How to Keep Tadpoles

Updated on May 27, 2019
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Brittany has over a decade of experience keeping tortoises, frogs, pythons, and various other reptiles and amphibians.

Springtime Is Tadpole Time

Each spring for the past four years, my children, husband, and I have set out on a muddy journey in May down to our ponds or "frog pits," as my daughters call them, to hunt for tadpoles. After we've collected a few from the pond, we bring them to our house and raise them until they are frogs. Then, we release them back into our ponds. It's become an annual educational family event that's always exciting.

The best part is it's a super easy and inexpensive activity that almost anyone can do. Read on to find out how.

Getting Started

Review the Laws in Your Area

First and foremost, you should check with your state and local laws regarding the capture and collection of tadpoles. Some localities have sustainability laws in place prohibiting tadpole collection, some will require you to have a permit, and some do not regulate the practice what-so-ever. It's best to find out where your city stands on this issue before attempting to snag some tadpoles of your own.

Review Best Safety Practices

Tadpoles are amphibians. Most amphibians and reptiles carry salmonella. While my husband simply makes sure to wash his hands thoroughly after any contact with amphibians or their water, my daughters and I wear nitrile gloves. Decide what works best for you and plan accordingly.

Realize the Time Investment

Tadpoles can take anywhere from 5 weeks to over a year to mature into frogs. Familiarize yourself with the frogs in your area to have more of an idea of how long your little visitors will be staying with you.

Supplies and Setup

Tadpoles don't need much to thrive. With a few, simple items and you'll be watching a frog's life cycle firsthand in no time.

Shopping List

1. Containment System

Tadpoles require some sort of containment system that can hold water. This can range from a full-on fish tank to a storage container, a glass bowl to a trash can, or a small kiddie pool to a flower pot. Keep in mind that tadpoles are messy, so the bigger the better. Some amphibian conservation specialists like amphibianark.org recommend a gallon of water per inch of tadpole.

You'll also want to keep in mind that as the tadpoles age, they get bigger and bouncier. Pick your container carefully, ensuring it has high sides or the ability to add a lid so nothing hops out until you want it to. I use a generic, clear storage container that comes with a lid. I usually have a ton of storage containers around the house so I start with a small container and move them to larger ones as the tadpoles grow.

2. Water

Tadpoles need water in their tank. Pretty much any uncontaminated water will do, including stream water, rainwater, or tap water. I use tap water with a good water conditioner that neutralizes the ammonia, chlorine, and chloramine.

3. Rocks

Rocks make perfect tank substrate. They're an easy, inexpensive choice that's readily available. You can grab some from outdoors or buy some from the store. As long as they're uncontaminated and rinsed off, they'll do just fine.

I use aquarium gravel from the pet store. I layer the bottom of the container with about an inch of gravel and then build up one side so that the gravel comes up out of the water. This gives the tadpoles something to climb up on when they start using their newly grown limbs.

4. Food

Tadpoles are omnivores, so it's not too difficult to track down the food they'll eat. There's a wide variety of food they do well eating, some of it from your own kitchen, like lettuce and spinach, and some from the pet store, like tadpole diet pellets and algae wafers. They also eat flightless fruit flies, generic plant-based fish food flakes, aphids, mealworms, and blood worms.

Out of convenience, I use Algae Wafers and Frog, Newt & Tadpole Diet pellets from PetSmart.

5. Location

Scouting out a great location for the tadpole's tank or pool is important. If you're housing them in a container indoors you'll want to pick a spot that stays a relatively constant temperature since tadpoles are sensitive to temperature changes. It's also important to place the container out of direct sunlight. They need shade.

If you're housing the tadpoles outdoors you'll want to pick a secure, shady area away from any poisonous plants, including pine trees.

My Tadpole Setup

Simple container with gravel. Notice the one high side where they can climb out of the water when they grow legs.
Simple container with gravel. Notice the one high side where they can climb out of the water when they grow legs. | Source
Plenty of air holes drilled in the lid
Plenty of air holes drilled in the lid | Source

Ongoing Care

After the initial setup is complete there's only a few more things to keep in mind to make sure your tadpoles survive their metamorphosis into froglets.

Water Care

It's imperative that the tadpoles have clean, fresh water. Water cleanliness can be maintained by performing water changes every week. I start the night before by filling a bucket with water and adding water conditioner to it. I let it sit overnight, and the next day I dump 50% of the old water out of their tank and add the new. Even though many water conditioners say they work within minutes, I still let it sit overnight because of how little chlorine it takes to kill tadpoles. Letting it sitting over night also helps to bring the water to room temperature so it doesn't shock or kill the tadpoles when added to the tank.

Feeding

As mentioned before, tadpoles eat many things. When they're in the wild they usually start out eating plant-based items like algae because they're poor swimmers. As they get older they start transitioning to insects and even small fish. For these reasons, I feed them algae wafers and commercial tadpole diet until they're older. Pictures of the specific products I use are below. Any pet store that sells fish will usually carry some sort of algae wafer for the bottom feeders. I feed them in the morning and night, small amounts at a time, so that the tank doesn't get as dirty.

Release

My final piece of advice concerns release. When the tadpoles have finished their transition into being full fledged frogs we release them back into the wild. You'll know they're ready when they start coming out of the water. We're careful to put them back in the same area we found them in to ensure the native species stay where they belong.

Tadpole Food and Water Supplies

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Water ConditionerFoodMore food
Water Conditioner
Water Conditioner | Source
Food
Food | Source
More food
More food | Source

Now that you know how to care for tadpoles, throw on some rubber boots, grab a bucket, and go nab yourself a couple of these interesting little critters for yourself to enjoy for a few weeks. Happy hunting!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Brittany

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