We don’t set out on raising tadpoles as pets, but they are an important critter in the mix of our amphibian tanks. If you remember from your childhood education, tadpoles are frog babies that look like weird fish. Ultimately they lose their tails and transform into frogs.

Let’s take a look at these funny, weird little freshwater creatures and what they eat at which point in their lives, how to feed them properly, and more.

What Do Tadpoles Eat in the Wild?

Most tadpoles are fully aquatic and spend their time only in water. However, it is important to know that there are some species, like the Indirana Beddomii, that are semi-terrestrial. Where your frog will spend time is important when it comes to setting up your tank. Cater to the specific frog species you are wanting to raise.

Tadpoles of all types are commonly seen in lakes and ponds. They love to be surrounded by plants and algae, these act as both food sources and shelter from potential predators. It is important to incorporate live plants into your tank to help the tadpoles feel safe. If they have anxiety they will not eat and can get sick or die.

Tadpoles are lifelong omnivores. In the wild, they most commonly eat water striders, dead insects and vegetation, and other plant matter. As they develop into either frogs or toads their diet will switch to primarily being carnivorous.

While the tadpole is hatching, they eat the yolk in their egg. When newly hatched babies look for food, their search will most likely lead them to find algae to eat. During their growth cycle, they will move onto a more diverse food, by eating things like small insects and plant stems.

At the point they reach mature tadpole they will eat almost anything they can put into their mouths but will mostly focus on food that has a lot of protein. This ravenous hunger of being willing to eat anything is because they need as much food as they can find. The more protein they get into their body means that they have the energy for growing as much as they can in as little time as possible.

What Do Tadpoles Eat in an Aquarium?

To make sure your tadpoles remain healthy, their aquariums must resemble the natural environment they would grow up in. If things are too different it can cause the tadpole to be distressed and not eat properly.

Tadpoles often grow up in ponds so there is no need to have a strong current in their tank. Keep in mind that the lack of water movement causes pollutants and algae to build up at a faster pace. While your tadpoles can and will eat algae, too much is bad for the tank. Make sure to frequently test the water and remove waste and algae as needed. It is more important that your tank has clean water than growing algae. Clean water is a vital part for your tadpoles to survive and grow strong.

How you set up your tank can affect your tadpole’s ability to eat. If your tadpole is anxious, they are more likely to avoid food and eating. Plants are a great addition; they help the tadpoles have a place to hide when they are scared and pull double duty in that they can help keep the tank clean. 

Since tadpoles are so robust in their diet, here are some ideas for mealtime:

  • Algae Wafers
  • Fruit
  • Aphids
  • Green Vegetables
  • Frozen Foods
  • Fruit Flies
  • Homemade Fish Food
  • Bloodworms
  • Meal Worms
  • Small Fish
  • Boiled Eggs
  • Crickets
  • Fish Food Flakes
  • Fish Food Pellets
  • Insect Larvae

When and How Often Do Tadpoles Eat?

Tadpoles must be fed regularly. They require a feeding schedule where you feed them daily at the same time every day.

They are in a stage of their development where they are constantly growing and developing so they will always be on the prowl for something to eat. If you give them a single feeding session a day, it will help keep them healthy.

Make sure you do not overfeed your tadpoles. While this species rarely eats so much it makes itself sick, the danger is in having the extra food rot.

Any food leftover after mealtime is an indication you are feeding the fish too much food at a time. Whatever food the tadpole does not eat will fall to the substrate in the tank and start to rot.

Rotting food in the water causes nitrates to increase and this can make the water toxic for the tadpoles to live in. This has the potential to make the frog sick and cause their deaths.

How much you feed them will depend on the type of food you use, and the diet needs of the tadpoles. Often a single pinch of a flake food can be enough to keep them happy. Watch the tadpole behaving and you can soon tell if they need food.

When they grow limbs, they can be fed less for a while. They will begin to absorb their tell and it gives them nutrition. After this phase, you can feed them a variety of food including live food, frozen food, or fish flakes.

A Tadpole’s Lifecycle

Tadpoles are just a part of the frog/toad’s life cycles. This cycle goes includes going from being an egg to finally reaching adulthood, after which the adult lay eggs and the process starts all over again.

A tadpole’s food and hormones are what control its rate of development. While there is consistency between tadpoles as they develop into froglets, there are several factors that influence this growth. Having good water (highly filtered tap water will do in most cases), high-quality food, and genetics all play a part in this. 

Tadpoles hatch in the spring and summer. The newly hatched tadpole will latch onto plants and eat the remaining yoke in their egg. After ten days old they start to swim and look for more plant-based foods.

Around three to four weeks they lost gills and grow tiny teeth, these teeth allow for bigger food.

Weeks five to nine will have them eating both plants and insects. This is when they will grow limbs and start to look like tiny frogs.

Week twelve they lose their tail and can leave the water, they start hopping on land.

Week thirteen and on they are adult frogs capable of reproducing.

How to Feed Tadpoles By Stage

Frog spawn, ready to hatch

Here are some specific tips for each phase of the tadpole to frog cycle.

Newly Hatched (first few days)

When tadpoles are just newly hatched, there isn’t a lot you need to do for them. They will eat the yolk in their egg and then attach to a plant and munch on it as needed.

One Week to One Month

This stage is where you get involved. You should feed the tadpole one pellet each day. There are several commercial pellets that you can choose from. Pick the one that best suits your tadpole‘s needs.

If you want to give the tadpole an edge in growing, you can coat the pellet in a vitamin and mineral mix that is made for amphibians.

One month: Frog

When your tadpole is ready to celebrate its one-month birthday, its legs will begin to emerge. At this point, they can handle eating two to three pellets per week. If they have done well on the pellet choice so far, there is no need to do it. It’s also possible to continue coating the pellet in a vitamin and mineral coating.

Tadpole Treats

Everyone loves to give their pets treats, even tadpoles appreciate it. Treat should only be given once a week and can include items like Brine Shrimp Flakes and Spirulina.

Species Specific Tips for Tadpoles

Dwarf Frogs

Dwarf Frogs do not need you to create dry spots for them or to be transmitted to terrestrial environments. 

Pacman Frog

Pacman Frogs do not need a lot of water in their tanks. Instead, they need to have a shallow bowl of warm water with a lot of humidity in the tank. If the frog does not have enough humidity it will start to sit in the pool.

White’s Tree Frog

This species of frog prefers to live in a moist area with trees once they finish the tadpole stage. As they develop they will start spending time on land.

African Clawed Frog

This frog is like the Dwarf Frogs in that both are all-aquatic and do not require you to create terrestrial spaces in their tanks.

Oriental Fire Bellied Toads

This species of toad needs a semi-terrestrial environment. They must have a transitional area in the tank where the developing toad can get out of the water and onto land. Giving their hatching pool a 44-degree angle slope will make it much easier on them.

American Green Tree Frog

American Green Tree Frogs are similar to other frogs in that they will need a terrestrial area to transition to. Constructing your tank to have a ramp for them to climb makes it easier for when they need to leave water.

What Else Should You Know About Your Tadpole’s Nutritional Needs?

When you are considering what to feed your tadpoles, you must remember this species is not equipped to hand meat. They have intestines that are shaped like long coils and when they begin to develop in frogs a change happens. Their intestines begin to shorten, and it is then they are capable of digesting meat.

Therefore, they need to keep a plant-based diet until they are matured significantly. Professional keepers suggest that you feed them only plants. Do not use food pellets developed for other species, such as fish and turtles. Many of these pellets contain meat which will be harmful to the tadpole

Due to their inability to handle meat, tadpoles must get protein from another source. They must get protein because they are in constant development. This need for protein is especially true when they are beginning to form their back legs

One of the best sources of protein can be found in green and leafy vegetables. These plants include broccoli, spinach, green peas, and zucchini. When preparing these vegetables, you need to boil them for around five minutes, or till they are soft and will be easy to chew on. Next, make sure that you finely chop up these food items. They need to be small enough for the Tadpole to be able to eat. These can be fed in small amounts twice a day.

Another great source of protein is the egg yolks of hard-boiled eggs. You can take the yolk from the egg and crumble it up into small pieces that be placed in the tank for the tadpoles to eat.

While these are all great options for feeding your tadpoles protein, what happens if you simply do not have the time needed to create home-cooked meals for your tadpoles?

It is time-consuming to cook food every day, thankfully there are some quality store-bought tadpole foods that you can find at your local pet and fish stores. 

When you are looking at these foods, make sure that you pay attention to the label. Most brands will sell foods that are suitable for the frog during each of its stages of life. Make sure you pick the right food for where your tadpole is because a lot of the later stages foods contain a lot more protein used to help spur growth.

What happens if you do not have a pet store nearby or they are out of Tadpole food? And then you can’t take the time to cook for your pets?

An unexpected choice is pre-made baby food. Any grocery store will carry this type of bottled food. Baby food is designed to be both digested with ease and is jampacked with a variety of nutrients. When shopping for baby food for your Tadpole, make sure you pick the foods with the highest amount of protein and calcium.

It is important to not overfed the tadpoles. They will rarely overeat but any food they don’t eat will fall to the bottom of the tank and can cause problems with the water.

If you give your tadpole the environment and diet it needs, it will grow into a strong healthy frog right before your eyes.

About The Author

1 thought on “What Do Tadpoles Eat? Wild vs. As Pets”

  1. Thanks, Matt, great article.
    I have noticed a small shrimp-like creature feeding on a couple taddies in my fountain. they seem to latch on and possibly paralyse the tadpole, then they all move in to feed. What are they? it is most distressing to see it happen, so I would like to remove the little ‘killer krill’.

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