How Long Can Frogs Stay Underwater? What About Other Amphibians?


We generally know that Frogs like water, they spend a great deal of their time in and around water sources. You might have a pond, or know of one in which you frequently find Frogs nearby.

Frogspawn, as we know, is laid in water and Tadpoles, of course, require a water source to survive until they mature into full-grown adult frogs or toads. But what do we know about a Frog’s abilities to breath underwater?  And what about other amphibians? 

Well, I thought we’d address that here. So let’s provide a quick goto answer, then we’ll dive into a bit more detail…

How Long Can Frogs Stay Underwater? There’s no accurate data on how long frogs can stay underwater. It varies depending on the species, activity levels underwater and other factors. Observations on common frog species suggest that because they absorb oxygen through their skin when in water or mud, they can survive underwater indefinitely – in theory…

However, there are lots of variables here. Let’s explore this a little further…

Amphibians, on the whole, actually vary a fair bit in their size, shape, respiratory abilities and their ability to stay underwater for specific periods, they’re methods in absorbing or retaining oxygen can vary too. So there isn’t really one complete answer to the question.

To understand this a bit better, let’s first take a look at the types of Amphibians

Three types of amphibians

Modern amphibians ‘Lissamphibia’ comprises of three ‘Orders’ 

Anura

This group contains frogs and toads of usually larger build, with arms and legs and more commonly adapted for swimming when in water or hopping when on land.

Caudata

This order contains Salamanders and Newts. They’re usually more elongated, with longer tails, smaller fore and hind limbs which generally walk, or ‘crawl’ while on land.

Gymnophiona

Or of the group caecilians, the least seen or known of the Orders. They have elongated cylindrical bodies, without any limbs, the skin is often slimy in appearance with numerous ringlike markings circling the body, dark brown or a dark bluish/black color. Commonly thought of as worms or eel type creatures and mainly existing in the substrate of soil as they tend to have burrowing tendencies.

With different orders, of differing sizes and in some cases different genome origins, there’s clearly going to be a variety in their breathing capabilities.

Amphibian respiratory system

One thing all these types do have in common though is a highly permeable skin that can contain thousands of blood vessels very close to the surface.

This system provides a secondary respiratory method enabling amphibians to draw oxygen from the water when submerged.

Most amphibians readily give off carbon dioxide through their skin, which is highly soluble in water, so there’s little worry about them suffering from blood plasma acidosis.

Oxygen, on the other hand, isn’t as readily soluble in water and is often seen as a limiting factor for many water-breathing organisms.

So… to answer can frogs breath underwater…

Can frogs breathe underwater?

Yes, there are two ways that Frogs can breathe underwater. First, when underwater, a Frogs skin is able to absorb oxygen from the water, and from moisture in mud that enables them to breathe. Above water, they do have lungs that function largely the same as the way human lungs function.

In fact, Frogs are able to absorb oxygen through their skin from even low oxygenated water because they’re able to lower their metabolic rate, reduce movement and body functions. Where oxygen is too scarce, they will need to surface to absorb more oxygen via their lungs.

What affects respiratory rate

Let’s take a quick look at what external factors can also affect how efficient an Amphibians respiratory system is

Oxygen Level

If there’s a low oxygen level in the water, this has the effect of shortening the length of time an amphibian can remain submerged, strangely, this tends to be an issue for most amphibians as they’re often associated with stagnant water sources.

One can assume if it were an issue though, they would simply dwell nearer to flowing water-courses. Conversely, a high oxygen level means they can stay longer without issue. 

Temperature

Cold and heat also play a role in the amphibians ability to stay under-water. In warmer temperatures an amphibian maintains a higher metabolism, this means there’s a greater thirst for oxygen. Colder water reduces the amphibian’s rate of metabolism.

Therefore, this allows for the greater retention of oxygen, which can prolong the length of time an amphibian can remain submerged.

Other complications

Other factors can also affect time spent underwater, this is mainly concerning the amphibians themselves. For example, tadpoles, which are the larval version of frogs and toads have gills.

This means for as long as they are Tadpoles they can remain underwater and breathing quite happily the same as fish do.

Let’s not forget too that some amphibians need to exit their watery homes for various reasons, such as for foraging or mating. Or sometimes to find new homes due to drought, or other external influences.

So how long is it?

It might not be the most exciting answer, but the truth is It’s a very difficult thing to know – even for frogs of the same or similar species the results could differ slightly.

When talking about adults Frogs, some Toads. for example. have a thicker skin membrane than other toads, making expelling and absorbing gases more difficult.

Some Frogs have thinner membrane meaning they can absorb and expel Oxygen and Carbon dioxide far more easily. So we can say the aquatic frog can stay underwater longer than the toad.

Some aquatic frogs, however, have extra skin, thus making this an even more unpredictable across a species.

Other complications exist in the Caudata order. Some newts retain their gills from their time as Tadpoles, so in fact, they can breathe underwater without issue at all.

Some Salamanders have neither gills nor lungs and rely solely on oxygen being drawn in through their skin. This possibly explains why these Salamanders are terrain based and not aquatic as they need above surface oxygen levels to survive.

Also, concerning the order of caecilians, (worm-like order) it was assumed they all possessed lungs as adults and had to breathe air. However, recent dissections of some museum specimens uncovered that some species had no lungs at all.

Conclusion

Although it’s generally understood that an average frog could stay submerged underwater indefinitely. The real answer is it depends on a whole host of factors and the real answer is probably anything from a few minutes to an entire lifetime.

It may not have been the answer you were looking for, but I hope nonetheless it was helpful to you.

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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