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These frogs are plentiful in ponds and rivers within the south-eastern portion of Sub-Saharan Africa. They are aquatic and are often greenish-grey in color. Albino varieties are commonly sold as pets. "Wild type" African clawed frogs are also frequently sold as pets, and often incorrectly labeled as a Congo frog or African dwarf frog because of similar colorings. They are easily distinguished from African dwarf frogs because African clawed frogs have webbing only on their hind feet while African dwarf frogs have webbing on all four feet.

They reproduce by fertilizing eggs outside of the female's body (see frog reproduction). Of the seven amplexus modes (positions in which frogs mate), these frogs are found breeding in inguinal amplexus, where the male clasps the female in front of the female's back legs and squeezes until eggs come out. The eggs are then fertilized.

The clawed frogs are the only amphibians to have actual claws used to climb and shred foods like fish or tadpoles. They lay their eggs from winter until spring. During wet rainy seasons they will travel to other ponds or puddles of water to search for food. During times of drought, the clawed frogs can burrow themselves into the mud, becoming dormant for up to a year.

X. laevis have been known to survive 15 or more years in the wild and 25–30 years in captivity. They shed their skin every season, and eat their own shed skin.

Although lacking a vocal sac, the males make a mating call of alternating long and short trills, by contracting the intrinsic laryngeal muscles. Females also answer vocally, signaling either acceptance (a rapping sound) or rejection (slow ticking) of the male. This frog has smooth slippery skin which is multicolored on its back with blotches of olive gray or brown. The underside is creamy white with a yellow tinge.

Male and female frogs can be easily distinguished through the following differences. Male frogs are usually about 20% smaller than females, with slim bodies and legs. Males make mating calls to attract females, sounding very much like a cricket calling underwater. Females are larger than the males, appearing far more plump with hip-like bulges above their rear legs (where their eggs are internally located).

Both males and females have a cloaca, which is a chamber through which digestive and urinary wastes pass and through which the reproductive systems also empty. The cloaca empties by way of the vent which in reptiles and amphibians is a single opening for all three systems.