Even though frogs are known to spend most of their time in the water, they can drown. This may come as a shocker since frogs are adapted to breathe in and out of water.
Frogs, just like any other terrestrial animal, can drown. Frogs have lungs, despite being able to breathe through their skin as well. When these lungs fill up with water, they can drown. Insufficient oxygen in the water makes the frog unable to absorb enough oxygen for survival.
In addition to this, frogs can also drown if the water they are in is contaminated or has a high level of nitrates. High nitrate levels are dangerous for frogs since it means less oxygen in the water, leading to drowning.
This is especially true for aquatic frogs that need to keep their skin moist at all times to be able to absorb oxygen and remain hydrated. Read on to find out more about how frogs breathe and how drowning may occur.
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Frogs Breathe Three Different Ways
Frogs live on both land and in water and therefore have mechanisms to breathe in both environments. Despite this, when in water, they can still drown.
Frogs have three different respiratory mechanisms depending on their surroundings. In water, a frog breathes through the skin, a process called cutaneous respiration or osmosis. On land, they breathe through their nostrils, or via the buccal cavity through their lungs.
Note that frogs can breathe through their skin whether they are on land where they take in oxygen from the air or in water where they absorb oxygen from the water.
How Can Frogs Drown?
To be able to breathe and remain hydrated, most aquatic frogs need to be in clean oxygen-rich freshwater, or it risks drowning. Polluted, brackish, and highly salinated water is dangerous to frogs since the low oxygen levels can result in drowning.
Such cases are rare since frogs generally do not require copious amounts of oxygen to survive. Frogs are also cold-blooded, and therefore do not require a lot of energy. These characteristics help frogs survive in water with less oxygen.
In addition to this, aquatic frog’s skin needs to be moist at all times for optimal oxygen absorption. This is why it is rare to find an aquatic frog on land, basking in the sun, since this could dry it out. Dry skin can be fatal since it won’t be able to breathe properly while in water. Saltwater dries out frogs skin and this is one of the reasons they avoid it, although scientists are observing more and more frogs adapting to brackish conditions.
A frog’s skin is also paper-thin, making it very sensitive to weather changes, pollution in water and air, and pesticides. For instance, if poisonous chemicals are realized in the water, oxygen levels will be diminished. Low oxygen levels in the water may lead to suffocation and ultimately drowning. Chemicals such as chlorine in the water also irritate the skin, making frogs unable to absorb sufficient oxygen.
Therefore, any of the above mentioned factors: lack of oxygen in the water, inability to absorb oxygen, brackish, or polluted water, can make a frog drown. Frogs may also drown during reproduction if mates are scarce, the environment is too small, or if multiple fogs mount each other in an attempt to find suitable mates.
How Long Can A Frog Stay Underwater Before Drowning?
African Clawed Frogs can remain underwater 22 to 23 hours per day since they are fully aquatic frogs. Siberian Wood Frogs can survive underwater with low oxygen levels without drowning for up to 97 days. However, toads cannot live underwater and may drown if submerged for too long.
Therefore, how long a frog can stay underwater without drowning varies by species. Even though frogs have cutaneous respiration mechanisms that enable them to breathe underwater, they can only do so for so long.
How long a frog can remain underwater without drowning depends on the species, their environment, the water quality, the water oxygen levels, the water temperature and the thickness and elasticity of their skin.
That said, there are a number of other factors that dictate how long a frog can stay underwater without drowning. Here are some of them:
- Environment: Sometimes frogs drown because they cannot get out of the water. This often happens when frogs fall into people’s pools. This may also happen if you create a frog pond that is not sloped enough for tadpoles with legs, froglets, or adult frogs to be able to escape.
- Water Quality: Of course, frogs need fresh water free from toxic chemicals, pesticides, and harmful wastes. Water full of chemicals will irritate the frog’s skin, lowering its ability to absorb sufficient oxygen, possibly leading to drowning.
- Water Oxygen Levels: A frog can only stay underwater for short periods if the oxygen levels in that water are low. Low oxygen levels will force the frog to surface frequently to breathe through their lungs. Unfortunately, sometimes there are no ways to surface, especially when the water is full of waste, debris, ice (while they hibernate), or thick vegetation. In such a case, a frog will drown due to insufficient oxygen.
- Water Temperature: The demand for oxygen in warm water is higher because high temperatures increase the frog’s metabolism. This is because frogs are ectothermic, and therefore the temperature of the environment and water directly affects their metabolism. When frogs hibernate, the oxygen in the water is generally higher due to colder temperatures. They survive months underwater by slowing their metabolism.
- Skin Elasticity: Frogs have thin skin to allow for gaseous exchange through osmosis. The thinner the skin, the more effective oxygen absorption. Conversely, drier skin may impair oxygen absorption, ultimately leading to suffocation. This is a reason why toads do not hibernate like aquatic frogs.
Some frogs, such as the Wrinkled frog (Rugosa rugosa), have wrinkled skin for increased surface area for oxygen absorption. They can stay underwater for more extended periods without drowning, even when oxygen levels are at the minimum (CTNF).
More About Frog Breathing
Learn more about how frogs and how they breathe in these guides on our blog:
- How Do Frogs Breathe?
- Can Frogs Survive Saltwater?
- Why Are Frogs Amphibians?
- Will Tap Water Kill Frogs?
- Frog Skin: Everything There is to Know
Common Questions About Frog Breathing
Do Frogs Breathe While They Are Hibernating? Frogs breathe while they hibernating, although they slow down their respiratory system and primarily absorb oxygen and release carbon monoxide through their skin
Can Frogs Breathe Underwater? Adult frogs cannot breathe underwater because they have lungs and can down if they are filled with water. However, during hibernation, frogs slow down their heart rate and primarily breathe through their skin absorbing oxygen in the water around them.
How Long Can Frogs Remain Underwater? As a general rule, aquatic frogs can live 4 to 5 months in underwater or in mud when they are hibernating. During the Summer, they can spend hours submerged with their head above water breathing through their nostrils and skin.