Can Frogs Breathe Underwater?

Written by Katelynn Sobus
Updated: November 28, 2022
© tim elliott/Shutterstock.com
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Frogs are fascinating amphibians who go through a lot of evolution throughout their lives, from tadpoles who breathe through gills to full-grown frogs with developed lungs.

Although land frogs have lungs, not gills, they can still breathe underwater through their skin. This incredible talent allows them to stay beneath the water for 4-7 hours on average, and up to months during hibernation!

Let’s learn more about frogs and how they breathe below—we’ll talk about underwater breathing, how long a frog can survive without oxygen, and more.

Can Frogs Breathe Underwater?

What Do Bullfrogs Eat?
As amphibians, frogs can breathe through their skin.

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Frogs are born with gills, which allow them to breathe underwater as tadpoles. As they age, however, the frogs lose their gills and develop lungs. Frogs can also breathe through their skin.

Their unique skin allows frogs to breathe underwater so long as there is enough oxygen. In waters with low oxygen levels, or if a frog breathes water into their lungs, they will drown.

How Long Can Frogs Stay Underwater?

Frogs can stay underwater as long as they can hold their breath. Like humans, frogs will drown if they inhale water into their lungs.

It varies by species, but most frogs can stay underwater for 4-7 hours at most. At that point, they’ll have to resurface for air.

The reason frogs are excellent at holding their breath is that their bodies can still take in oxygen while they do so.

There are exceptions to this, however, one of which is hibernation! Hibernating frogs may dwell at the bottom of a body of water, at the top of the muddy floor, for months during freezing temperatures.

This is because their metabolism slows down during hibernation, allowing them to get by without breathing through their lungs for longer periods.

The next exception is that some frogs live underwater their entire lives. They don’t lose their gills or develop lungs, so they can stay underwater forever—but they can’t breathe at all above the surface.

How Long can a Frog Survive Without Oxygen?

Semi-Aquatic Frogs - Zaire Dwarf Clawed Frog
Some frogs have evolved to live their entire lives underwater. They never lose their gills or develop lungs.

©Dan Olsen/Shutterstock.com

Oxygen is essential for all living creatures. It’s important not to mistake frogs’ ability to hold their breath for them not needing oxygen at all!

Most frog species cannot live even 5-7 days without oxygen. Studies of the Siberian wood frog, however, have shown that the species can withstand long periods at very low oxygen levels. They likely adapted this way to tolerate underwater conditions during hibernation.

Breathing through the Skin: Is it Bad to Hold Frogs?

Frogs can breathe through their lungs on land, but can also use their skin to aid in processing oxygen.

©Krisda Ponchaipulltawee/Shutterstock.com

Frogs can breathe through their skin for a few reasons:

  • Their skin is very thin
  • It contains many blood vessels
  • Mucus glands keep the frog’s skin moist on land

Although frogs can breathe through their lungs on land, they also use their skin to aid them in processing oxygen. They rely on the mucus on their bodies to help them with this!

Handling frogs can be dangerous for both frogs and humans in various ways. Human risks include poisonous frogs and the risk of Salmonella, which is carried by frogs as well as many other amphibians and reptiles.

It’s also important not to handle a frog’s poop with bare hands for this reason, and to always wash your hands after cleaning a pet frog’s enclosure.

Next up are the risks to handling frogs for the frog, which include:

  • Your hands naturally contain salt, which can injure a frog.
  • Dry hands can be detrimental to a frog during handling.
  • Handling a frog wrongly can injure their organs since they are sensitive animals with thin skin.

If you must handle a frog, wear clean, powderless gloves and moisten your hands. Handle them gently and support their weight evenly, but don’t pick them up by their stomachs as this can injure or kill them.

Keep your handling brief, as it can be stressful for the frog. They aren’t animals that love to cuddle or bond with humans, and it’s best to limit your handling to times when it’s strictly necessary.

Lastly, wash your hands thoroughly when you’re done handling a frog to keep yourself safe.

Can Frogs Live in a Fish Tank?

Lizard and Amphibian Vivarium Enclosure - Frog Enclosure
Vivariums are excellent environments for pet tree frogs.

©Dirk Ercken/Shutterstock.com

Aquatic frogs can live in a fish tank, but land or tree frogs will need to be provided with a vivarium, not an aquarium.

When looking at aquatic frogs for your fish tank, carefully consider tank size and tank mates. When it comes to tank size, bigger is always better—but make sure to have at least the minimum gallons needed for your frog species, plus any other animals you’ll be adding.

If you already have a tank you’d like to add a frog to, this can be trickier. Choose a frog that’s a similar size to your fish, so that it cannot eat its tank mates or be eaten.

Make sure your fish and frog species can co-exist peacefully. Some fish cannot be kept with frogs, and vice versa. You’ll have to put in a lot of research to create a harmonious group within your tank.

Many people choose the African Dwarf Frog for their tanks since it is a small frog that doesn’t tend to bully or eat fish.

Of course, you also want to quarantine any new animals before adding them to the tank, whether you adopt your fish or your frog first.

This will ensure they don’t spread disease to one another, and that your tank stays healthy and happy. There’s nothing worse than adding a new, sick tank mate to an aquarium full of animals, and that disease killing off your entire tank.


The Featured Image

Northern Leopard Frog in a pond
© tim elliott/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm an animal writer of four years with a primary focus on educational pet content. I want our furry, feathery, and scaley friends to receive the best care possible! In my free time, I'm usually outdoors gardening or spending time with my nine rescue pets.

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