Updated: May 17, 2022
When patrons walk into a pet store to adopt an amphibian friend, many believe that they are adopting one or more little African Dwarf Frogs (Abbreviated ADF). Some of these individuals will eventually find that their cute little frog friends are now growing into much larger, much more “aggressive” creatures than were promised. Here is a wonderful frog blog with a few sad and a few happy stories about these mix-ups: http://allaboutfrogs.org/info/species/clawed.html
*Disclaimer* The author of the above blog does mention that one of the stories is sad, so please be cautious when opening the above link and reading through it. There is a sad but true story on this blog about the confusion between the African Clawed Frog and the African Dwarf Frog.
These are two different species of frogs. The first species is the African Clawed Frog. The African Clawed Frog, also known by its scientific name, Xenopus Laevis, is a unique species of aquatic frog that is found in specific regions of Africa (such as the Rift Valley, Namibia, etc.). The African Clawed Frog is about 5-7 inches, with the females being noticeably larger than the males.
So if the African Clawed Frog is so distinctive, why are there so many documented cases of pet stores mixing them up with the African Dwarf Frog?
Upon first trying to research the African Clawed Frog, I realized that there was not a lot of information about the species. It seemed like there was a wealth of information! However, a lot of it contradicted each other!
In a lot of the sources I’ve read, the African Dwarf Frog and the African Clawed Frog were lumped in together As a result, the African Dwarf Frog had more information readily available while the information on the clawed frog was limited. This had led me to believe that the African Clawed Frog and the African Dwarf Frog had similar requirements. Despite this belief, I decided not to remain complacent and continue to do more online research and take note of my own African Clawed Frog and his behavior and share it with the world!
Differences in appearance between ACF and ADF:
(African Dwarf Frog- Source: https://www.dreamstime.com/adult-male-african-dwarf-frog-image155246332)
(Our African Clawed Frog, Sir Froggy, resting on a hammock he seemingly crafted from some of the plants in the tank- 05/15/2022. No, this picture has not been edited in any fashion- yes, those are real plants! Rotala Rotundafolia Green in the back right corner, and two different unknown types of Java fern. If you know the species, please let us know in the comments below!).
While the two frogs do have some visible similarities, there are some immediately visible physical features that can help you to distinguish between the African Dwarf Frog and the African Clawed Frog.
Let’s Do A Compare and Contrast:
Eyes: African Clawed Frogs have eyes on the top of their heads, but the African Dwarf Frogs have eyes on the side of their heads. Sometimes, it may look like the African Clawed Frog has eyes on the side of its head, but try to observe the frogs in a resting or lying position. The Dwarf Frog will have eyes which are more forward facing, while the Clawed Frog will look as though they are looking up.
Size: The African Dwarf Frog is visibly much smaller than the African Clawed Frog. We have measured our African Clawed Frog at around 5 inches.
Feet: African Clawed Frogs have webbed feet with three black claws on each foot with 3 black claws. According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the black claws are not claws at all, but “cornified tips.” Source: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/african-clawed-frog
No, cornified tips are not tips of candied corn! Cornification is the process by which the cells of the frog’s skin begin to grow beyond the white of the other nails (made of keratin, much like the nails on our own hands). This process involves a series of biological processes, including gradual slowing of skin cell metabolism, pre-programmed cell death (biological programming!), and ending with the cell becoming injected with keratin- et voila! There we have the *how* of the African Clawed Frog’s cornified tips, and why they look black (dead cells)- not to mention that these cornified tips are waterproof! Source:
There are other differences, but we’ll get to those in future posts.
Isn’t it possible to consider the name “African Clawed Frog” a misnomer? When we say something is a misnomer, we mean to say that something is called something even though it isn’t exactly true or accurate. For example, a bald eagle is a misnomer because a bald eagle isn’t really bald! We call it that anyway because it looks bald to us humans from far away. In this same way, the African Clawed Frog looks like it has ferocious claws from far away, but when put under a microscope, these claws begin to look more like human nails.
According to Merriam-Webster:
A claw, by definition, has a curve downward, and is used in the act of hunting. Examples of animals that have these claws are cats, hawks, eagles, etc. If anyone has ever had a canine or feline (or avian!) family member, then you would know, those claws are sharp! I know if I tried to do something with my nails in the same way a cat would, I would likely rip my nail off. Ouch!
Then let’s leave the floor open for discussion- why do you think the African Clawed Frog has these cornified tips (like human nails) instead of claws like a cat? Should we come up with a new name for these wonderful little creatures?
Please let us know what you think in the comments below!
Thank you for reading, and stay green!
Darota (1999). African Clawed Frog . Frogland . Retrieved May 16, 2022, from http://allaboutfrogs.org/info/species/clawed.html
NA, A. and E. A. H. of G. (n.d.). African clawed & dwarf frog. Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital of Georgia. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://www.avianexotichospital.com/african-clawed--dwarf-frog.html
Harlan, L. skonieczny. (n.d.). Adult male African dwarf frog stock photo - image of male, dwarf: 155246332. Dreamstime. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://www.dreamstime.com/adult-male-african-dwarf-frog-image155246332
NA. (2020, July 7). African clawed frog. Smithsonian's National Zoo. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/african-clawed-frog
NA, N. A. (2021, March 1). Cornification. Biology Articles, Tutorials & Dictionary Online. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://www.biologyonline.com/dictionary/cornification
Webster, M. (n.d.). Claw definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/claw