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What Do Tadpoles Eat?

As a child, you likely spent a great deal of your spring and summer time hours looking for frogs in the backyard. You probably are well-acquainted with the life cycle of a frog, knowing the basics behind how these creatures reproduce and evolve over their lives.

A young frog spends many weeks growing, with a tadpole using up much of his energy in an effort to find enough energy to grow. Therefore, overtime, the appearance of a young tadpole will change – and so will its diet.

If you own tadpoles – or are simply curious about tadpoles in the wild – it is important that you familiarize yourself with their specific diets. If you are new to the fishkeeping world, it’s recommended that you don’t start out with these quick-swimming creatures, as they can be a bit tough to care for.

You need to make sure you provide your tadpoles with the proper diet, as certain nutrients become of paramount importance as they creatures move through various stages of growth. Although they begin their lives as herbivores, by the time they reach adult “frog”-hood, they will be almost entirely carnivorous.

Consider this handy guide as you get started raising tadpoles – or embark on your research about tadpoles in the wild.

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What Foods Do Tadpoles Prefer?

Photo by Mark Robinson

Don’t be fooled by assuming that all tadpoles are alike! Did you know that some aren’t fully aquatic, for example, and will instead inhabit a semi terrestrial environment?

That being said, you can make a few generalizations about tadpoles. For example, most do live in the water. These are usually filled with lots of plants and algae, which give them hiding places from predators. Tadpoles tend to live in lakes and ponds of all sizes.

There are many types of tadpole species, and each prefers relatively different living conditions. Cold-tolerant species will be found in waters as cold s 40 degrees Fahrenheit and as warm as 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If you maintain the water temperature at the higher end of the range, they will grow more quickly  – but temperatures that are too warm can be deadly for young tadpoles.

Tadpoles are omnivores throughout much of their lives they can eat both animal and plant matter, but they do not begin their life cycle as omnivores or even pure carnivores. When tadpoles are hatching from the yolk sack of the gg, they will rely on the protein to help them grow quickly and to adjust to the outside world.

When this yolk has been fully consumed, the tadpoles have only a short amount of time before they need to go on to find new food sources. Because freshly hatched tadpoles are so tiny, it can be tough for these creatures to find any other food source that is small enough to eat. Therefore, they eat algae. Young tadpoles have an intensity that is long and curled, and it is designed primarily for the purpose of digesting dense vegetation so that the maximum amounts of nutrients (like calcium and protein) can be derived from it.

As the tadpoles grow older and larger, they can eat plant matter. They will usually nibble on some stems and leaves, and later, they will start eating small insects. Mature tadpoles are voracious eaters and will eat pretty much anything that can fit inside their mouths. They will consume as much food as possible in one sitting, so that they can produce energy for more growth.

Usually, tadpoles will eat foods like dead insects, small fish, water striders, and pieces of vegetation. The vegetation is removed almost entirely from the young tadpoles diet as it ages, with adult frogs and toads being almost entirely carnivorous.

What Is The Difference Between A Tadpole And A Frog?

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Not much! They are actually the same species. However, a tadpole is not a permanent stage, but merely a transition from a frog’s egg to an adult frog. A tadpole is an intermediary stage between an egg and a frog.

Tadpoles develop using food and hormones triggers. While water quality and species variation play a small role in how your tadpoles develop, most of their evolution is based on their nutrition. Keep in mind that tadpoles undergo their own miniature life cycles before they reach frog stage.

In the wild, tadpoles usually hatch in the spring, with the largest populations found in early summer. Tadpoles will attach themselves to plants and consume the leftover yolk from their egg. Because they are so small when they first hatch, they are vulnerable to predators and to the elements. These creatures hatch in large numbers, but many end up dying as a result of this vulnerability.

The ones that do live will start swimming at around ten days, searching for food to replace the yolk. At this stage, a tadpole’s diet is entirely herbivorous. They Won’t leave the safety of the plants very often.

At three weeks, a tadpole will start to lose its gills and will grow tiny teeth. These teeth will enable the tadpole to eat larger, harder foods. At week five, tadpoles will begin eating insects, as their organs have grown larger and developed enough to handle the extra nutrients. Limbs will start emerging, as well as a small tail.

At twelve weeks, your tadpoles will look a lot like frogs. The tail will have been digested for extra nutrients, and they can leave the safety of the water and start moving about on land. At week thirteen, they are now full-fledged frogs and will consume a carnivorous diet.

What Conditions Should I Keep My Tadpoles In?

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Photo by Mark Cryan

Many people raise tadpoles, either for the sheer enjoyment  of it or for the purpose of raising your own frogs or toads for aquariums, terrariums, or paludariums. You need to put in some extra work to keep your tadpoles healthy and happy, which is why this species is not usually recommended for beginning aquarium hobbyists.

There are several specific parameters you need to keep in mind when raising tadpoles. For example, although tadpoles can survive in a range of water parameters, there are certain ones that are more ideal – and that you should try to maintain. A pH of 6 to 8 is preferred, as is water that is somewhat hard. Try to keep nitrates as low as you can by conducting regular water changes and reducing the amount of waste that builds up in your tank.

Tadpole tanks do not require a heavy current, because the bodies of water they are adapted to living in are usually still or somewhat stagnant. That being said, this can make it more difficult for algae and other pollutants to accumulate in the water, so cleaning your tank and conducting weekly water changes can help you keep on top of this buildup.

You should give your tadpoles plenty of room to swim around in the aquarium, but remember that they love plants. Add plenty of live plants to your aquarium, as these will help keep the water clean and will also serve as a source of food for your young tadpoles. They will also give these creatures a much-needed hiding place. Hiding places help your tadpoles feel more comfortable, as well as less likely to refuse food.

Tadpoles will feed on the live plants in your tank, so you should prepare yourself by growing only hardy, quick-growing plants like hornwort. These will be much more likely to survive in this kind of setting. Try to maintain a small area above the surface of the water so the tadpoles can climb out once their legs have developed.

To do this, put some large rocks in your tank or have an area of substrate that stretches somewhat above the surface of the water (which will act like a shoreline). Rocks should be secure, as your frogs will jump off of them. Use a deep tank to prevent your mature tadpoles (aka frogs) from jumping out, and consider incorporating a full paludarium setup for best results.

What Should I Feed My Tadpoles?

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Photo by Levon Dymond

What you feed your tadpoles will depend primarily on what stage of life they are at. While freshly hatched tadpoles can survive and thrive while eating storebought fish foods, like flake foods, you may need to purchase tadpole-specific foods.

Don’t think you have to drop a ton of cash – or run to the store – to feed your tadpoles, either. You can find tons of recipes online for homemade tadpole foods, or you can drop small pieces of uncooked vegetables in to the tank.

Once your tadpoles have matured, you can increase the size of their food. Try adding bits of new foods at a time, like dead insects or larvae. Be patient while doing this and remember that if these foods remain uneaten, you can always try again in a week or two.

You should start introducing new foods only when the tadpoles have reached at least three weeks of age. Because tadpoles can vary in size and dietary preferences based on their species, you should use their age as the best way of determining when it is appropriate to change up their diets.

Don’t be afraid to shake things up, either. Changing the food that you are feeding your tadpoles on a regular basis provides them with new nutrients and also makes feeding time a little bit more exciting.

Remember that whatever food source you feed your tadpoles, it must be high in protein. Protein is critical for young tadpoles because they grow and evolve so quickly. They need lots of protein to advance from the hatching stage to metamorphosis. If you feed your tadpoles animal matter, this will give them the protein their bodies require for this kind of strenuous growth. The best foods for tadpoles are aphids and bloodworms, but small insects can also meet the need.

Some people attempt to feed their tadpoles actual meat – like the kind of meat that humans would eat. Don’t add any meat to the tank that your tadpoles would not come across in the wild – that means no chicken, beef, pork, etc. This kind of food will be extremely difficult for the tadpoles to digest because their bodies aren’t familiar with how to process it.

Protein is vital at all stages of life for the tadpole, but particularly when they start to develop legs at five to nine weeks of age. You should gradually start introducing more animal matter at this time to introduce your tadpoles to a carnivorous lifestyle as a frog.

Try not to feed your tadpoles more than they can eat in a few minutes. You should figure out their appetites by feeding them, and then checking the tank an hour later to confirm that all the food has been eaten. If it hasn’t, you may need to remove the leftovers to prevent them from decaying and mucking up the water.

There aren’t many limitations as to what you can feed tadpoles, but we will provide you with some suggestions. If you are feeding meat, consider foods like aphids, bloodworms, boiled eggs, crickets, fruit flies, insect larvae, mealworms, and, as they grow larger, small fish.  You can also feed algae wafers, frozen foods, fruit, green vegetables, and homemade fish food. Remember, storebought fish food flakes and pellets will also suffice!

When Should I Feed My Tadpoles?

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Photo by Jeff Miller

Tadpoles are constantly growing, and since they can’t eat huge portions at one time, you will need to feed them more often. You should try to feed them at least once a day. There are some aquarium hobbyists who suggest feeding tadpoles larger portions but less often – such as every other day – but this can present some problems. Namely, the tadpoles won’t eat all of the food you give them, and the leftovers will slide to the bottom of the tank and cause algal growth.

Remember, if there is any food remaining in the tank within an hour of feeding, you are giving the tadpoles too much to eat. Take out any excess food and start over.

There is no prescribed amount as to how much you should feed your tadpoles. Because you will be feeding a range of different foods to varying quantities of tadpoles, you can’t determine the ideal amount based on species alone. Usually, a pinch of food is enough to satiate your tadpoles, and you can use this to estimate portions for any kind of food. Just watch how much your tadpoles eat while you are getting used to feeding them, and this will help you determine exact quantities in the future.

You don’t have to feed your tadpoles according to a schedule – they can’t tell time. Therefore, you don’t need to feed them at the exact same time every day. Tadpoles will always be in search of food, and they will be ready to eat regardless of the time of day you feed them.

There is one stage in a tadpole’s life when you can lay off some of the feeding. When your tadpoles sprout arms, you can take a brief hiatus from your regular feeding regiment. This is because the tail will be absorbed soon for nutrients, and it will quickly start to shrink. When you notice the arms have appeared, stop feeding until the tail is almost gone.

Feeding Your Tadpoles Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

Although there is some variation in what tadpoles prefer to eat depending on their species and water conditions, in general you can get by with feeding your tadpoles a very simple diet. You should try to give your tadpoles foods that contain all the essential nutrients, feeding them a diet that is nutritious and varied.

Raising tadpoles can seem (and in all fairness, can actually be) intimidating, but the reality is that these creatures are both enjoyable and easy to raise once you get the hang of it. Your hard work and diligence will pay off when you are able to watch your tadpoles grow from tiny swimmers into large, croaking frogs.

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