How to set up a tank for ACF African Clawed Frogs (A.K.A. Grow-a-frogs)

One of my frogs

My frog Sheldon at 6 months of age in a 20 gallon tank with yellow substrate and smooth fake plants.
My frog Sheldon at 6 months of age in a 20 gallon tank with yellow substrate and smooth fake plants.

Creating a SAFE and fun home.

African Clawed Frogs (ACFs) are a very interesting creature. Scientists use them to assist in cancer research. Teachers use them to show growth and anatomy as these little tadpoles have clear skin when young. It is really a wonderful sight to see their little silver hearts beating. But the care and keeping of these frogs is anything but basic. Storms frequently cause many to jump and escape their homes, putting them at risk for dehydration and disease. Too small of gravel can be accidentally swallowed causing painful blockages. Bubblers can cause health issues and feel like a jack hammer on their sensitive skin.

ACFs are great and rewarding pets, but giving them a good environment is crucial to ensure a happy healthy life.

First of all, tank size. Many people get their ACF through a Grow-a-frog kit. These kits are not the best for raising a tadpole, and they are certainly not fit for an adult. These adult amphibians can grow up to the size of a dinner plate, and have lived for up to 25 years. If you must you can transfer to larger tanks as your frog grows, but it is far healthier to just buy the right size when you start. At the absolute minimum, each frog needs 10 gallons of water completely to themselves. These frogs are social creatures, so a 25 gallon or higher would be fine for two frogs. Longer shorter tanks are preferred, as they provide more ground and air access and the frogs don't have to swim as far to reach the surface.

Filtration is the next step. Filtration is very important to prevent the water from getting dangerous levels of nitrates and nitrites. It is also a little tricky with ACFs, as they use small sensory organs in the skin instead of ears to determine balance and spatial location. Do not use undergravel filters, or filters powered by an air pump of any sort, because these create vibrations that are painful and confusing to the frog. Biomechanical filters are the best, especially ones that allow for a short waterfall type effect, such as a whisper filter. Again large waterfalls can cause too much water movement and feel undesirable to your pet.

Water should be kept at a pH of 6.5 - 7.5, but rapid changes in pH should be avoided. There temperature should be should be around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. If your room temperature drops below 70 degrees, a heater should be used. Ammonia levels should be kept to a minimum with regular partial water changes (10-25% based on how frequently you change).

There are several options available for substrates. Sand is a great option, but it is more difficult to clean. Tank bottoms can be left bare, with a cloth or colored paper under the tank to give the frog the impression of a floor. Bare bottom tanks are easiest to clean. River rocks are also a good option. Regular gravel should not be used as frogs can swallow regular gavel and the can die from impaction.If you think your frog may have swallowed a piece of gravel feed it some skinned peas as this will increase the frogs chance of passing the gravel and seek help from a vet ASAP.

Decorations are the next part. ACFs need to have hiding spaces. Caves and overturned terra cotta pots are a good way to provide this. Plants are also very welcome, but be careful that none have sharp edges. ACFs and live plants are a tricky combination, as ACFs will eat most live plants. Anubias are good live plants to keep with frogs; silk plants are the best fake type. Many frogs also appreciate a fake lily pad to hid under.

Lighting is not necessary for ACFs, but a tank lid is absolutely vital to keeping your frog safe. The lid should securely sit on top of the tank with no holes big enough for the frog to jump out.

On July 10th last year, a major thunderstorm came into town around midnight. I sat up in my living room on my laptop, unable to sleep. Suddenly a splash of moisture hit my hand and a giant shadow took over my screen. My frog, Penny, had jumped out of the tank through a hole in her tank. The change in barometric pressure had excited her enough to start jumping, and she came right out the top. Thankfully I caught her and put her back in her tank, but many similar stories don't end so well. ACFs are aquatic frogs, and with each hour they spend out of water, their risk for fatal dehydration. This is why it is important to make sure your lid is escape proof.

If you do choose to light your tank, make sure to turn it off for at least 8 hours at night. ACFs don't have eyelids, but rather a clear horn like cover. Constant bright light can cause damage to the eye itself. Full time light also encourages algae growth.

Once your tank is set up, be sure to cycle the tank BEFORE adding frogs. Cycling a tank with a frog in it can cause skin burns or death.

If you wish to add tankmates to your frog tank, be careful. ACFs will eat anything that fits in their mouth, and goldfish and minnows are toxic to ACFs, and any fish with spines such as a pleco or corycat can damage their digestive tract. Guppies and ghost shrimp are great tank mates, if you don't mind them becoming snacks as the frog grows. If you put anything else living in the tank, make sure to add enough water volume to the tank size.

It is also VERY important to check your local laws in regard to keeping an ACF. They are illegal in many states because people were releasing them into the wild, which has had detrimental effects on the wildlife in the frogs new habitat.

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