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How Do African Dwarf Frogs Mate? Vet Reviewed Reproduction Explained

Sarah Psaradelis

By Sarah Psaradelis

Hymenochirus boettgeri (african dwarf frog) Mating

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Dr. Ashley Darby

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African dwarf frogs are entirely aquatic amphibians known for their small size of only 1.5 to 3 inches long. The name “African dwarf frog” refers to four different species found throughout Equatorial Africa. The Hymenochirus boettgeri is the main species found in the aquarium trade as pets.

Aside from being easy to care for, African dwarf frogs have many fascinating behaviors that make them excellent pets. However, one of the most interesting behaviors you might observe is how they reproduce. Find out more below.

frog divider hepper

How Do African Dwarf Frogs Reproduce?

Like most frogs, African dwarf frogs reproduce via external fertilization. This simply means that the male releases sperm into the water to fertilize the female’s eggs once they have left her body. The mating position for African dwarf frogs is called “amplexus,”1 and it can last for several hours.

Male African dwarf frogs will embrace the female with their forelimbs to hold her in place. The pair usually move around from the bottom to the surface of the water as the female deposits her eggs. Amplexing African dwarf frogs can look very humorous, as the male will stay attached to the female’s back as she moves around the tank.

african dwarf frog (hymenochirus boettgeri) swimming underwater
Image Credit: Charlie Tyack, Shutterstock

About African Dwarf Frog Reproduction

Here’s everything you need to know about African dwarf frog reproduction and how it works.  

Male vs Female

African dwarf frogs are sexually dimorphic, so there are visible differences between the male and female appearance and behavior. Female African dwarf frogs are about 1 to 1.5 inches larger and plumper than the male. A mature female African dwarf frog will have a pronounced pear-shaped body, which fills with eggs when she becomes gravid. The cloaca of a female African dwarf frog is typically larger and bumpier than the males which is flat. This genital region is called an ovipositor.

Male African dwarf frogs are smaller with a slimmer abdomen. Male African dwarf frogs develop subdermal glands that appear as pink or white bumps on the underside of their forelimbs. During mating season, those subdermal glands will become enlarged.

Both male and female African dwarf frogs behave similarly, although males tend to be more vocal than females. The males usually produce a buzzing or croaking sound to attract females for mating.

side view of african dwarf frog (hymenochirus boettgeri) swimming
Image Credit: Charlie Tyack, Shutterstock

Sexual Maturity

Most well-cared-for African dwarf frogs can live for 5-10 years and reach sexual maturity between 6 to 12 months. African dwarf frogs can only reproduce once they are sexually mature. You can determine whether a male African dwarf frog is sexually mature by looking for their post-axillary subdermal glands, the reddish-white bumps that females do not have.

Mating Rituals

Male African dwarf frogs will sing during the night to attract females, which is when reproduction occurs. Their spawning behavior is triggered by seasonal changes, which can be replicated in captivity throughout the year.

african dwarf frog diving
Image Credit: Dan Olsen, Shutterstock

Amplexus

Once the male has attracted a gravid female, he will clasp his forelimbs above the female’s hind legs. The female African dwarf frog will become motionless, often staying at the bottom of the aquarium. This mating position is known as inguinal amplexus and encourages the female to release her eggs.

The male will stay clasped to her groin area for the entire mating period, sometimes up to several hours. Both male and female African dwarf frogs will release simultaneously and sit underwater between releases. The females swim upside down and deposit unfertilized eggs on the surface of the water. During this, the male releases sperm over the eggs for external fertilization. African dwarf frogs reproduce entirely underwater and should not be removed from an aquarium to prevent dehydration.

Once the eggs have been fertilized, the male will unclasp himself and return to normal behavior. However, the female might remain motionless for a few minutes until she recovers.

Eggs

Female African dwarf frogs are oviparous or egg-layers that can deposit hundreds to thousands during a single spawn.They are 1-2 millimeters in diameter.

Unfortunately, adult African dwarf frogs will eat any eggs or tadpoles they find in the aquarium. They show no parental care, so removing the eggs and tadpoles from a separate tank is important for their survival.

Hymenochirus boettgeri (african dwarf frog) tadpole
Image Credit: Guillermo Guerao Serra, Shutterstock

Tadpoles

Tadpoles are the larval stage of African dwarf frogs, and they are entirely aquatic and carnivorous. African dwarf frog tadpoles are tiny with oval-shaped bodies and long tails they use to swim. The tadpoles have a brownish coloration and may take up to 8 weeks to develop into their adult form. They effectively capture their food by moving their mouth in a suction motion and begin eating larger prey after a few weeks.

frog divider hepper

Conclusion

African dwarf frogs are fascinating amphibians that reproduce externally in an amplexus position. The male frog will attach itself around the female’s groin area and together they move around the egg depositing eggs and sperm. It can take several hours before the mating period is completed, and up to a week before the eggs hatch.

African dwarf frogs do not care for their young, so they may eat any tadpoles or eggs that are not safely removed from their aquarium.


Featured Image Credit: Guillermo Guerao Serra, Shutterstock

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