How to Take Care of Tadpoles

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Watching tadpoles metamorphose into frogs is an instructive foray into the wonders of nature for children and adults alike. At this stage, tadpoles are sensitive to changes, so special care must be taken while raising them.

Things You'll Need

  • Glass or plastic container
  • Sand or aquarium gravel
  • Distilled water
  • Bucket
  • Aquarium aerator
  • Plants from collection habitat
  • Lettuce, baby spinach, leaves from bottom of the stream

Step 1: Choose a Habitat

Pick a habitat for your tadpoles that is big enough for all the tadpoles you plan to collect. The rule is one or two tadpoles per liter of water, depending on size -- that comes out to three to seven tadpoles per gallon. Glass aquariums work best, though smaller plastic containers may be used as well. Whatever you choose, wash it thoroughly and rinse with distilled water before adding your tadpoles.

Step 2: Add Substrate and Water

Place a small layer of aquarium gravel or sand on the bottom of your tank. Fill the container with pure, distilled water. Do not use tap water or water with added minerals. Many of the chemicals found in these waters can kill your tadpoles. Allow the water to sit in the container and reach ambient temperature before introducing tadpoles.

Warning

  • If you choose to use sand as a substrate, do not collect from a saltwater beach. The salt left behind by ocean water can kill your tadpoles. Use river sand instead.

Step 3: Collect Tadpoles

Depending on the local laws regarding collection of wildlife, you may be able to go to a local stream or pond and look for tadpoles. If not, contact your local pet store or frog breeder. If you collect wild tadpoles, collect them with the water they are swimming in. Use a large, clean bucket for this. Also grab some rocks from the stream or pond bed, and an aquatic plant or two if there are any growing nearby.

Step 4: Switch Containers

Don't dump tadpoles right into your new container. Instead, place the tadpole and some of its original water into a plastic bag. Float this bag on the water in the new habitat and allow the temperature of the tadpole's original water to equalize with the new habitat. Slowly add water from the new habitat into the bag, until the volume of water in the bag has doubled. This should take no less than three hours. Once the tadpole is acclimated to the water and the temperature, open the bag and let her into her new environment.

Tip

  • While you're waiting for your tadpole to adjust, place the rocks and plants you found into the new container. Do not wash off any algae or plant matter as it is healthy for your tadpole.

Step 5: Feed Your Tadpoles

Even though adult frogs are carnivores, tadpoles are omnivores. They will eat both plant matter and meat. Your tadpoles can eat:

  • Green lettuce
  • Baby spinach
  • Papaya leaves
  • Green grapes, halved
  • Slightly smashed peas
  • Leaf matter from the bottom of a stream or pond

Place a small amount of food into your tadpole's habitat several times a day. For protein, offer frozen or freeze-dried brine shrimp, krill or bloodworms three times per week. Remove uneaten morsels within a few hours to prevent fouling of the water.

Step 6: Replace Water

Once a week, scoop out about half of the water in your tadpoles' enclosure and slowly replace with more distilled water over the course of several hours.

Warning

  • While green coloration to water is usually a healthy indication of algae, yellow color to the water can indicate an infection or other problem. Contact a herpetologist -- a reptile scientist -- immediately if you're in doubt.

Step 7: Watch Them Grow

After four to eight weeks in most species, your tadpoles will begin to metamorphose. They will grow legs and start breathing air. When you notice them refusing vegetable matter food and trying to get out of the water, it is time to transfer them back to their natural habitat or place them in an enclosure for adult frogs and begin feeding with insects.

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