please see the article below for details.

Observing Breeding Behavior

Despite their generally bold demeanor, paired African Clawed Frogs are extremely sensitive to disturbances and will cease breeding if disturbed by vibrations or a light suddenly being turned on (egg-laying occurs at night).  Also, crowding the frogs will inhibit reproduction.

A red or black bulb will allow you to observe the goings-on without disturbing the happy couple.  If you discover eggs one morning, watch your frogs for the next few nights as they sometimes breed over a 2-4 day period.
Clawed Frog Tadpoles

The Tadpoles

The eggs will hatch in 2-4 days at 80-82F.  Newly hatched tadpoles measure 0.4 cm in length and usually transform into froglets within 2 months, at which time they are 1.3 cm long. Sexual maturity is reached by age 18 months – 2 years, sometimes earlier.

African Clawed Frog tadpoles are among the world’s oddest. They bear tentacles about the mouth and feed by filtering micro-organisms from the water. Fortunately, they are rather easy to raise – please see the article below for further information.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.  Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible. Please also post your questions and comments here…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

 

Further Reading

Feeding African Clawed Frog Tadpoles

Video: tadpoles feeding

Odd African Clawed Frog Behaviors

“Grow-Frog-Kit” (Clawed Frog Tadpoles) 

Clawed Frog pair image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tim Vickers
Clawed Frog tadpoles image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Viridiflavus

6 comments

  1. avatar

    Nicely done page and very informative. Only if you would let us know how you separate eggs from the parents I’ll be truly grateful.

  2. avatar

    Hello Paul

    Thanks for your interest and the kind words. The easiest way is to have another aquarium ready and to remove the adults to it after egg-laying. Or, if you are planning to cycle them, you can move them to a separate tank for breeding, and then back to their original aquarium.

    The eggs are pretty resilient (they survive shipping rather well), so you can gently scoop them out if that is preferable. Due to the jelly and consistency of the eggs, a metal kitchen-type strainer generally works better than a standard aquarium net.

    Please let me know if you need any further information, and I’d enjoy hearing about your breeding attempts and successes. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Thanks Frank. So far we have only couple of tadpoles but like everything else I know it will turn into breading experiments. That just happens in our house when we get new animals and just kids love it. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

  4. avatar

    Hello Paul,

    Thanks for the feedback; what a great opportunity for yourself and the kids. This article has some info on diets, in case useful to you.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    So, I’m still confused, the female lays her eggs during the amplexus? How long is her gestation? Thanks for the article.

  6. avatar

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your interest. Gestation is usually applied to animals that utilize internal fertilization and give birth to live young; in African Clawed frogs, fertilization takes place after the eggs are released by the female. The eggs hatch in 2-4 days at 80F or it takes, from thso, longer at cooler temps. Females of most frog species produce eggs when stimulated by seasonal changes in temperature and/or rain. The time taken from the triggering event to egg production varies greatly…we do not have accurate info on most species. Female Af ClawedFrogsare unusual in that they are usually carrying partially developed eggs…when conditions are right, they can breed at just about any time of the year. This is one of the reasons for their success as colonizers. Please let me know if you need more info, Best, Frank

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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.
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