Pet Profile: African Clawed Frogs
The African Clawed Frog (scientific name Xenopus laevis) is a species of fully aquatic frog native to, as their name suggests, South Africa. Easy to breed in captivity, these frogs are commonly used in laboratory research and are relatively popular aquarium pets.
African Clawed Frogs (ACF's) are fully aquatic, living their entire lives under water. When they are young, they are sometimes mistaken for the much smaller aquatic frog the African Dwarf Frog. The main difference between the two species is their adult sizes. Dwarf frogs stay small, at about 2 inches long, while the African Clawed Frogs can reach a length of up to 5 inches. One way to tell the difference between a dwarf and a clawed frog, even when young, is to look at the hind feet. African Clawed Frogs are called clawed frogs due to the presence of three short, usually black, claws on each hind foot. ACF's are the only species of amphibians to have claws.
African Clawed Frogs have no teeth or tongues. They use their forward facing front legs and hands to push food into their mouths. Their muscular hind legs face backwards and make these frogs powerful swimmers. ACF's do not have ears, but have a highly developed lateral line system that helps them to sense vibrations in the water. They use their lateral line system, sense of smell, and sensitive fingers to hunt for food. ACF's are scavengers and will eat just about anything they can fit inside their mouths. Regular ACF's can be a greyish/green color, with blotches of olive gray or sometimes brown. Their stomachs are a white/yellowish color. Albino ACF's are also commonly sold in pet stores.
ACF's in captivity have been recorded, with optimal care, to live well into their 30's. The male frogs are smaller than the females, with a slimmer more stream lined appearance. Females are more bulky and usually around 20% larger than the males. Both the males and females of this species can make sounds, the females usually only calling in response to a male. Their vocalizations have been described as sounding similar to a cricket. After breeding, female frogs lay eggs which develop into tadpoles and then frogs in the fashion of other types of frogs.
ACF's are commonly used in laboratory experiments as a model organism. ACF's where the first vertebrate to ever be cloned. Several of these frogs where present on the space shuttle Endeavour (1992) as part of a reproduction in space study. Before the invention of modern pregnancy tests, female African Clawed Frogs could be injected with the urine from a potentially pregnant women. If the human women was indeed pregnant, the female frog injected with her urine would begin to produce eggs.
These frogs have been kept as pets since around the 1950's. However, most likely due to being released by pet owners who no longer wanted to care for them, ACF's have become an invasive species in many areas and devastate native populations of frogs and other species. Because of this, these frogs are illegal to own without a permit in Arizona, California, New Jersey, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon, North Carolina, Virgina, Nevada, Hawaii, and Washington state.