How To Raise Tadpoles In 7 Easy Steps

Frog Life Cycle

Raising tadpoles is a fun hobby for people of all ages!

It is an especially great activity for parents and children as it is cheap, easy and simple. It also is a great way to teach kids about local ecosystems and basic biology.

Keeping tadpoles is also very rewarding as you watch them metamorphose into frogs. During this time they will grow arms and legs, grow lungs and undergo many more physical changes.

Interested to learn more about polliwogs?

Keep reading to learn how to collect frogspawn, set up your tank, raise healthy tadpoles and feed them…

What Are Tadpoles?

Tadpoles

Tadpoles are the larval form of a frog. The larval stage of their life cycle is the form that happens before they become adult frogs. Tadpoles hatch from frogspawn and over two to four months metamorphose into frogs.

The process they use to change into frogs is called metamorphosis. During this time they will grow arms and legs, reabsorb their tails, change their mouthparts, lose their gills and grow lungs. Luckily it is quite easy to tell when your tadpole has developed into a froglet because they will lose their tail.

Female frogs normally lay their eggs (aka “frogspawn”) in the spring. The number of eggs a frog lays varies greatly and depends on the species.

For example Pacific Tree Frogs (Pseudacris regilla) which are commonly raised from tadpoles in California lay about 400-750 eggs per season. These eggs are laid in clusters of 10 to 80 and are attached to plants in shallow, nonmoving water.

On the other hand blue poison dart frogs (Dendrobates tinctorius), which are often sold as pet tadpoles, lay just 5 to 6 eggs at a time.

All females typically lay their frogspawn where it won’t dry out, usually in water. Shortly after male frogs then come along and fertilize the eggs. The eggs develop and hatch into tadpoles about 10 days later.

When tadpoles hatch they have round bodies with a sucker-like mouth that is similar to a catfish. They also have a wide tail that propels them through the water when they wiggle it from side to side. Interestingly at this point they have absolutely no arms or legs.

Tadpoles also have gills. They breathe by taking oxygen out of the water through their gills. When they are turning into froglets, their gills start to disappear and lungs develop. They then lose the ability to breathe underwater.

Most tadpoles are herbivores and eat plankton, algae and other plant material. This is why frogs usually lay their eggs around the edges of ponds in reeds and other plants. These leafy areas provide a veritable buffet for their offspring when they are born.

Interestingly most adult frogs are insectivores and carnivores so have a completely different diet.

Raising Pet Tadpoles: The Step-by-Step Guide

How To Raise Tadpoles

1. Supplies Checklist

So you have decided that keeping tadpoles is something you want to try.

It is important that before collecting any frogspawn you prepare their tank and collect some supplies. Preparing a tank before collecting frogspawn will help to make sure they have the best chances of survival.

Take a look at the checklist below to get your supplies and tank ready to go:

Equipment Reason
Water bottle Choose something watertight like a 1/2 gallon (64 oz) water bottle or two. These bottles will be used to collect pond water.
Tupperware container and a freezer bag A gallon plastic tupperware container and a plastic freezer bag secured in a tupperware box is best. This is what you will use to scoop the frogspawn out of the pond and carry it safely home.
Tank You will want a 2-10 gallon tank depending on the number of tadpoles you collect. Any watertight container with a lid will work. A simple animal carrier with a plastic vented lid is the most cost-effective tank.
Plastic container This is what you will use to scoop up substrate from the pond and take it home.
Turkey baster A standard turkey baster is the perfect tool for water changes and cleaning up any waste or leftover food.
Tadpole food Have some organic, dark lettuce or tadpole pellets from the pet store on hand. Keep some bloodworms in your freezer as well.
Small tank aerator (optional) This may be helpful for providing extra oxygen if you collect frogspawn from an area with running water. You want an aerator that is as gentle as possible so as not to disturb them. If the frogspawn is from a still pond they should be fine with just the surface area of the water.

Tips

  • Before collecting the tadpoles collect water and sand or dirt from the pond that you will be collecting the frogspawn from. You can use this pond water to set up their tank.
  • A 2:1 ratio of pond water and spring water will be perfect. It’s always a good idea to have a gallon of spring water on hand for water changes.
  • Some people like to use just spring water, but using pond water and leaves will be better and provide more minerals. Never use tap water or distilled water.
  • Collect three to five leaves and some rocks that have algae on them. The leaves will act as a food source and hiding spot. Make sure that they have algae growing on them as this is a food source.

Now that you have gathered all of the necessary supplies it is time to set up the tank and then collect some frogspawn.

2. Tank Setup

Tadpole Tank

A few days before you collect your frogspawn you will need to set up the tank.

To make sure your tadpoles get enough oxygen you want to use a tank that is wider than it is deep. Plenty of surface area is important. Most hobbyists will use a 2-5 gallon tank, but a 10-gallon tank works too.

You want about a gallon of water for every five tadpoles.

Though it may be tempting to put more than five for every gallon of water, this is not a good idea. Too many in not enough water can result in a food deficit, too much waste and even cannibalism. If you want to raise more tadpoles then get a bigger tank!

Follow the steps below to set your tank up:

  1. Take your empty water bottles and a plastic container to the planned frogspawn collection site. Use the steps in part three for how to find frogspawn.
  2. Fill two bottles with water from a clear spot at the edge of the pond.
  3. Use a plastic container to scoop up some of the silt and gravel from the edge of the pond.
  4. Try to find three to five leaves or other plants and five larger rocks in the pond as well. These can be added to your tank to serve as hiding spots and as a path to the surface of the water for developing froglets.
  5. When you get home pour the silt and gravel from the plastic container into the bottom of your empty tadpole tank. Smooth the substrate into an even layer. Arrange the larger rocks on the bottom of the tank so that they are stable and will not fall over if the tank is bumped slightly.
  6. Slowly pour the pond water into the tank until it is half full. At this point you may have to re-level the substrate.
  7. Fill the rest of the tank up entirely with pond water, or you can use a mix of pond water and spring water.

Once everything is set up in the tank leave it alone for 24 to 48 hours. This will give the substrate time to settle so the water is nice and clear as it will probably be cloudy from the silt of the substrate. Your tank’s water should be ready for frogspawn in about 48 hours.

Tips

  • Make sure to keep the tank out of direct sunlight and away from windows. Sunlight can heat up the tank easily and kill your frogspawn.
  • Do not use distilled water. Distilled water has been stripped of all minerals and raising tadpoles in it can be fatal.
  • Do not use tap water. Tap water may have chemicals like chlorine and fluoride that are harmful to tadpoles and frogs. Amphibians absorb liquids and chemicals through their skin so they are very sensitive to chemicals.
  • If you are going to collect tadpoles from running water you may need a gentle aerator. An aerator takes air from the atmosphere and brings it into a tank as bubbles to increase oxygen levels. Make sure to choose one that is as gentle as possible so that it doesn’t disturb the frogspawn.

3. Collecting Frogspawn

Frogspawn

Frogspawn is a collection of frog eggs and it is easy to identify.

Many frogs lay hundreds of eggs that all clump together in one jelly-like mass. When the eggs are all grouped together in frogspawn, it looks like slightly-transparent, lumpy, spotted jelly. The eggs have no shells and look like a clear ball with a dark spot at the center. Each egg is about the size of a small pea.

Different species of frogs spawn at different times of the year, but it usually happens in the spring.

The best time to collect frogspawn is before or after the heat of the day. Try it during the late morning or early afternoon. This will minimize the risk of the frogspawn overheating as you take it back home.

You should look for frogspawn around the edges of ponds or gentle creeks. It is usually laid in reeds at the surface or just below the surface of the water.

Be careful as the edges of the ponds where frogspawn is usually found can be muddy and slippery. It is very easy for a misplaced step to result in an unplanned swim!

Once you have found some frogspawn, find the most stable location at the edge of the pond to collect it. Depending on the spot you can sit, squat, or even lay on your stomach to safely collect the spawn:

  1. Dip your tupperware container into the pond to collect some water.
  2. Place a plastic freezer bag in the second tupperware container and pour some pond water in the freezer bag.
  3. Use the first tupperware container to gently scoop some of the frogspawn from the edge of the cluster. Try to not disturb the other eggs.
  4. Collect about five eggs for every gallon of water. If you have a five gallon tank, you want to collect about 25 eggs. To easily tell how many eggs you have count the number or dark spots in a cluster of frogspawn.
  5. Gently transfer the eggs from the tupperware container into the bag of water. Let the eggs float out, don’t just dump them in. You want to minimize stress for your frogspawn!
  6. Seal the bag with some air still in it so the frogspawn stays oxygenated during transport.
  7. Keep the bag in the tupperware to keep it stable and hold it out of direct sunlight so it doesn’t get too warm.

Tips

  • If you do decide to collect frogspawn from the wild make sure to research the laws in your area. Most states allow you to collect them from the wild, but some states require permits.
  • In California you can collect some species of frog eggs with a fishing license, but you cannot release them back into the wild. They must be kept as pet frogs for their entire lives.
  • If you plan on releasing the tadpoles once they have developed into frogs also make sure to research the best place to do this.

4. Bringing Frogspawn Home

Before placing frogspawn in the tank make sure the water is around 70°F. This is a comfortable temperature for many tadpole species, but a change of a few degrees on either side is okay. You can use an aquarium thermometer to make sure the temperature is okay.

Maintaining a constant temperature will ensure that your tadpoles are happy and comfortable.

Once you arrive back home you will need to place the frogspawn in your tank:

  1. Gently take the plastic bag out of the tupperware and place it into the tank. The bag should float because of the air you left at the top. The frogspawn should be at the same level as the water in the tank.
  2. Leave the floating bag in the tank for about an hour. This will allow the eggs to reach the same temperature as the water.
  3. Once an hour has passed carefully open the bag and let the frogspawn and pond water float out into the tank. You may need to gently tip the frogspawn into the tank.
  4. Allow the eggs to settle.

Tips

  • If any of the eggs have centers that have turned from black to white or develop a film, they may have died. Separate any of these eggs by gently sucking them up with a turkey baster and discard them.
  • Watch your frogspawn daily so you can spot the first tadpoles to hatch and start to take care of them right away.

In less than two weeks your tadpoles will have hatched and will be swimming on their own. Keep on reading to learn just how to take care of your new froggy friends.

5. Hatching Day

Polliwog

It takes between 10 and 20 days for frogspawn to hatch.

During the first few days you will see the dark spots at the center of the egg elongate and take the shape of a tadpole. After a week you will see little tadpole forms wiggling around in the clear eggs.

Over the next 10 days there is not much you need to do for your frogspawn other than watch.

Once tadpoles hatch they continue to survive off of their egg yolk for about four days. They have a yolk sac that gives them their nutrients while they are in egg-form. You can give them food during this time, but remove any uneaten food after 12 hours to prevent it from rotting.

If your tadpoles are spending a lot of time near the surface a week after hatching it may be an indication that there is not enough oxygen in the water. To add more oxygen you can perform water changes multiple times a week.

Use a turkey baster to perform weekly water changes by removing ½ tank of water. Be careful to not accidentally suck up any of the tadpoles when you are removing the water! Use spring water that is at room temperature (around 70°F) to replace the dirty water. Pour the water in very slowly on one side of the tank so you do not disturb them.

Regular water changes keep your tadpoles’ water clean and provide extra oxygen.

6. Feeding Tadpoles

Feeding Tadpoles

Once your tadpoles have hatched they will be hungry and ready to grow.

Newly hatched tadpoles can survive off the nutrients from their yolk sacs for a few days, but you should still provide them with food within 48 hours of hatching. The tadpoles will eat algae off of the rocks and leaves you put in their tank. You should also give them a small piece of lettuce each day.

Tadpoles grow quickly and the amount of food they need to grow increases with their size!

Keep an eye on how much they are eating and add more food to their daily meals when needed.

Feeding tadpoles is simple as they are primarily herbivores:

  1. Buy organic dark leafy greens like lettuce or spinach from the store. Use darker lettuce like Romaine that is full of nutrients, not iceberg lettuce.
  2. Freeze the dark leafy greens. To freeze the greens, wash them off, pat them dry, and seal them in a plastic bag or tupperware. Place them in the freezer until they are frozen solid. This process breaks down some of the structure of the greens and makes them easier to eat and digest for growing tadpoles.
  3. Before feeding thaw the lettuce in some warm water.
  4. Feed small pieces of lettuce about half an inch wide a couple of times a day. Monitor them to see how much they eat and remove any uneaten food after 2 hours. Their tank can become dirty and stagnant quickly if they are overfed.
  5. You can feed commercial tadpole food or fish wafers instead. You may need to break the wafers into smaller chunks so you don’t overfeed them!

READ: What Do Toads Eat? Food List, Feeding Guide & Chart

Tips

  • Feeding them twice a day and doing water changes twice a week is necessary.
  • When tadpoles are metamorphosing and changing into froglets their digestive systems are changing too. They are shortening from the long intestines of an herbivore to the shorter intestines of a carnivore. You can feed them a pinch of defrosted bloodworms at this point once a week for some extra protein.
  • When they have grown their front legs and their tails have started to absorb into their bodies their appetite will decrease significantly.

7. Metamorphosis

Froglet

Metamorphosis is the most exciting stage for hobbyists. Many beginners immediately ask how long does it take tadpoles to turn into frogs?! Most of your tadpoles should turn into frogs within two and a half months after hatching.

Four weeks after hatching the back legs of tadpoles turn into froglet legs. The front legs follow about three weeks later.

Your tadpoles will start to walk out of the water once all of their legs are developed, even if they have not fully absorbed their tails yet.

When the nubs of the front legs first appear it means the lungs are growing and the gills vanishing. At this point it is very important that you provide dry land for your tadpoles. Providing them with dry land will stop them from drowning when they can no longer breathe underwater:

  1. Remove half of the water in the tank with a turkey baster.
  2. Put in a large stable rock that rises above the surface of the water.
  3. Create a ramp with the substrate of the tadpole tank, and use the turkey baster to remove water until just a little puddle remains on one side of the enclosure.

Tips

  • Once the froglets are spending most of their time on land they can be fed a pinch of fruit flies or pinhead (newborn) crickets. Start with 5 flies per froglet and increase it to let them eat as many as they can in 10 minutes. These insects should be dusted with vitamin and calcium powders.

Summary

Raising tadpoles can be an extremely valuable and fun experience!

From collecting frogspawn, to watching tadpoles transform into froglets and releasing them back into the wild there is lots to learn. It can also be a great teaching opportunity for kids and help connect them with nature.

Tadpoles are easy to raise as long as you have the correct setup.

Stick to the basic rules of a gallon of water for every five tadpoles and make sure the water is around 70°F. Feed small pieces of lettuce about half an inch wide a couple of times a day after they hatch and do not forget about regular water changes!

Most important of all, have lots of fun watching them eat, grow, and transform into frogs!

You now have all the knowledge you need to raise tadpoles! Let us know how you get on in the comments.

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is the managing editor at More Reptiles. He is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant who brings a decade of experience working in reptile conservation and consultancy. He joined our team in 2020 and when he’s not reviewing reptile care sheets, he’s out looking for reptiles in the wild!

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