Can Frogs Breathe Underwater?

Can Frogs Breathe Underwater
Written by Daniel Paul

You must have seen frogs swimming in the water and crocking on a stone. This makes one wonder, how does this happen. Do frogs gulp a lot of air and strain their breathing when going to swim? Or do they have a dual breathing system?

If it is new for you, it will be astonishing to know that frogs can actually breathe not only on land but also in water. Even there are a few frogs (like that of bullfrog) that spend most of their time underwater. A real mermaid mechanism, right.

In this article, let us discuss all frogs breathing mechanisms, some surprising facts (well, amphibians never fail to amaze me), and all the things you need to care about as a frog pet owner.

In the larval stage, the frog stays only underwater. However, the adult frog can live both underwater and on land.

Let us discuss the different breathing patterns of the frog with life stages.

Frog Breathing

Breathing Underwater

Breathing On Land

Tadpole (Larvae)

Yes (gills and skin)

Young Frog

Yes (skin)
Not Primarily

Adult Frog

Yes (skin)
Yes (lungs)

Frog As Larvae (Tadpole)

The larval stage of the frog is known as a tadpole. In this stage, frogs have a tail, gills, and also a special sensory system. The anatomy and physiology of gills in frog tadpoles are much like that of fish. So, in this stage, frogs breathe underwater. Moreover, unlike that of other stages of life, they do not yet have the developed capability to breathe on land.

So, getting the tadpole larvae out of the water for long can actually kill it.

Interesting Fact:

There are a few frog species that have their tadpoles that can breathe on land too!

One of these examples is the highly vulnerable Srilankan Rock Frog.

Tadpoles Into Frogs

Now, as the tadpole matures into the adult frog, it starts developing lungs. The lungs of the frog are book lungs that give way to terrestrial respiration more like that of humans. Pulmonary respiration (breathing through lungs) is only possible on land.

However, at this stage, too, frogs can breathe underwater primarily through their skin. Therefore, shedding in frogs is a very frequent phenomenon. This will help to keep their skin nice and moist.

Types Of Breathing In Frogs:

Gular Breathing:

It is the type in which the frog takes in a gulp of air in their throat and moves it to their lungs. It is like filling their lungs completely with air, letting the good gasses go into the blood and wastes to come out. Then they move the used air out.

It is more or less like human breathing, and it is used to breathe on land.

Interesting information:

Bornean Flat-Headed Frog are the only one among frog species that do not have any guliar respiration (through lungs). They only breathe through skin!

This trait is also found in Salamanders.

Cutaneous Respiration:

It is breathing through the skin. The skin has a lot of blood vessels. So, a lot of blood is flowing towards it. Oxygen moves directly into the blood and then carbon dioxide out of it. All this happens via passive diffusion.

Cutaneous respiration is a necessity when the oxygen is low. Also, it is the primary source of respiration in water. The frog’s cutaneous respiration is functional both on land and in water.

Respiration Through Gills:

As discussed before, frogs in their tadpole stage breathe through their gills. This type of respiration is only helpful for living underwater.

Can Frogs Drown?

Unfortunately, yes, frogs can drown. If the water has too little oxygen, the lungs get filled with the water. This causes frogs to drown.

There are multiple factors that can affect the lowering of oxygen in nature. For example, overpopulation of the pond may result in a sharp decline in oxygen levels. The pet owners also have to consider this and educate themselves about keeping the oxygen levels optimum. Dirty water, unhygienic tanks, overcrowded tank, and other factors can affect the oxygen levels and cause the death of the frog.

For How Long Can Frogs Stay Underwater?

Different species have different residence times in water. Some species stay for 5 to 6 hours underwater, while some for the whole day. At the same time, a few of them can last underwater for months!

Along with the type of species, the frog’s habitat also determines its capacity to live underwater. For example, low oxygen levels, lack food, or more predators will obviously decrease the frog stay in the waters.

Moreover, the water temperature also affects the frog’s capability to stay underwater. The temperatures below four degrees Celsius slow down the metabolism of the frog and, henceforth, the oxygen requirements. Therefore, the frog tends to stay underwater much more than usual. On the other hand, in warmer temperatures, frog tends to surface a lot to get that extra oxygen needed for a sharp metabolism.

Along with all that, there are some frogs that live underwater all the time. Among them are African Clawed frogs and African dwarf frogs. Surprisingly, there are some frogs like bullfrogs, leopard frogs, mink frogs, etc., that hibernate only at the bottom of the freezing waters. So, they stay there for months.

When Do Frogs Use Their Lungs?

Frogs mostly breathe through their skin. They only use their lungs when they are jumping or preying, i.e., doing a high-level activity. The increased activity level increases the need for oxygen. That’s the time when lungs come into play and meet the need.


You see, frogs have a pretty versatile breathing mechanism. They can shift according to their needs and can dwell easily both on land and water. However, the major source of respiration is through the skin, which needs to stay soft and moist. The frogs maintain it through shedding.

Also, frogs can drown if the oxygen levels in the water are too low to meet their needs. So, as a responsible pet owner, you ought to know all the factors that can affect the oxygen levels in the water, as the temperature can also affect the frog’s stay time underwater. Therefore, you should know how to maintain it to ensure a healthy metabolism.

Moreover, do not forget to dechlorinate the water if you are using tap water for your frog’s tank.

I hope this article answers your queries. In case of any other questions, you can comment below or email us. We would be happy to help.