What Do Tadpoles Need To Survive?

Amphibians have outlived some of the most catastrophic events throughout time, as they are incredibly adept at adapting their survival tactics. However, frogs still have specific habitat requirements to survive, especially when they are in the fragile and crucial tadpole phase.

In order to survive, tadpoles need clean freshwater, sufficient aquatic vegetation for food, and shelter to protect themselves from surrounding dangers. The quality of these environmental factors have a drastic impact on the tadpole’s chances of survival, whether in the wild or in captivity. 

While frogs can survive in various aquatic, arboreal, and terrestrial habitats, tadpoles still need to have access to certain environmental features to grow into mature frogs. Join me as I discuss what tadpoles need to survive in the wild and in captivity. 

Tadpoles Need Appropriate Water, Food, And Shelter

In order to survive in captivity or in the wild, tadpoles need clean freshwater that does not contain any pesticides, synthetic chemicals, or pollution. Tadpoles also require adequate food from natural decaying vegetation such as algae or leafy greens like kale, broccoli, or spinach.

All tadpoles require similar environmental features to continue their metamorphic journey toward froglets and eventually toward mature frogs.

Here is a quick summary of what tadpoles need in order to survive and what may happen without:

Tadpole RequirementsLacking
Clean FreshwaterDeath
Adequate FoodCannibalism
Stunted Growth
Enough Space to GrowCannibalism

In all cases, tadpoles may die if they are lacking one of these key requirements for their survival:

  • Lack of Clean Water: Tadpoles will die without water since this is their required environment for development. If the water is polluted, salty, too shallow, or in full sun, the tadpoles may also become dehydrated and die.
  • Lack of Adequate Food: Tadpoles that do not have access to adequate food sources generally experience stunted growth, or remain at the tadpole stage and not develop into adult frogs. Cannibalism is common when adequate food and space is lacking in their environment.
  • Lack of Shelter: Tadpoles that do not have vegetation or areas to shelter themselves expose themselves to predators that may be in on land, in the sky above, or in the water with them.

Tadpoles Need Clean Water to Survive

Above all other environmental factors, tadpoles require clean water to survive and properly develop. The water in which tadpoles develop should not contain salt, pesticides, synthetic chemicals, or pollution.

Most tadpoles cannot survive in saltwater and can only thrive in freshwater bodies that are free from toxicity and pollution. Even mature frogs are vulnerable to water impurities, as they have incredibly sensitive and permeable skin. As a result, tadpoles are even more vulnerable to such threats during their fragile state (CTNF).

Water can house many forms of bacteria, pathogens, and even harsh chemicals or metals. Tap water is a prime example as it likely carries various levels of chlorine, chloramine, and other chemicals that are used in human water treatment processes. Such chemicals will likely cause harm or fatality in tadpoles. 

Kinds of Water do Tadpoles Need to Survive

Other than the water found in most natural water bodies, such as freshwater ponds and streams, the following water types are generally suitable for tadpoles: 

  • Bottled water
  • Boiled and cooled water
  • Filtered water
  • Distilled water
  • Reverse osmosis water
  • Well water
  • Rain water

However, some water types may be too pure, meaning there may not be sufficient minerals to promote the tadpoles’ development. These types of water may need to have minerals added, specifically calcium chloride and magnesium sulfate, and should have a pH balance between 6.5 and 7.5. 

Learn About What Water to Chose For Tadpoles in our Guide

Why Tadpoles Need Clean Water to Develop

Tadpoles are fully aquatic at the beginning of their developmental phase, as they only develop lungs during the froglet phase. They primarily breathe through their skin by absorbing oxygen from the surrounding water. Although, they do develop external and internal gills throughout the tadpole phase. Clean water serves as a prime environment for them to be able to breathe and survive

Since tadpoles are fully aquatic, they still lack many of the most notable frog characteristics and physical features. They do not have legs or bones during this time, but they do have long and wide tails that they use to wander their aquatic habitats. 

Tadpoles often swim around in groups, similar to schools of fish, as they search for food and shelter nearby. The ability to swim around with agility and speed also enables them to evade aquatic predators, making water an extremely vital environmental inclusion in addition to the previously mentioned uses. 

Tadpoles Need Adequate Food to Survive 

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.

Although it may not be clearly visible to the naked eye, tadpoles feed on tiny particles in the water and need to eat regularly to ensure that their bodies continue developing until they become froglets, after which they often begin adapting to classic frog diets depending on the species. 

What Can Tadpoles Eat-min

Tadpoles Feed on Aquatic Vegetation

When tadpoles are still contained within the zygotes, they feed off the remaining nutrition in the yolk of their own egg. This yolk sustains them until they develop into mobile tadpoles, and they usually feed off of the remaining yolk of their egg within the early tadpole phase. Once the tadpoles have consumed the remaining yolk and are able to roam freely, they begin feeding on the surrounding vegetation.

Young tadpoles are generally herbivores and often feed on algae or moss on a broad scale, but they may consume any of the following whether living in the wild or in captivity:

Tadpole FoodWildCaptivity
Cucumber SkinNoYes
Boiled BroccoliNoYes

Tadpoles Feed on Aquatic Organisms

While aquatic vegetation is most crucial, tadpoles typically develop somewhat carnivorous diets at some point and they may consume small living organisms that are vulnerable within the habitat. This generally occurs after the tadpoles have developed for approximately six weeks or more, and such food sources include: 

  • Fish eggs
  • Mosquito larvae 
  • Dragonfly eggs and larvae 
  • Aphids 
  • Ants
  • Tadpoles 
  • Frog eggs
  • Minnows 
  • Dead fish
  • Water fleas
  • Water mites

Although the list of suitable food sources is extremely extensive, this does not mean that tadpoles can feed on any vegetation type or aquatic organism either. There are quite a few things that can stunt a tadpoles growth or kill them, including processed foods and various types of fruit, vegetables, vegetation, invertebrates, and meat. Be sure you feed tadpoles the right things.

Learn About What Food Tadpoles Need to Survive in our Guide

Tadpoles Need Adequate Shelter to Survive 

Having suitable shelter options is incredibly vital for tadpoles’ survival chances, as there is a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial predators waiting to prey on these vulnerable creatures. The habitat’s features also help protect them from unseen dangers, such as weather changes. 

Most frog species seek out areas that are fairly devoid of predators during breeding seasons, as this instantly increases the survival rate of the soon-to-be tadpoles. Since tadpoles are fully aquatic, the water body in question will need to feature various natural elements that the tadpoles can use as shelter. 

Tadpoles use surrounding aquatic vegetation and debris for shelter, which can include various types of plants. These plants help them hide from predators and help shield them from extreme weather conditions. Tadpoles may also use such vegetation to stay put during stronger currents.

While tadpoles are skillful survivors, they are still incredibly sensitive to environmental changes and hazards. They need suitable water, food, and shelter to survive, and additional species-specific requirements will often emerge as they continue their metamorphic journey towards froglets (CTNF).

Learn About The Ideal Frog Habitat in our Guide

More About What Tadpoles Need to Survive

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:

Daniella Master Herpetologist

Daniella is a Master Herpetologist and the founder of toadsnfrogs.com, a website dedicated to educating the general population on frogs by meeting them where they are in their online Google Search. Daniella is passionate about frogs and put her digital marketing skills and teaching experience to good use by creating these helpful resources to encourage better education, understanding, and care for frogs.