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What Is an African Clawed Frog?

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  • Written By: Eugene P.
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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The African clawed frog is a carnivorous amphibian that belongs to the species Xenopus laevis. It is unlike other frogs for several reasons, including its lack of vocal cords and eyelids and the presence of small claw-like tips on some of its digits. The African clawed frog is able to change the color of its skin to some degree and employ a lateral line system to hunt in the water. Its four front fingers are not webbed and are unusually dexterous, allowing the frog to use its hands for catching and eating food. It is native to Southern and Eastern Africa but has managed to spread around the world as an invasive species.

The back legs of the African clawed frog have five webbed digits each, although only three of the back toes on each foot actually have the claw-like tips. Those tips make the frog particularly unique among amphibians. Its eyes are protected by a coarse transparent membrane instead of eyelids. It does not have vocal cords but uses other means to create clicking noises to communicate.

The skin of the African clawed frog is able to change colors, although the range is limited. The color-changing capabilities are used more to modify the pattern on the back of the frog to blend into the environment. The frog also change colors in response to sunlight to help absorb heat.

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In the wild, the African clawed frog lives mostly underwater but has the ability to move across dry land for short distances to move to another body of water. It is carnivorous and very predatory, usually eating whatever it can find, whether insects or other frogs. It does not have a tongue but uses a type of biological pump to suck its food into its mouth. It also has no teeth and will shred its food with its claws, if necessary.

While hunting, the African clawed frog uses its lateral line system when in the water. This is a sensory organ that uses very small hairs arranged in a line along the skin of the frog to detect small vibrations and movements in the water. The lateral line of the clawed frog is particularly sensitive, accounting for its reputation as an effective predator.

While African clawed frogs were once kept as pets in many countries, the practice has been banned in some areas. They are considered an invasive species, primarily because they quickly decimate local populations of other frogs. Their ability to move across land has helped them spread to non-native bodies of water in many areas around the world.

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