Most of us think of frogs as predominantly being land-based once they have left off being tadpoles, although we are aware that they tend to inhabit damp spaces.
Frogs lose their gills and develop lungs when they grow past their juvenile stage, and at this point, they move onto dry land.
However, they often do return to the water, and if you have ever watched one of these amphibians dive into a pool, you may have started to wonder, “how long can a frog stay underwater?”
Frogs are amazing creatures and many people are fascinated by the way that they transform from being fully aquatic as tadpoles to mostly land-based as adults, and what this transition means for the way the frog’s body operates.
Many creatures that start in the water in their juvenile form are surprisingly vulnerable to it in their adult form, and cannot survive in the same environment as the young of their species – but is this also true of frogs?
You are probably aware that adult frogs spend most of their time on land, albeit in damp places, but they return to the water when the time comes for them to breed and lay eggs.
Some frogs also spend the winter in ponds, hibernating in the thick mud at the bottom, where temperatures do not tend to drop low enough to kill them. As cold-blooded amphibians, they are otherwise at risk of freezing, although some do hibernate on land.
How Long Can A Frog Stay Underwater?
How long a frog can stay underwater depends on the species of frog and a few other factors, such as the activity levels of the frog and how much oxygen is in the water.
Many frogs will need to come to the surface after around five or six hours, but others can remain submerged for months, and most frogs can breathe reasonably well underwater.
That might surprise you, because part of transforming into adulthood involves the frog losing its gills and developing lungs instead – but the frog remains able to spend long periods underwater nonetheless.
However, there are some variables that need to be taken into account, which is partly why it’s difficult to measure how long a frog can stay underwater.
For example, the level of oxygenation in the water is key, because in low-oxygen water, frogs will struggle to get enough air without coming to the surface.
The activity level of the frog also makes a big difference; frogs that are breeding will need more oxygen to survive than frogs that are hibernating and almost inactive. Just like humans, frogs need more oxygen when they are active, and may have to rise to the surface and gulp air in order to meet their needs.
There is therefore no fixed answer; an active frog will probably need to rise to the surface after a few hours, while a hibernating frog may be able to stay underwater for months.
Can Frogs Breathe Underwater?
Yes, surprisingly, frogs can breathe underwater using a clever practice known as cutaneous breathing, which allows them to absorb dissolved oxygen particles through their skins, taking them directly from the water.
Although the frog does not have gills once it has developed into its adult form, it can continue to breathe underwater using this method, which is effective in high-oxygen environments.
Of course, this isn’t as effective as gulping air directly into the lungs, so although it will work, it may not sustain the frog indefinitely, which is why most frogs will rise to the surface to breathe after a few hours underwater.
Being able to breathe through their skins gives them some major advantages; if they are being hunted, they can dive out of reach and stay there for long after a predator is likely to have given up.
They can also hunt underwater without having to rise to the surface for air, and they can breed and lay their eggs with ease.
Many people think that frogs cannot breathe underwater once they have developed into their adult form, but it would be more accurate to say that frogs cannot breathe quite as well. Without gills, they do need to rise to the surface if they want to sustain high activity levels, but they can get at least some oxygen while submerged.
A hibernating frog may be able to sustain itself for long periods, because the low activity level requires minimal oxygen and the respiration rate slows down.
Can Frogs Drown?
Yes, frogs can drown, sadly, and many do if they are unable to get out of the water in a timely fashion. Although they can absorb oxygen from the water, if the oxygen levels are low or get depleted, the frog will drown if it cannot reach the surface.
Even if it can reach the surface, the frog will not be able to keep swimming forever, so if it cannot climb out, it’s at risk of drowning.
If you have a pond or any standing water in your garden, it’s a good idea to grow some plants close to the edge and place stones or other items in a step-like arrangement so that animals of all kinds can climb out of the water if they fall in.
This will help frogs get in and out, but may also save the lives of many other animals, including insects, mice, hedgehogs, newts, and others. Few animals can swim indefinitely, and if there is no easy way out of water, they are very likely to drown.
Frogs are also more vulnerable to drowning if they panic because they realize they cannot get out of the water. This will increase the frog’s heart rate and respiration rate, making it need more oxygen, and heightening the risk that it will drown.
There’s no simple answer to the question “how long can a frog stay underwater?” because it is heavily dependent on the kind of frog, the conditions of the water, and what the frog is doing in the water. A frog in low oxygen water or one that is very active will not be able to stay submerged for more than a few hours without needing more air, whereas an inactive frog in oxygen-rich water can stay submerged for months.