What Should You Feed Tadpoles?

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Feeding tadpoles can be a fun and educational activity, but knowing what to feed them is essential for their survival. Some people think it is ok to feed tadpoles the wrong foods and, unfortunately, end up killing them. With frogs in decline, it is key to feed your tadpoles the right foods so they can thrive and become adult frogs.

Tadpoles are the larval stage of frogs and are omnivores that feed primarily on decaying vegetation such as algae and phytoplankton, smaller tadpoles, and bug larvae in the wild. In captivity, tadpoles can safely be fed boiled lettuce, spinach, zucchini, and broccoli.

Tadpoles need different types of foods depending on their stage of development. This article will be a very concise and direct reply to what tadpoles eat depending on their age (if they have legs or not), what they should not eat, how to feed them properly, and how often.

What Tadpoles Eat

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

Tadpoles Are Herbivores From Age 0 to 6 Weeks

Young tadpoles are frog larvae that:

  • Just transformed from eggs
  • Have just tails and a body with gills
  • Or are tadpoles with small feet but no legs

Here is a full table of almost everything young tadpoles can and cannot eat:

Food ItemTadpolesAdult Frogs
AlgaeYesNo
Cucumber SkinsYesNo
LettuceYesNo
LeeksYesNo
CabbageYesNo
WatercressYesNo
SpinachYesNo
KaleYesNo
Green PeasYesNo
ZucchiniYesNo
Green PepperYesNo
Baby CarrotsYesNo
Naturally Decaying VegetationYesNo
Mineral ParticlesYesNo
DuckweedYesNo
DetritusYesNo
MossYesNo
StrawberriesNoNo
ApplesNoNo
BananasNoNo
WatermelonNoNo
BlueberriesNoNo
TomatoesNoNo
Romaine LettuceNoNo
Iceberg LettuceNoNo
BreadNoNo
BreadcrumbsNoNo
Rolly PolliesNoNo
GrassNoNo
FruitNoNo
Canned VegetablesNoNo

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.

Find out more things you can feed tadpoles in our complete list of what tadpoles can eat.

In Captivity, Tadpoles Can Eat Frozen or Boiled Kale, Broccoli, And Green Peppers

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).

Tadpoles Are Omnivores From 6 Weeks to Froglets

Tadpoles in their second stage of development are omnivores when:

  • They have two legs
  • They have four legs
  • Up to when they have no tail

Tadpoles at this stage can, and should, eat all the safe types of leafy greens that young tadpoles can eat, as well as begin to eat “meat.” Now, by meat we do not mean a steak you can get at the grocery store. Tadpoles with legs should only eat small bugs such as red worms, ants and aphids.

Here is a full table of the meats and foods tadpoles can or cannot eat once they start to grow legs:

Food ItemTadpolesAdult Frogs
Frog EggsYesYes
Fish EggsYesYes
Smaller FishYesYes
Smaller TadpolesYesYes
Dragonfly EggsYesYes
Dragonfly LarvaeYesYes
Mosquito LarvaeYesYes
RedwormsYesYes
AntsYesYes
AphidsYesYes
Small WormsYesYes
PhytoplanktonYesNo
Egg YolkYesNo
Hot DogsNoNo
Canned MeatsNoNo
Raw MeatNoNo
Boiled MeatNoNo
PorkNoNo
BeefNoNo
ChickenNoNo
Fish FoodNoNo
Turtle PelletsNoNo
Dog FoodNoNo
Cat FoodNoNo

Generally, all frog tadpoles, including Bullfrog tadpoles, can eat boiled or frozen broccoli, cucumber skin, lettuce, leeks, cabbage, watercress, spinach, kale, zucchini, and green peppers in captivity. In the wild, tadpoles will naturally feed on algae, duckweed, and phytoplankton.

Here is what you can feed captive tadpoles, pond tadpoles in your yard, and wild tadpoles you could find in a local marsh or swamp. Be sure to read the article all the way through as we will discuss why you should not feed them certain foods, and how often they should be fed (CTNF).

What Tadpoles Should Not Eat And Why

Tadpoles should not be fed bread, bread crumbs, strawberries, apples, bananas, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, grass, processed foods, or canned vegetables due to the lack of nutrients, or high concentrations of preservatives, sugar, or salt.

Tadpoles Should Not Eat Processed Foods

Tadpoles should not eat processed or canned meat, vegetables, or sweets including canned spinach, softened meat, 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.

Tadpoles should not eat cat food, dog food, fish food, turtle pellets, 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.

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 are better for their health and closer to what they could find in their natural environment. 

Tadpoles should not eat raw, fried, cooked, boiled, or rotten meat of any non-insect meat of any kind including chicken, pork, or beef. Tadpoles cannot digest these kinds of foods, but should be fed ants, aphids and small worms once they start to grow legs.

Tadpoles Should Not Eat Fruit

Tadpoles should not be fed strawberries, bananas, grapes, apples, kiwis, watermelon, blueberries, oranges, clementines, tomatoes, or any other fruits because they contain too much sugar for tadpoles.

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. 

How 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.

A Tadpole I Found With 4 Legs

How to Feed Captive Tadpoles

Prepare food for captive tadpoles in advance by chopping it up in small pieces and freezing it, or boiling it and letting it cool to room temperature. Be sure to feed tadpoles a balanced diet by providing them with a variety of vegetables.

  • Young tadpoles (0 to 6 weeks) can be fed:
    • With a spoon: Frozen or boiled (and cooled) broccoli, spinach, kale, cucumber skin, lettuce, leeks, cabbage, watercress, spinach, kale, zucchini, or green peppers. Drop the food into their environment with a spoon over a 30 minute period.
  • Tadpoles with legs (6 weeks to froglet) should be fed:
    • With a spoon: Frozen or boiled (and cooled) broccoli, spinach, kale, cucumber skin, lettuce, leeks, cabbage, watercress, spinach, kale, zucchini, or green peppers. Drop the food into their environment with a spoon over a 30 minute period.
    • With tweezers: Live or dead aphids, very small fish, ants and mosquitoes. Feed them directly or provide them over a 30 minute period.
    • With a pipette: Drip-drop raw egg yolk into their endorment but not too much or the water will cloud.
  • Froglets should be fed:
    • Should be fed live food only: Small crickets, worms, small bugs

You can feed captive tadpoles boiled or frozen broccoli, cucumber skin, lettuce, leeks, cabbage, watercress, spinach, kale, zucchini, and green peppers in captivity. These vegetables contain high amounts of different vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, B, C, and calcium.

Provide tadpoles food from a pipette, tweezers, or spoon drop the food into their environment over a 30 minute period. Keep reading to find out how much you should feed tadpoles for ideal growth.

How to Feed Pond Tadpoles

Tadpoles raised in a backyard pond generally feed on their own rhythm based on the plants that are available in the pond. Adding hornwort, cryptocoryne, java moss, java fern, duckweed, moss, or Sagittaria subulata should provide enough food for the tadpoles to naturally feed on.

If your pond is not large enough for all the tadpoles be sure to take action and adjust things to provide them enough space to grow. If you need to feed the tadpoles due to lack of natural vegetation, see the section above on feeding captive tadpoles for ideas.

My Parent’s Pond That Naturally Attracted 3 Local Frogs

Keep in mind that you should not feed froglets or adult frogs in your yard since they should be able to source food on their own once they have grown legs and can live outside the pond.

If you do not have a backyard pond but want to create one that can naturally attract frogs, be sure to check out our guide on how to Create a Frog-Friendly Backyard Pond. My parents made one that naturally attracted 3 aquatic frogs to their yard and I explain how they did it in that article.

How to Feed Wild Tadpoles

In the wild, tadpoles will naturally feed on algae, duckweed, and phytoplankton. It is best not to feed wild tadpoles. Feel free to quietly approach their location and watch them eat though! It is a fun and educational experience. You will see them nibbling on algae, moss, and other decaying vegetation.

How Much Should You Feed Tadpoles

As a general rule, each captive tadpole should be fed ¼ teaspoon of food at the “young tadpole” stage, and ½ teaspoon of food once they have two or four legs 1x per day. Adjust how much food they need based on how many tadpoles you have.

How Much to Feed Captive Tadpoles

As a general rule, 1 tadpole should have access to ¼ teaspoon of food at the “young tadpole” stage, and ½ teaspoon of food once they have two or four legs. Adjust how much food they need based on how many tadpoles you have.

Here is a general idea of how much tadpoles captive should be fed:

Number of TadpolesTadpole AgeAmount of Food
10 – 6 Weeks¼ Teaspoon
500 – 6 Weeks¼ Cup
1000 – 6 Weeks½ Cup
2000 – 6 Weeks1 Cup
16 Weeks – Froglet½ Teaspoon
506 Weeks – Froglet½ Cup
1006 Weeks – Froglet1 Cup
2006 Weeks – Froglet2 Cups

Be sure not to dump the food into their environment and take your time slowly adding it in over a 30 minute period or until they stop eating. Adjust feeding quantities to more or less depending on how much your tadpoles consume over a 30 minute period.

Everything should be eaten after 20 to 30 minutes. If they are still hungry, feel free to feed them a bit more but slowly to see what their ideal needs are. If there is food leftover and the tadpoles are done feeding, take it out so it does not rot and degrade the water quality. 

See our complete guide on how to feed tadpoles on our blog

Important Tadpole Feeding Tips

Here are some very important tips when it comes to feeding tadpoles:

  • Boil or freeze their food before feeding it to them
  • Feed tadpoles every day, once per day, at the same time
  • Provide tadpoles a varied and balanced diet
  • Never feed them processed foods or fruit
  • Do not dump food into their environment, slowly add it over 30 minutes
  • Adapt how much food they need based on what they eat in 30 minutes
  • Use a pipette to control liquids like egg yolks to avoid clouding the water
  • Do not feed tadpoles sugary, salty, or low-nutrition foods
  • Don not feed captive tadpoles any food sourced from the wild
  • Keep their water clean and do not let leftover food decay

Tadpole Feeding Schedule Example

Feed tadpoles a balanced diet over a 30 minute period containing a variety of vegetables and greens. Adapt their food intake based on their growth stage: 100 tadpoles aged 0 to 6 weeks generally eat ½ cup of food, and 100 tadpoles aged 6 weeks to the froglet stage eat 1 cup per day.

Here is an example of a tadpole feeding schedule to help them have a balanced diet

100 Tadpoles0 – 6 Weeks6 Weeks – Froglet
Monday½ Cup: Broccoli, Baby Spinach1 Cup: Broccoli, Redworms
Tuesday½ Cup: Zucchini, Green Peppers1 Cup: Green Peppers, Ants
Wednesday½ Cup: Cucumber Skins, Kale1 Cup: Cucumber Skins, Egg Yolk
Thursday½ Cup: Lettuce, Leeks1 Cup: Kale, Aphids
Friday½ Cup: Baby Carrots, Green Peas1 Cup: Zucchini, Egg Yolk
Saturday½ Cup: Zucchini, Green Peppers1 Cup: Broccoli, Redworms
Sunday½ Cup: Broccoli, Baby Spinach1 Cup: Green Peppers, Aphids

Since their diet consists in a lot of fresh vegetables, you can save yourself effort and time by preparing all their food for the week in advance. For example, I like to prepare the majority of my meals on Sunday.

It is especially easy to prepare tadpole food since you can pre-chop all their vegetables for the week, freeze them in pre-set quantities in individual containers for each day of the week. Then just take out the food you need each day, boil it and bring it to room temperature before feeding them.

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.

Use the above image to guide you as to the size of food froglets should eat. As a general rule, froglets and adult frogs should eat live food that has a girth that is no wider than the distance between the frog’s eyes, and the length of the food should be no longer than ⅓ of the frog’s body length.

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 do tadpoles eat? Tadpoles can 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.

What to feed tadpoles? As a general rule, you can feed tadpoles boiled broccoli, green peppers, cucumber skins, 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.

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, cabbage, spinach, kale, zucchini, egg yolk, redworms, aphids, and ants.

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.

Can tadpoles eat fish food? Tadpoles should not eat turtle pellets, cat, dog, or fish food since they generally do not contain the nutrients tadpoles need. Starving tadpoles may eat fish food but it is not good for them which may lead to tadpoles eating each other.

Do tadpoles eat each other? Tadpoles will eat each other if there is not enough food or space in their environment. If tadpoles lack external nutritional elements 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.

Sources

Crump, Martha L. “Cannibalism by Younger Tadpoles: Another Hazard of Metamorphosis.” Copeia, vol. 1986, no. 4, 1986, pp. 1007–1009. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1445301.

Crump, Martha L. “Possible Enhancement of Growth in Tadpoles Through Cannibalism.” Copeia, vol. 1990, no. 2, 1990, pp. 560–564. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1446361.

Pryor, Gregory S. “Growth Rates and Digestive Abilities of Bullfrog Tadpoles (Rana Catesbeiana) Fed Algal Diets.” Journal of Herpetology, vol. 37, no. 3, 2003, pp. 560–566. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1566063.

Wickramasinghe, Deepthi D., et al. “Ontogenetic Changes in Diet and Intestinal Morphology in Semi-Terrestrial Tadpoles of Nannophrys Ceylonensis (Dicroglossidae).” Copeia, vol. 2007, no. 4, 2007, pp. 1012–1018. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25140719.