What Do Tadpoles Eat?

Watching tadpoles eat can be a fun and educational activity. But if you are planning on feeding them, knowing what they eat is essential for their survival. Feeding them the wrong things can kill them. You can be part of the solution to the decline in frog populations by helping tadpoles eat the right foods so they can thrive and become adult frogs.

Tadpoles eat algae, boiled broccoli, cucumber skins, lettuce, leeks, cabbage, watercress, spinach, kale, zucchini, duckweed, phytoplankton, detritus, frog eggs, fish eggs, tadpoles, dragonfly eggs, egg yolk, dragonfly larvae, mosquito larvae, redworms, aphids, and ants.

Tadpoles eat different things depending on their stage of development and below you will learn what tadpoles eat, as well as what they eat depending on their age.

Here is a full list of almost everything tadpoles can eat in alphabetical order:

Food ItemTadpolesFrogs
AlgaeYesNo
AntsYesYes
AphidsYesYes
Baby CarrotsYesNo
CabbageYesNo
Collard GreensYesNo
Cucumber SkinsYesNo
DetritusYesNo
Dragonfly EggsYesYes
Dragonfly LarvaeYesYes
DuckweedYesNo
Egg YolkYesNo
Fish EggsYesYes
Frog EggsYesYes
Green PeasYesNo
Green PepperYesNo
KaleYesNo
LeeksYesNo
LettuceYesNo
Mosquito LarvaeYesYes
MossYesNo
Naturally Decaying VegetationYesNo
PhytoplanktonYesNo
RedwormsYesYes
SpinachYesNo
TadpolesYesYes
WatercressYesNo
ZucchiniYesNo
LarveYesYes
MinnowsYesYes
MosquitosYesYes
Newt EggsYesYes
Water FleasYesYes
Water MitesYesYes
WrigglersYesYes
Asparagus TipsYesNo
CourgetteYesNo
Cauliflower LeavesYesNo
Dried MealwormsYesNo
DaphniaYesNo
Dead FishYesNo
EarthwormsYesYes
ElodiaYesNo
Snail EggsYesYes
Frozen PeasYesNo
Freeze-Dried BloodwormsYesNo
Brine ShrimpYesNo
Garden WormsYesYes
Smaller Koi FryYesYes
Moss BallsYesNo
Pleco WafersYesNo
Pond WeedsYesNo
PlantsYesNo
PlanktonYesNo
Pond AlgaeYesNo
Seaweed (Salt-Free)YesNo
SpirulinaYesNo
ZooplanktonYesNo

Be sure to freeze or boil the food (and let it cool) before serving it to tadpoles. If the vegetable contains a lot of water like zucchini or cucumber, feed the skins to the tadpoles since most of the nutrients are in the skin.

Learn how to feed tadpoles, how much and how often in our complete guide on what to feed tadpoles.

Tadpoles can and should eat leafy greens

What Should Tadpoles Not Eat?

Tadpoles should not eat fish food, apples, bread, bread crumbs, strawberries, bananas, tomatoes, iceberg or lettuce, grass, meat, processed foods, or canned vegetables due to the lack of nutrients, their inability to digest such foods, or high concentrations of preservatives, sugar, and salt.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things tadpoles cannot eat in alphabetical order:

Food ItemTadpolesFrogs
Aloe VeraNoNo
AnchoviesNoNo
ApplesNoNo
AxolotlsNoNo
BaconNoNo
BananasNoNo
BasilNoNo
Betta Fish FoodNoNo
BreadNoNo
BreadcrumbsNoNo
Canned MeatsNoNo
Canned SpinachNoNo
Canned VegetablesNoNo
Cat FoodNoNo
CauliflowerNoNo
CeleriNoNo
Cooked MeatNoNo
CrackersNoNo
Dead LeavesNoNo
Dead SkinNoNo
DirtNoNo
Dog FoodNoNo
Dry Cat FoodNoNo
Fish FoodNoNo
FlowersNoNo
FrogsNoYes
FruitNoNo
Goldfish PelletsNoNo
GrapesNoNo
GrassNoNo
Green OnionsNoNo
HamNoNo
HerbsNoNo
Hot DogsNoNo
Iceberg LettuceNoNo
Jumping SpidersNoYes
June BugsNoYes
KiwiNoNo
Koi FoodNoNo
LeavesNoNo
LeechesNoNo
Lilly PadsNoNo
Little Gem LettuceNoNo
MaggotsNoYes
MealwormsNoYes
MeatNoNo
NewtsNoYes
NutsNoNo
OnionNoNo
OrangesNoNo
PearsNoNo
PicklesNoNo
Pond SnailsNoYes
Processed FoodNoNo
Processed MeatsNoNo
QualesNoNo
QuendasNoYes
Raw MeatNoNo
RiceNoNo
Rocket LettuceNoNo
Rolly PolliesNoNo
Romaine LettuceNoNo
SalmonNoNo
Sea Monkey FoodNoNo
SlugsNoYes
SnailsNoYes
SquashNoNo
StrawberriesNoNo
TomatoesNoNo
Tropical Fish FoodNoNo
Turtle FoodNoNo
Turtle PelletsNoNo
WatermelonNoNo
Wet Cat FoodNoNo

Tadpoles Should Not Eat Any Processed Foods

Tadpoles should not eat processed or canned meat, processed food, or sweets including canned spinach, pork, beef, chicken, or rollie pollies since tadpoles cannot digest these kinds of foods. Processed foods contain chemicals, seasonings, salt, and sugar with little nutritional value and can kill tadpoles.

Sure, tadpoles may eat these kinds of foods, but that does not mean it is good for them or that it will help them grow to become fully realised adult frogs. Feeding tadpoles the wrong foods can lead to stunted growth, obesity, sickness or death.

Tadpoles Should Not Eat Fish Food

Tadpoles should not eat tropical fish food, sea monkey food, fish flakes, goldfish pellets, turtle pellets or any other processed food made for other aquatic species since this food generally contains low-nutritional value ingredients for tadpole development, and ingredients they cannot digest.

Algae wafers, seaweed meal, and tadpole food flakes are convenient and can be a good option since these are easy to pick up online or at a local pet food store, but feeding tadpoles fresh vegetables is better for their health and closer to what they could find in their natural environment (CTNF).

Tadpoles Should Not Eat Fruit And Certain Vegetables

Tadpoles should not be fed strawberries, apples, bananas, grapes, apples, kiwis, pears, oranges, tomatoes, or any other fruits because they contain too much sugar for tadpoles to safely eat.

Tadpoles require a balanced diet of leafy greens when in captivity. Some greens are better than others and you may have noticed that romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, cauliflower, little gem lettuce, aloe vera, and pickles are on the “do not feed to tadpoles” list because they are mostly made of water and have little nutritional value.

Tadpoles Should Not Eat Foods For Other Animals

Tadpoles should not eat cat food, dog food, bird food, fish food, turtle pellets, tropical fish food, sea monkey food, or any kind of processed foods since they generally contain too much salt, sugar, and low-nutritional value products for tadpoles, as well as meats they cannot process.

Like we said above for other things, tadpoles may eat these foods, but it does not mean that it is good for them. Such foods can stunt their growth or lead to sicknesses, cannibalism and deaths. Be sure to provide tadpoles the right foods to encourage safe development into frogs.

Captive Tadpoles Should Not Eat Wild Food

Do not feed tadpoles that were born in captivity any vegetation or insects that were sourced in the wild. Wild insects and plants may carry parasites or diseases that can cause diarrhea, hookworms, infections, sickness, or death in captive tadpoles.

Let’s have a look at how to feed tadpoles, as well as ideal amounts of food to provide them for their growth. 

Tadpoles Are Omnivores

As a general rule, tadpoles are herbivores from 0 to 6 weeks and are omnivores after 6 weeks until they become froglets. Wild tadpoles generally eat algae, moss, and phytoplankton, but they can eat boiled lettuce, spinach, and broccoli in captivity.

Tadpoles should also start to eat bugs once they grow legs

Young tadpoles are herbivores when they:

  • Just transformed from eggs
  • Have just tails and a body with gills
  • Are tadpoles with small feet but no legs
  • Are about ages 0 to 6 weeks

Tadpoles become omnivores when they:

  • Have two or four legs
  • Up to when they have no tail
  • Are about ages 6 weeks to froglet

Learn what is best to feed tadpoles at different stages of their development in the full guide on our blog.

Do Tadpoles Eat Algae?

Tadpoles naturally eat algae and decaying vegetation in the wild. They may eat algae wafers, algae flakes, seaweed meal, and tadpole food flakes you can get at a local pet store, but it is best to feed them a balanced diet of boiled leafy greens if they are in captivity.

A scientific study found that tadpoles do not eat all kinds of algae and that blue-green algae (Anabaena Flos-Aquae) was found to be digested and promote better growth in the studied group of tadpoles (Pryor, 2003).

What Do Bullfrog Tadpoles Eat?

In the wild, Bullfrog tadpoles eat decaying vegetation, algae, duckweed, phytoplankton, hornwort, moss, detritus, frog eggs, dragonfly eggs, and dragonfly larvae. In captivity, they boiled broccoli, green peppers, cucumber skin, cabbage, spinach, kale, zucchini, egg yolk, redworms, aphids, and ants.

Bullfrog tadpoles develop much like other aquatic frog tadpoles and can eat what other types of tadpoles can eat as listed above. Be sure to avoid feeding tadpoles processed foods and give them a balanced diet to promote their development.

However, once the tadpoles become froglets they are obligate carnivores and need to eat live food only. Froglets and adult frogs will no longer eat any vegetables or green matter. Once they reach this stage of growth they are completely carnivores.

Froglets and adult frogs eat invertebrates, small mammals, small lizards, small fish, and smaller frogs. These include beetles, cockroaches, dragonflies, grubs, larvae, minnows, moths, roaches, slugs, small birds, small frogs, small bats, and small snakes.

More About What Tadpoles Eat

This entire blog is dedicated to frogs and we have many fascinating articles about what they eat. Be sure to check them out by clicking on the links below:

Common Questions About What Tadpoles Eat

What to feed tadpoles? As a general rule, you can feed tadpoles leafy greens including boiled broccoli, green peppers, cucumber skin, lettuce, leeks, cabbage, watercress, spinach, kale, zucchini, redworms, aphids, and ants.

Do tadpoles eat mosquito larvae? Once they are over 6 weeks old or have legs, tadpoles develop a carnivore appetite and eat mosquito larvae and mosquito eggs, as well as dragonfly larvae, dragonfly eggs, fish eggs, frog eggs, other frog tadpoles, redworms, aphids, and ants.

What do tadpoles eat in the wild? In the wild, tadpoles eat decaying vegetation, algae, duckweed, phytoplankton, hornwort, cryptocoryne, java moss, java fern, moss, detritus, frog eggs, fish eggs, tadpoles, dragonfly eggs, egg yolk, dragonfly larvae, mosquito larvae, redworms, aphids, and ants.

Are tadpoles cannibals? Tadpoles can be cannibals and will eat each other if there is not enough food or space for them to thrive in their environment. If tadpoles lack space or nutritional food such as algae, decaying vegetation, mosquito eggs, and dragonfly larvae, they may feed on other tadpoles.

Can you eat tadpoles? Tadpoles are not fit for human consumption and should not be eaten raw or cooked as they can carry viral and bacterial diseases, and can cause sparganum infections. Most cases of sparganum infections have been reported in Southeast Asia, China, Japan, and Korea due to people eating raw tadpoles.