Ensuring that tadpoles get nourishment during their early phases can be quite perplexing. Frogs go through many metamorphic changes, some of which concern their digestive systems and feeding capabilities, leaving amphibian enthusiasts to wonder how to feed tadpoles.
Before you dive in, remember you do not need to feed wild tadpoles. This article is made for those caring for captive tadpoles. If you have tadpoles in a backyard pond, simply ensure there is enough vegetation and space for them to thrive.
Young tadpoles need ¼ teaspoon of food per tadpole, per day, while tadpoles with feet, or that are older than 6 weeks, should be fed ½ teaspoon of food per tadpole, per day. Tadpoles should be fed around the same time each day, slowly over a duration of 30 minutes to avoid water clouding.
Although tadpoles find their food in the wild, it is still great to understand how to feed them if the need arises. Join us as we discuss how to feed tadpoles and what factors to consider for their safety and development over time.
What Tadpoles Eat Depending on Age
There are many things tadpoles can and cannot eat throughout various developmental phases, even though these foods may be relatively similar. It is crucial to ensure that each food item is safe before going ahead with food preparation.
Since tadpoles undergo so many metamorphic changes during their early stages, amphibian caregivers need to ensure that their diets are compatible with the relevant developments. Tadpoles are fully aquatic herbivores during their initial stages of development, and they only start eating meat during later tadpole stages.
A healthy tadpole diet needs to contain calcium since it is mineral for tadpoles development. As tadpoles metamorphose, their cartilage skeletons begin to ossify, creating a high demand for calcium (Stiffler, 1993). Including calcium in tadpole diets is essential to improve their survival rates, reduce deformities, and reduce the risk of tadpoles contracting SLS.
However, too much oxalate or oxalic acid found in some of these vegetables, notably spinach, has been found to lead to renal tubular necrosis and death in developing tadpoles (Forzán et al., 2014).
Therefore, be sure to feed tadpoles a varied and balanced diet of plant-based foods during their development.
|Tadpole Age||Diet||Feeding Requirements|
|Newborn||Yolk||No Feeding Necessary|
|1 to 6 weeks||Herbivore||Leafy Greens|
|6 to 12 weeks||Omnivore||Leafy Greens, Small insects|
Young tadpoles can eat algae, boiled broccoli, cucumber skin, lettuce, leeks, cabbage, watercress, spinach, kale, zucchini, duckweed, phytoplankton, detritus, phytoplankton, hornwort, cryptocoryne, java moss, java fern, moss and other leafy greens.
See the complete list of what tadpoles can eat on our blog
Tadpole Feeding Methods
There are plenty of healthy food options for captive tadpoles. Here are some tools you can use to feed captive tadpoles:
|Feeding Tool||Feeding Method||Examples of Food Types|
|Spoon||Drop the food into the habitat using a spoon||Prepared broccoli, kale, cucumber skin, lettuce, leeks, cabbage, spinach, zucchini, green peppers|
|Tweezers||Feed tadpoles directly||Aphids, very small fish, ants, mosquitoes|
|Pipette||Drip-drop liquid food||Raw egg yolk|
Since tadpoles should be fed a combination of food types during this phase, the feeding method will also need to be fairly flexible (CTNF). Use a selection of tools to feed the tadpoles, depending on the type and size of the food.
Let’s cover ways you can prepare the food to make it much easier for them to consume.
Preparation will play a massive role in the tadpoles’ health and safety. Vegetation should not be sourced from the wild and fed to tadpoles living in captivity. Here are ways to safely prepare the food so the tadpoles can easily consume it:
- Washing: Many greens and vegetables found in grocery stores may have remnants of chemicals or pesticides. Tadpoles are extremely sensitive, and they can be negatively affected by any harsh substances. It is important to ensure that the food is thoroughly washed before following further steps.
- Cutting: Since tadpoles have tiny teeth and sensitive digestive systems, they will not be able to bite off chunks of the food. Caregivers can cut the vegetables and greens into small pieces, making it easier for spoon-feeding and digestion.
- Boiling: Some vegetables and greens will need to be cooked prior to feeding to make them easier to consume. Boiling the food before feeding tadpoles also kills bacteria, which will instantly lower any bacteria-related risks for hungry tadpoles. Make sure to set the boiled vegetables aside to cool before feeding them to the tadpoles.
- Freezing: Freezing the vegetation can be a great way to preserve it for longer time frames, making it easy for amphibian enthusiasts to plan daily meals in advance. Similar to boiling, freezing also breaks down certain kinds of vegetables like spinach, making them easier to consume. Caregivers can freeze the food after washing and can skip boiling if necessary.
For those with a backyard frog pond, ensure you have native plants to your area in the pond, which may include hornwort, cryptocoryne, duckweed, moss, java moss, java fern, or Sagittaria subulata to allow the tadpoles to feed naturally. Just make sure that these additions will not harm surrounding wildlife and are native to your area.
See the complete list of what tadpoles cannot eat on our blog
Tadpoles older than 6 weeks, or that are developing feet, will need animal-based foods (not the same meats we consume) to grow healthily. Tadpoles will generally consume small invertebrates during this phase.
Caregivers can still feed tadpoles leafy greens and specific vegetables during this phase, provided that the food is prepared appropriately. However, the tadpoles will need much more nourishment to develop into frogs at this time, and keeping them on a herbivore diet for too long may cause growth issues.
Avoid your tadpoles dying prematurely by reading this article on our blog
How Much To Feed Tadpoles
Tadpole food should be prepared by breaking it down so they can easily ingest and digest the food. This is easily done by boiling or freezing the food prior to making it available to the tadpoles. The food should be slowly provided to them over a 30 minute period of time.
Tadpoles will need more food as they grow into froglets. They generally need ¼ teaspoon of food during their early phases and ½ teaspoon of food after they start developing legs (CTNF).
Below is a general outline of how much food to provide in various scenarios:
|Number of 0 – 6 Week Old Tadpoles||Amount of Food|
|Number of 6 Week Old Tadpoles||Amount of Food|
It can be tricky to ensure that each tadpole gets the nourishment they need for development, especially when caring for countless tadpoles in a single aquatic space. Ensure all the food is eaten in a 30 minute period and that the water does not get cloudy (especially when feeding egg yolk).
How Often To Feed Tadpoles
Tadpoles should generally be fed once a day around the same time, and tadpoles should be fed over a period of approximately 30 minutes per feeding session. Avoid dumping all of the food in at once to avoid clouding water.
The feeding process needs to be steady, and one can stop feeding the tadpoles when they stop eating. Adding too much food to the aquatic space can have dire consequences as it can become rotten, leading to murky and tainted water. If there are any leftovers, remove them from the water body using a mesh net.
Feeding a pond full of hungry tadpoles can seem like a challenge, and it will certainly take some time and effort. But, going the extra mile will be worth it once these innocent little creatures begin hopping out of the water, eager to explore their new surroundings.
More About Tadpoles
Learn more about tadpoles on our blog:
- Can Tadpoles Eat Fish Food?
- What Do Tadpoles Eat In The Wild?
- Why Are My Tadpoles Dying?
- What Do Tadpoles Need To Survive?
- How Many Tadpoles Survive?
- What Do Tadpoles Eat?
- What Should You Feed Tadpoles?
Lassiter E, Garcés O, Higgins K, et al. Spindly leg syndrome in Atelopus varius is linked to environmental calcium and phosphate availability. PLoS One. 2020;15(6):e0235285. Published 2020 Jun 29. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0235285
Forzán MJ, Ferguson LV, Smith TG. Calcium Oxalate, Nephrolithiasis and Tubular Necrosis in Recent Metamorphs of Rana sylvatica (Lithobates sylvaticus) Fed Spinach During the Premetamorphic (Tadpole) Stage. Veterinary Pathology. 2015;52(2):384-387. doi:10.1177/0300985814535607, 2014.
Stiffler DF. Amphibian calcium metabolism. J exp Biol. 1993;184: 47–61. Available: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/jexbio/184/1/47.full.pdf