How to care for tadpoles
Raising tadpoles is an excellent way to observe nature at her most creative. The metamorphosis, or change, that a tadpole undergoes to become a mature frog or toad is fascinating to observe up close. This is a perfect way to teach young children about the process of growth and change. The frog has also been a longtime favorite of biology labs as an ideal teaching tool. Whatever your motivations, you will need to be aware of the species’ needs at various stages of the transformation. A tadpole is the aquatic, larval stage of a toad or frog. As it progresses through the changes, its nutritional and environmental requirements change.
A tadpole’s needs are simple. But it is highly susceptible to things such as chlorine. Learn a few simple principles and you’ll know how to confidently care for tadpoles.
Finding and collecting
The first thing to be aware of is that some states have laws prohibiting the collection of certain species. Once you have raised the tadpoles to maturity, you are faced with the decision of what to do with them next. Non-native species should not be released into the wild. So, unless you collect and release an approved species, you will have to plan on caring for the adults. Since eggs are laid by the 100s or 1000s, be realistic in the number of eggs or young tadpoles you collect.
Eggs and tadpoles can be found in ponds, creeks, and small lakes. Eggs are found in gelatinous clumps. They are clear with a black dot inside. Take a small mesh net to catch tadpoles. Wear your boots!
If you do not live close to a pond or wetlands, you may be able to buy eggs or tadpoles at a pet store or a pond supply source. Online sources for ordering is another possibility.
Identifying the species from the eggs will be extremely difficult for an amateur. Tadpoles of various species vary somewhat in size and coloration.
"Tadpoles of the United States and Canada" has a tutorial with photographs to help you identify your tadpole.
Any number of smooth-sided containers will work for your tadpole farm. It can vary from a fishbowl or aquarium, to a child’s pool or outdoor pond. The main ingredient is non-chlorinated water. Use pond water if available. Make sure you obtain the water from a source that is not polluted. Allow a gallon of water for 2-3 tadpoles.
To use tap water, let it sit several days to allow the chlorine to evaporate. Leaving the water in the sun will speed up this process. You can also dissolve de-chlorination tablets in the water.
While the tadpoles are in their early stages, no land surface is needed. Once the froglets begin to develop, they will need a surface to crawl out on. Lily pads or a large rock will do nicely.
A natural environment
If the container is outside, be sure to provide some shade. While some exposure to the sun will help your tadpoles mature, they must have shade as well. They also need places to hide from real or imagined predators. Add leafy, underwater plants.
Avoid handling as they are sensitive to natural oils found on our skin. Also avoid using soaps or detergents to clean the container.
Tadpoles are mainly herbivores, so you will have to provide plant material in their diet. They will be ready to eat 3-5 days after hatching. Frozen spinach or boiled lettuce are good suppliers of nutrients. The lettuce should be boiled or frozen so it will have a mushy consistency. You can freeze it in ice cube trays and thaw out only as much as you need for each feeding. One cube every 2-3 days should be enough. Tadpole powder may also be purchased at a pond store. Crushed rabbit pellets make a good supplement, as do boiled egg yolks. Flaked fish food or crushed algae tablets are also good food sources.
Feed only as much as your pets will eat up in a short time. After about an hour, remove any uneaten food. Excess food will cloud the water. It can also decay and poison the tadpoles.
Not all specimens will mature at the same rate. The change from egg to frog may take about 6-12 weeks, depending on species and temperature. Eggs laid in the fall may not develop into frogs until the following spring. Tadpoles will hibernate just like fish when kept in an outdoor pond.
You may end up with tadpoles, two-legged specimens, and froglets in the same batch. This is normal, but it creates a problem. The more mature creatures have now reached the carnivore stage. To use more indelicate terms, froglets may now start feasting on their immature siblings. Move them to a separate container to prevent the carnage.
Once the froglets develop lungs, they will need a way to get out of the water. A sand or gravel slope to the edge is a good solution. Tree frogs will be able to climb vertical surfaces. Others types of frogs need a sloping surface.
New feeding requirements
As the legs develop, the tadpoles will use their tail as a food source. You can observe the tail growing smaller as it is absorbed into the body.
Maturing froglets now require protein in their diet. The catch is that the protein must be alive. Crickets are the meal of choice for larger frogs and toads. Growing froglets may be content with aphids, bloodworms, or meal worms. Live insects may be purchased at a pet store that carries fish. Release them live into the froglets’ environment.
If you have obtained native species, you may safely release them into their habitat once they have matured.
The last chapter
If all goes well, you can observe the transformation of amphibious creatures from water-breathing to land dwelling. Learning how to care for tadpoles is an important part of the process. You must be ready to adapt to each stage that develops. Once your swimmers reach adulthood, it is time to release them back into the wild. If you have done your job well, the adults will reproduce the following season and you can start the process all over again.