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Can Frogs Drown? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Grant Piper

By Grant Piper

african dwarf frog (hymenochirus boettgeri) swimming underwater

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Frogs are amphibians, which means that they can live both on land and in water. That raises an obvious question: Can frogs drown? Many people will be quick to say no. Many times, frogs lay their eggs in the water. Frog larvae, like tadpoles, actually have gills like fish that allow them to live entirely in the water. This makes it sound like frogs are incapable of drowning. But that is actually not the case. Frogs can drown, but it is not a common way for frogs to die.

Here is everything you need to know about how frogs breathe, how they can drown, and why they occasionally meet this unfortunate end.

frog divider hepper

Yes, Frogs Can Drown

Despite being amphibians, frogs can indeed drown. The reason that frogs are capable of drowning is the same reason that humans are capable of drowning. We both have lungs. Frogs have lungs that they use to breathe, which is why frogs can live both in and out of water. If a frog gets water in their lungs, it can drown, just like a human or any number of other animals with traditional lung structures.

Frogs can’t stay underwater indefinitely. While some species of frogs can stay underwater for up to 8 hours, they do eventually need to surface again. Therefore, an adult frog can eventually drown in water if it can’t reach the surface to breathe.

Frog in water
Photo Credit: TomaszProszek, Pixabay

How Do Frogs Breathe?

Frogs breathe in three distinct ways. The first is traditional respiration. When a frog is on land, it can breathe in the air via its nostrils to the lungs. However, the lungs of an adult frog are poorly developed, and this isn’t their primary way of breathing, even when on land. Since frogs don’t inhale in the same way that we do, they can’t accidentally “inhale” water through their noses while submerged.

When the frog is resting outside of the water, a gas exchange takes place readily in the respiratory surface on the lining of its mouth. This is a frog’s primary method of respiration while out of the water.

The third way that a frog breathes is through its skin. This is how frogs breathe while in the water. The skin is capable of absorbing air found in water. The air is transferred through the skin into the blood, giving the frog the life-giving oxygen it needs to survive. However, this mechanism will only function if the frog’s skin is moist. This is why their skin is considered “slimy”; a protective mucous layer keeps their skin moist and functioning.

Although frogs can breathe through their skin while submerged in water, they do eventually need to resurface and can’t stay underwater indefinitely.

How Can a Frog Drown?

The main method of drowning for a frog is being unable to resurface. The amount of time that a frog can spend underwater depends on the species, though all species must surface to breathe. If a frog is in water with poorly dissolved oxygen or a current that’s too strong to surface easily, they may eventually drown. Injuries to the limbs that hamper a frog’s ability to swim properly, by proxy, might render them unable to surface.

Female frogs can drown during mating season. The mating system is known as amplexus, in which a male climbs on the female’s back and attempts to squeeze eggs out of her. If this happens for a prolonged period of time or with an exceptionally heavy male, the female frog might not be able to surface to breathe.

female pixie frog or african bullfrog hiding in the water
Photo Credit: Kurit afshen, Shutterstock

Can Tadpoles Drown?

Tadpoles cannot drown because they primarily breathe through their gills at this life stage. However, tadpoles will die if they are not in water (if they dry up).

Can Froglets Drown?

Froglets (juvenile frogs) can drown in much the same way that adult frogs can. It is important to house pet froglets in shallow water and provide them with a slope that they can utilize to easily exit the water whenever they want to.

frog divider hepper

Conclusion

It can be surprising to learn that frogs can indeed drown. That sounds counterintuitive, considering that frogs can breathe both air and water, but it can happen. Frogs do not drown as easily or as commonly as other animals that only breathe air or water. However, in the wrong situation or in perfectly wrong circumstances, a frog can drown like any other animal.

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Featured Photo Credit: Charlie Tyack, Shutterstock

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