How to Care for and Feed Tadpoles in Your Aquarium

tadpoles feeding

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Frog husbandry is a combination of a terrestrial and aquatic care. Depending on the species you keep, a frog may only need a little water, or live only in water. If you are just getting started in the amphibian hobby, make sure you do your research so you understand how you desired species needs to be kept.

Breeding frogs comes with its own unique challenges. Once you have a male and female of the same species, you can start along the path to reproduction. All frogs hatch from eggs, but the number produced during one spawning will differ between species, as will the size, color, and shape of the eggs.

As they grow into frogs, tadpoles undergo metamorphosis through multiple stages. Successful reproduction and rearing of young frogs relies heavily on how well you care for the tadpole life stages.

Tadpole Stages

The tadpole stage begins when the tadpole leaves their egg and assume a straight body position. This stage persists until the tail has been absorbed in the body. Tadpoles can be classified by hind and forelimb emergence.

As your tadpoles age, they can be separated by metamorphosis stage, based on which sets of legs have emerged. Their feeding will change based upon these stages.

Tadpole Environment

Tadpoles should be separated from their parents and can be kept in individual containers. You can move the tadpoles once they emerge using a baster or small cup. Depending on the species, you may only have a few tadpoles or dozens.

Tadpoles do best with reverse osmosis water, commonly called "RO water." You can purchase it by the bottle or buy a reverse osmosis filter. Depending on the species, you may need to manipulate the pH and temperature. Some species, such as dart frogs, can benefit from tannin-rich, low pH water from the addition of different leaves.

As with all other amphibians, water quality is key. It is best if you use a low-flow filter to keep from blowing the tadpoles about. A simple sponge filter is best for this stage. Some very small tadpoles may be too small to keep with any filter, so they will rely on you doing water changes. Keep an eye on your water quality and perform regular water changes. If you notice an odd odor, it's definitely time for a water change!

Tadpole Feeding

Please keep in mind that the timing of these stages are only vague guidelines. Your species may not follow the exact timeline below.

Newly Hatched (first few days)

Your newly hatched tadpoles will be very hands-off at this stage. They are too young to receive any food.

One Week to One Month

During this stage, feed your tadpole one tadpole pellet daily. There are a few commercial diets available and are the best choice for your tadpole. Boiling lettuce does not produce suitable nutrition for a developing frog. You can coat the pellet in a vitamin/mineral mix for amphibians if desired.

One month: Frog

After your hardy tadpoles celebrate their one month birthday and legs start to emerge, they can graduate to only receiving two to three pellets per week. Keep them on the same frog/tadpole pellet and continue the vitamin/mineral topcoat if desired.

Once your tadpoles have achieved full metamorphosis into a frog, where no tail is apparent, they will need to switch to an appropriate frog diet.

Tadpole Treats

What pet doesn't like the occasional treat? Keep in mind that all treats are supplemental and should not replace their complete pelleted diet. At most, feed treats once a week.

Here are some tasty tadpole treat options:

  • Brine shrimp [flake]
  • Spirulina
  • Soilent green

Species-Specific Tips

Dwarf Frog: These all-aquatic frogs don't need any haul-outs or dry spots. You do not need to transition them to a terrestrial environment.

African Clawed Frog: Like the Dwarf Frog, these frogs are all-aquatic and do not need any terrestrial space in their environment.

Oriental Fire Bellied Toads: Despite their name, these frogs require a semi-terrestrial environment. You will need to provide a transitional stage where the almost-frog can escape their watery home. If able, set their aquatic hatching pool at a 45-degree angle to give them an easy slope to climb.

White's Tree Frog: After their aquatic tadpole stage, these frogs would rather live in a moist, tree-loving environment. As with the species above, make sure the tadpole stage can start expanding their terrestrial time.

American Green Tree Frog: Like their other tree frog friends, this species will need to transition to a terrestrial environment.

Pacman Frog: Although they do not need a lot of water, you need to provide a shallow bowl of warm RO water. If your tank environment is not humid enough, your frog will let you know by sitting in their pool.


Any frog species taken out of the wild cannot be kept with captive animals. If you are raising wild tadpoles, such as bullfrog tadpoles, they need to be returned to the exact same spot they were found after developing into frogs. It is not recommended to keep any wild frogs as pets.