Mistaking one underwater frog for another is an easy mistake, but one with consequences. Most aquatic frogs in pet shops belong to two genera, Hymenochirus and Xenopus. The young of the species can look very similar -- but a Xenopus frog will grow several times larger than a Hymenochirus, and he may well eat other creatures in his tank. Understanding the difference between underwater frogs can prevent an aquatic calamity.
Congo Dwarf Clawed Frog
The Congo dwarf clawed frog (Hymenochirus boettgeri) has a temperament and size well suited for a community-style aquarium, which probably explains why it's the most common dwarf frog species sold in pet stores. It accepts most small-sized aquarium foods like flakes and pellets. This underwater frog grows to a maximum size of about an inch and a half; however, it can resemble a young Xenopus frog. The best way to tell the difference is the claws: dwarf frogs have webbed front feet, while Xenopus frogs lack webbing in the front.
Western Dwarf Clawed Frog
The western dwarf clawed frog (Hymenochirus curtipes) is another underwater dwarf frog sold in pet shops and on the Internet. They closely resemble H. boettgeri and requires identical care in the aquarium. However, their bodies are about 25 percent smaller than H. boettgeri and they have a slimmer build. They can also be distinguished from young Xenopus by checking for webbing on their front feet.
African Clawed Frog
The African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), also known as a platanna, grows to around five inches. This species is much more predatory than dwarf frogs. This underwater frog cannot be trusted with any fish small enough to fit into its large mouth. Some parts of the United States ban the import of this frog, since they can be invasive. When placed in a tank with other aquatic life, the African clawed frog is likely to outgrow and eat everything else in the water. It originates in an area of sub-Sahara Africa.
Western Clawed Frog
The western clawed frog (Xenopus tropicalis) is similar to its close relative X. laevis. Scientists keep it more often than amphibian enthusiasts. Researchers have used this underwater frog in research on developmental biology and genetics. Geneticists have even sequenced its entire genome. This frog originally comes from the Ivory Coast and Nigeria, a smaller range than X. laevis.
- Amphibia Web: Hymenochrius boettgeri
- IUCN Redlist: Hymenochirus curtipes (West Dwarf Clawed Frog)
- Smithsonian Institution: National Zoo: Reptile and Amphibian Fact Sheets: African Clawed Frog
- Amphibia Web: Xenopus laevis
- Wood's Hole Oceanagraphic Institute: Marine Biological LaboratoryL: The National Xenopus Resource
- University of Virginia: X. tropicalis
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