Yesterday I sat in my garden when I watched a frog swimming in my little pond. That’s when I asked myself if frogs could breathe underwater and if so, how long and could they drown? I know that we humans cannot breathe underwater… As a kid, I once tried to inhale when I was underwater and I can tell you for sure that we can’t. But with frogs, I didn’t know the answer. So I did my research and this is what I found.
So, can frogs breath underwater? Yes, frogs can breathe underwater. They do this by absorbing oxygen through their skin and can so be in the water for a very long time. They can use this to avoid predators for example. Frogs can stay underwater indefinitely if needed.
Frogs Breathing underwater
Now let us dive (pun intended) a little deeper into the matter. As you might know, all frogs go through a growing up phase (also called metamorphosis). They go from the larval stage to being a tadpole and eventually grow into adult frogs. In the early stage (as tadpoles) frogs have gills and can breathe underwater this way. As they mature, frogs lose their gills and are able to draw in oxygen through their skin.
What happens exactly?
First, you need to know that frogs have functional lungs, but most of the respiration occurs through the skin. The skin is perfect for this because it is thin and marbled with blood vessels and capillaries that lie close to the surface. The skin dissolves oxygen from the water (or the air when the frog is on land) and transmits this into the blood.
When do frogs use their lungs?
Frogs only rely on their lungs to breathe when they are in action mode. When they need more oxygen than the skin can give. You can say that frogs only use their lungs when it is necessary. When it isn’t necessary, they use their skin to breathe.
If you compare them with other amphibians, you would notice that frogs have lungs that are better developed than other amphibians and that they are quite complex. The lungs are subdivided and contain many alveoli (this is a general anatomical term for a concave cavity or pit).
We as humans (and other mammals) use our diaphragm to control our breathing. Frogs use their mouth and nostrils to control the air and to get air into their lungs. This is what happens when a frog breathes: A frog breathes in and the lower portion of the mouth lowers and this way it relaxes its throat.
Then, when relaxed, the frog opens its nostrils so that the air can flow into the mouth and the throat. When this happens he contracts his mouth and this way he forces the air into the lungs. Quite a nifty system huh!?
Can the mouth also breathe?
The above section has covered this already a bit. When a frog breathes with its lungs, the mouth plays a big role in it. Opening and relaxing the mouth gives frogs the ability to get enough air into their bodies so that they can survive. I find it a funny fact that they then contract the floor of their mouth to force the air into their lungs!
Can Frogs Drown?
This is the sadder part of this article, but unfortunately, I have to say that indeed frogs can drown. It is not a fun part to talk about, but you have to know. You now know that frogs have lungs just like we do, and if their lungs fill with water they can drown (just like we can do when water comes into our lungs).
You might think: but frogs breathe through their skin, right? Yes, they do! But if they are underwater and there isn’t enough oxygen there, they sure can drown. This doesn’t mean that you have to save every frog that you see laying on the bottom of a pond, let it stay there! But you have to know that frogs can drown.
Which amphibians can also breathe underwater?
Now that you know that frogs can breathe underwater, you might find it interesting to know which other amphibians can do that!
Now, you know that frogs can breathe underwater so we don’t have to mention that anymore.
Some aquatic salamanders have gills and can breathe underwater. There are also aquatic salamanders like the Mexican Axolotl that never love their gills!
All larvae (all tadpoles) can breathe underwater. It is only when they go through metamorphosis that some amphibian species lose the ability to breathe underwater.
Sea turtles still breathe air but they are normally only going on land when they have to lay eggs.
Good to know is the fact that not all amphibians can breathe underwater. However, the ones that can not do that, can hold their breath for hours if needed and so it can appear as if they can breathe underwater.
But some amphibians can’t do that either. Take the alligator, the alligator usually holds its breathe for 15 minutes before he comes up the get some air.
Fun fact: There are lungless salamanders that have neither lungs nor gills… They just breathe through their skin!
Can frogs breathe out of the water? and how do they do it?
The above sections have already some answers to this question, but I’ll try to go a little deeper. Breathing on land is almost exactly the same as with us humans. The adult frogs lower the floor of their mouth and when they have done that, they open their nostrils to let the air in.
When there is enough air, the floor of the mouth contracts so that the air is kind of “pushed” into the lungs. Then lots of microscopic brachiation in the lungs catch the air molecules on the inhale and drawing them into an iron-rich mixture of water and other biochemicals.
This way the ai flows to all the different tissues. And, just like us, on the exhale they get rid of carbon dioxide.
Can aquatic frogs breathe out of water?
Now that you know a little bit more about the respiration of a frog, you might wonder if aquatic frogs can breathe out of the water… When I first thought about this question, I found it a bit weird. But, when I jumped on the internet to find the answer, it wasn’t weird at all! Take the African dwarf frog for example. The African dwarf frog is a fully aquatic frog that still needs to be able to reach the surface to breathe.
Fun fact: African dwarf frogs cannot survive out of the water for longer than 20 minutes at a time (in low humidity).
As you might guess… They can stay in the water their entire lives. They only have to come up to the surface sometime to breathe!
By now I hope that you have learned a lot about frogs and if they can breathe underwater. You learned that frogs can breathe underwater and that they do this by “inhaling” oxygen through their skin. You have also learned that this is not the only respiration method that they use and that they can also breathe with their lungs and that they use their mouth and nostrils to help with breathing.
I hope you found it interesting to learn that frogs can in fact drown! At first, it may sound a little odd, but when you think about it… Frogs are in some ways very similar to us when we look at anatomy. We can drown and so can they.
Again, this doesn’t mean that you have to save all the frogs that you see lying around in ponds in your area. Please don’t go outside and make it your task to save them. Frogs can breathe underwater and it is only in rare circumstances that they would die.
One of the last things I hope you got from this article is the fact that fully aquatic frogs can breathe out of the water. They do however need water at all times, but they can breathe above the water.
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you enjoyed it, below I have listed some other articles that you might like and find interesting. Thanks again for reading and I hope that you find the articles that are listed below also worth your time to read!
For Further Reading
Do you want to know more about frogs? Then maybe this article about how high they jump is something for you.
Do you like to know more about toads? Read this article about what toads eat.
Or, do you want to know more about frogs and eggs? Then read this article I wrote about why frogs lay so many eggs. Don’t know how much eggs they lay? Then also read the article because the answer is in there.