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African clawed frog
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Pipidae
Genus: Xenopus
Species: X. laevis
Binomial name
Xenopus laevis
Daudin, 1802

The African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis, also known as the platanna) is a species of South African aquatic frog of the genus Xenopus. (The word Xenopus means "Strange Foot" and laevis means "Smooth".) It can grow up to a length of 5 in (12 cm) with a flattened head and body, but no external ear or tongue. Its name is derived from the three short claws on each of its hind feet, which it probably uses to stir up mud to hide itself from predators. There are 14 species of Xenopus with the Xenopus gilli being the most endangered.

The species is found throughout most of Africa, and in isolated, introduced populations in North America, South America, and Europe.[1] All species of the Pipidae family are tongueless, toothless and completely aquatic. They use their hands to shove food in their mouths and down their throats and a Hyobranchial Pump to draw or suck food in their mouth. Pipidae have powerful legs for swimming and lunging after food. They also use the claws on their feet to tear pieces of large food. They lack true ears but have lateral lines running down the length of the body and underside, which is how they can sense movements and vibrations in the water. They use their sensitive fingers, sense of smell, and lateral line system to find food. Pipidae are scavengers and will eat almost anything living, dying or dead and any type of organic waste.



These frogs are plentiful in ponds and rivers within the south-eastern portion of Sub-Saharan Africa. They are aquatic and are often greenish-grey in color. Albino varieties are commonly sold as pets. “Wild-type” African Clawed Frogs are also frequently sold as pets, and often incorrectly labeled as a Congo Frog or African Dwarf Frog because of similar colorings. They reproduce by laying eggs (see frog reproduction).

The average life-span of these frogs ranges from 5 to 15 years with some individuals recorded to have lived for nearly 20 years.[2] They shed their skin every season, and eat their own shedded skin.

Although lacking a vocal sac, the males make a mating call of alternating long and short trills, by contracting the intrinsic laryngeal muscles. Females also answer vocally, signaling either acceptance (a rapping sound) or rejection (slow ticking) of the male.[3][4] This frog has smooth slippery skin which is multicolored on its back with blotches of olive gray or brown. The underside is creamy white with a yellow tinge.

Male and female frogs can be easily distinguished through the following differences. Male frogs are usually about 20% smaller then females, with slim bodies and legs. Males make mating calls to attract females, sounding very much like a cricket calling underwater. Females are larger than the males, appearing far more plump with hip-like bulges above their rear legs (where their eggs are internally located). They also have a cloaca, a small bump between their hind legs where their eggs and waste are passed. While they do not sing or call out like males do, they do answer back (an extremely unique phenomenon in the animal world).

In the wild

In the wild, Xenopus laevis are native to wetlands, ponds and lakes across arid/semiarid regions of southern Africa. Xenopus laevis and Xenopus muelleri occur along the western boundary of the Great African Rift. The people of the sub-Saharan are generally very familiar with this frog, and some cultures use it as a source of protein, an aphrodisiac, or as fertility medicine. Wild Xenopus are much larger than their captive bred counterparts.

Use in research

Although X. laevis does not have the short generation time and genetic simplicity generally desired in genetic model organisms, it is an important model organism in developmental biology. X. laevis takes 1 to 2 years to reach sexual maturity and, like most of its genus, it is tetraploid. However, it does have a large and easily manipulable embryo. The ease of manipulation in amphibian embryos has given them an important place in historical and modern developmental biology. A related species, Xenopus tropicalis, is now being promoted as a more viable model for genetics. Roger Wolcott Sperry used X. laevis for his famous experiments describing the development of the visual system. These experiments led to the formulation of the Chemoaffinity hypothesis.

African Clawed Frog bw.jpg

Xenopus oocytes provide an important expression system for molecular biology. By injecting DNA or mRNA into the oocyte or developing embryo, scientists can study the protein products in a controlled system. This allows rapid functional expression of manipulated DNAs (or mRNA). This is particularly useful in electrophysiology, where the ease of recording from the oocyte makes expression of membrane channels attractive. One challenge of oocyte work is eliminating native proteins that might confound results, such as membrane channels native to the oocyte. Translation of proteins can be blocked or splicing of pre-mRNA can be modified by injection of Morpholino antisense oligos into the oocyte (for distribution throughout the embryo) or early embryo (for distribution only into daughter cells of the injected cell).[5]

Extracts from the eggs of X. laevis frogs are also commonly used for biochemical studies of DNA replication and repair, as these extracts fully support DNA replication and other related processes in a cell-free environment which allows easier manipulation.[6]

The first vertebrate cloning ever was done was of an African clawed frog.

Additionally, several African Clawed frogs were present on the space shuttle Endeavour, which was launched into space on September 12, 1992, so that scientists could test whether reproduction and development could occur normally in zero gravity.[7][8]

X. laevis is also notable for its use as the first well-documented method of pregnancy testing when it was discovered that the urine from pregnant women induced X. laevis oocyte production. Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) is a hormone found in substantial quantities in the urine of pregnant women. Today, commercially available HCG is injected into Xenopus males and females to induce mating behavior and breed these frogs in captivity at any time of the year.[citation needed]

As pets

Xenopus laevis have been kept as pets and research subjects as early as the 1950's. They are extremely hardy and long lived, having been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.

Due to incidences in which frogs were released and allowed to escape into the wild, these frogs are illegal to own, transport or sell African Clawed Frogs without a permit in the following US states: Arizona, California, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, Hawaii[9], Nevada, Washington state. However, it is legal to own Xenopus laevis in Canada.[10][11]

African Clawed Frogs are frequently mislabeled at African Dwarf Frogs in pet stores. The astute pet owner will recognize the difference, however, because of the following characteristics:

  • Dwarf frogs have four webbed feet. African Clawed Frogs have webbed hind feet while their front feet have autonomous digits.
  • African Clawed frogs are often found in albino varieties. No such morphology exists for the African Dwarf Frog.
  • African Dwarf Frogs have eyes positioned on the side of their head, while African Clawed Frogs have eyes on the top of their heads
  • African Clawed Frogs have curved, flat snouts. The snout of an African Dwarf Frog is pointed.

As a pest

African Clawed Frogs are voracious predators and easily adapt to many habitats.[12] For this reason, they can easily become harmful invasive species. They can travel short distances to other bodies of water, and some have even been documented to survive mild freezes. They have been shown to devastate native populations of frogs and other creatures by eating their young.

In 2003, Xenopus frogs were discovered in a pond at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Much debate now exists in the area on how to terminate these creatures and keep them from spreading.[13][14] It is unknown if these frogs entered the San Francisco ecosystem through intentional release or escape into the wild.


External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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African clawed frog (plural African clawed frogs)

  1. A clawed frog found in southern Africa, taxonomic name Xenopus laevis, that has some properties very useful for genetics.


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