Rearing tadpoles

, 04 April 2019
Rearing tadpoles
four week old tadpoles © Alan Price

By Charlotte Owen

WildCall Officer

Something amazing is happening, and if you’re really lucky it’s happening in your own back garden.  It’s frogspawn season and the miracle of metamorphosis is underway in ponds, lakes and puddles across Sussex – and in tanks, buckets and washing-up bowls too.  Rearing tadpoles is relatively simple and endlessly fascinating, and can also give the local frog population a welcome boost by helping a few more tadpoles complete their perilous transformation into miniature frogs.

If you’re collecting frogspawn, take only a small amount (20 is plenty) preferably from a garden pond, with permission from the owner if it’s not your own.  Collect some pond water too or fill a clean container with rain water, but never use tap water – it contains chemicals that are harmful to amphibians, and your frogspawn won’t thrive.  Tadpoles develop best in warm, shallow water so position your tank somewhere that will get plenty of natural light (but not full sun) and add some pond weed.  Tadpoles are vegetarian at first and will naturally eat algae and other pond plants but you can feed them boiled lettuce, spinach and other greens.  Add a small amount at a time and gradually increase this as the tadpoles get bigger and hungrier.  They are very efficient eating machines, which inevitably leads to a lot of waste coming out the other end, so you’ll need to change their water every now and then to keep things clean.

As the tadpoles grow from tiny black squiggles into big-headed bruisers they become more carnivorous and the easiest way to add some meat to the menu is to sprinkle a small amount of goldfish food, which they will gobble up with gusto.  Their back legs will develop first, followed by front legs and at this stage they need to be able to crawl out of the water.  Float a clean sponge on the surface or gradually lower the water level and add some pebbles for them to climb onto.  Release your fully-formed froglets into vegetation near the pond they came from, and in a couple of years they will hopefully return as mature adults ready to spawn the next generation.

Leave a comment


  • Hazel:

    The frog has laid frogspawn in a watering can. I’ve taken it out and put in a washing up bowl. What else can I do, I don’t have a pond

    08 Apr 2019 20:15:00

  • Steve Hove:

    Offer it to a local school? Find a local pond to put it in? Create a pond in the garden? Doesn’t need to be big. Ring a local herpetological society? Maybe someone will collect it?

    24 Apr 2020 06:50:00

  • Lynne:

    The tadpoles were found in a puddle! So where is the best place to release the little froglets? Will my friends pond do, although it’s no where near the now non-existent puddle?

    01 Jun 2020 15:42:00

  • Charlotte Owen, WildCall Officer:

    Froglets leave the water when they are fully developed and do not need a pond until they are adults and ready to breed, usually after two or three years. It’s best to release them near the original puddle as long as there is plenty of vegetation for them to shelter in.

    02 Jun 2020 08:10:00

  • Josh:

    Does the tank in which we keep the tadpoles need a pump or a bubble maker?

    Charlotte Owen Wildcall Officer No it doesn't :)

    15 Mar 2021 17:11:00

  • Ross:

    My first froglets are now sitting on the rocks in their tank. They are still very tiny, but the tails are about gone. I think it might be best to release them back by their pond, however its not rained in weeks and the vegetation seems quite dry, and the nights are still getting down toward zero. I also want to get them released as I dont know if they are eating. They are eying the fruit flies, but I havent seen them be able to catch one yet. Is it still ok do you think, to release them? Many thanks

    20 Apr 2021 20:59:00

  • Alix:

    We have tadpoles in a mini pond I made from a plastic drawer. There are rocks in the pond but no plants yet (it’s fairly new) so I’ve fe tham as described above. The water is starting to get low due to drought, should I top it up or leave it? And do they really need plants urgently?

    ANSWER: Tadpoles will be eating algae at this stage, but it would be good to add to plants as soon as you can. The water should be kept at a reasonable level, if using tap water to top up, please leave outside in a bucket for a day or two before adding to the pond to let the Chlorine dissipate.

    23 Apr 2021 13:53:00

  • Barbara Same:

    Alix thanks for the helpful tip about leaving tap water in bucket to dissipate chlorine ✔️

    25 Apr 2021 16:21:00

  • Elsie:

    Our tadpoles have started to climb out onto the rocks to rest for a bit but still spending most of their time in the water. They still have their tails but they’re disappearing quickly. I’ve been feeding them boiled lettuce. Should I be feeding them something else now? They don’t seem to be eating much of the lettuce anymore.

    Tadpoles are initially herbivorous but start eating small insects as soon as their back legs form, and they need plenty of protein. Flaked goldfish food can be a good option at this stage.

    27 Apr 2021 08:50:00

  • Daisy Sutcliffe:

    About a third of our tadpoles have hardly developed at all. Some are nearly ready for release. We have them in a goldfish bowl with plants and rocks they can climb out onto. How do I release only those that are ready?

    10 May 2021 11:10:00

  • Charlotte Owen:

    They need to be able to climb out of the container, so it might be easiest to transfer the lot to a shallow tray or similar that will be easier to exit, and place that in a patch of long grass or somewhere with plenty of vegetation so they can move away safely. Only the ones that are ready will be able to climb out.

    10 May 2021 11:51:36

  • Richard Watson:

    My large tadpoles seem to be eating a dead frog in my pond which I suspect was killed by a neighbour’s prowling cat. Is this normal or should I remove the freshly looking dead large adult to prevent it poisoning the water or will it be eaten by the hundreds of tadpoles in my pond?

    19 May 2021 18:00:00

  • E.Roberts:

    Hi, I have some tadpoles but I am unsure what water to put them in, could I use hose pipe water or water from a different pond? Sadly I don’t have any distilled water, and I don’t think I have any rain water.

    Tap water is not suitable, rain water or pond water would be best. If you can’t source either, it would be better to release the tadpoles back where they came from. Charlotte Owen, WildCall Officer

    26 May 2021 18:03:00

  • Ollie:

    When the tadpoles in our pond hatched, some of the newts in our pond started eating them, so we put them all in a tank inside the pond. Will they be safe to release when they have grown their legs or will the newts still have them?

    27 May 2021 20:54:00

  • Ollie:

    When the tadpoles in our pond hatched, some of the newts in our pond started eating them, so we put them all in a tank inside the pond. Will they be safe to release when they have grown their legs or will the newts still have them?

    ANSWER: The larger the froglets get, the less newts should predate them. You could also help the frogs by adding more hiding places in the pond to help tadpoles evade predation. Potential hiding places include rocks, pebbles or aquatic planters. Also frog tadpoles can be an important food source for newts, and it is good to have both in your pond.

    28 May 2021 16:15:00

  • Miriam:

    My tadpoles were found as spawn in a drying puddle some weeks ago. Most are doing well though developing slowly in my mini-pond which is cold (we tend to be cooler than further down our hillside by about 3 degrees) but the ones that were struggling to be born from the last of the spawn, which was being eaten by their siblings, are doing well in a bowl in the kitchen. I have introduced native oxygenating weed and water snails to both the pond and the kitchen bowl and add a tiny pinch of fresh minced beef which they seem to like. The indoor tadpoles have just started to develop back legs. Am I doing the right thing?

    ANSWER: Sounds like the right thing. As they develop, you will need to add a rock or similar to the bowl so that they can climb out as they become froglets, or return them to your mini-pond

    04 Jun 2021 13:53:00

  • Noleen:

    Is duck weed detrimental to tadpoles

    ANSWER: No

    05 Jun 2021 13:18:00

  • Emma:

    Hello, we have some tadpoles in a container in the garden. They don’t have legs yet. I started by giving them boiled spinach but recently I’ve been giving them fish food flakes every few days. Should I carry on with this or should they still be on green leafy food until their legs appear? I also wondered how often I should be changing the water – it got very green and the tadpoles seemed very lethargic and some died – after changing about 2/3 of the water they seemed to have perked up. Thank you!

    Tadpoles are generally herbivorous until their back legs appear, at which point they need a lot more protein. If they’re eating the fish flakes, you can keep feeding them. Do not overfeed though as this will cause water quality issues. The water will need changing regularly, the required frequency will depend on how many tadpoles and the volume of water. Make sure it’s rain or pond water, not tap. Charlotte Owen WildCall Officer

    07 Jun 2021 19:44:00

  • Rebecca:

    Is Elodea Densa (UK) ok or poisonous to frogs/toads?

    I bought Swell UK tadpole food in a panic but is this good or rubbish?

    ANSWER: Elodea isn't poisonous to frogs/toads but it is a non-native species that can cause problems for freshwater habitats with invasive growth if it escapes from gardens, so it is best avoided. We have a list of suitable native pond plants on our website

    10 Jun 2021 09:51:00

  • Dave Pimblett:

    Once the tadpoles changed to tiny baby frogs, what is suitable to feed them ? They just seem so small to feed them anything !

    They need to be released at this stage. Charlotte

    12 Jun 2021 07:21:00

  • Jane Horne:

    I haven’t seen my tadpoles for 3 days. They were always at the surface and ate the fish food I gave them. Their back legs were fully formed and front legs just developing. Are they dead? There is a lot of weed for them to hide in. I don’t think they were ready to leave the small pond. Thank you

    Answer: it seems unlikely they have all died, froglets do leave the pond once they are fully formed or they may simply be hidden amongst the pond weed.

    16 Jun 2021 08:41:00

  • Dominic Delaney:

    I’ve got about 30 tadpoles in a 10 litre fish tank half filled with pond water. They don’t yet have back legs. I wanted to ask how often to feed them? I’ve been giving them small amounts of goldfish flakes, dried tubifex worms and lettuce. Thanks

    Answer: they will need feeding at least once a day, especially if there is limited natural food available in the tank. The more they eat, the faster they grow but you do not want a build-up of uneaten food either, so little and often tends to work best.

    17 Jun 2021 06:55:00

  • Dominic Delaney:

    I’ve got about 30 tadpoles in a 10 litre fish tank half filled with pond water. They don’t yet have back legs. I wanted to ask how often to feed them? I’ve been giving them small amounts of goldfish flakes, dried tubifex worms and lettuce. Thanks

    ANSWER: Feed daily, making sure excess food doesn't build up, you will need to increase amount of food as the tadpoles grow

    18 Jun 2021 07:05:00

  • Karl:

    Hi there, we have found frogspawn in our children’s sand pit today. We are looking for advice on how we care for these. We have a pond but didn’t want to just put them in there as have gold fish also. Any advice would be great as the children would love to see these grow. Thanks

    ANSWER: would suggest moving spawn to a bowl or tank following the advice in the blog above, until they have developed and then release, unless you can create a barrier in the pond to establish a 'fish-free' area.

    23 Jun 2021 13:29:00

  • Dawn McGinley:

    Our tadpoles have fully formed but still have tails. Do we release them with tails? If not what do we feed them? We’re in New Jersey.

    23 Jun 2021 16:44:00

  • Dawn McGinley:

    Our tadpoles have fully formed but still have tails. Do we release them with tails? If not what do we feed them? We’re in New Jersey.

    25 Jun 2021 02:31:00

  • Hannah Thorne:

    We’ve found some frog spawn in our children’s mud kitchen! We don’t have a pond and have cats so don’t want the frogs to be in danger! Is it safe to move them to a local lake?

    03 Jul 2021 16:22:00

  • Mags:

    I’ve had my tadpoles in a basin refreshing 2/3 of the water frequently. Today I moved some to a larger deeper basin they were swimming around and eating their cucumber but suddenly they are all dead. Why?

    04 Jul 2021 17:41:00

  • Zach:

    I’ve had my tadpoles for just over a month. Some have back legs, some are still extremely small with no legs, and one has all four. They were eating cucumbers and boiled lettuce for the time but recently they have completely stopped eating. They won’t eat any pellets, cucumber, or gold fish flakes. Then small ones are beginning to die. What should I do?

    10 Jul 2021 13:54:00

  • Miranda:

    Hello. What is the best way to change water with tadpoles in? They appeared in a pot of rainwater in our garden and the water looks very murky.

    13 Jul 2021 12:47:30

  • Kim:

    I had a washing up bowl of compost leftover from doing some plants, it’s collected rain water & looked like a gross muddy puddle! I was just about to sort it out and have seen that there is what I think are very tiny tadpoles…help please! I don’t really want them, I have no pond either but have no idea what to do with them! And now I feel terrible as I topped up the water a bit earlier and now feel I could be a tadpole killer as looks like they shouldn’t have tap water 😬

    ANSWER If these have appeared recently, they’re not tadpoles – most likely mosquito larvae or another aquatic invertebrate.

    13 Aug 2021 21:03:00

  • Matthew Finch:

    Hi – if you need to change the water in your container for your tadpoles, please don’t use tap water as this contains chlorine and it can be harmful. You can remove much of the chlorine from tap water very easily – just put it in a jug and leave it for 24-72 hours and this water should be OK to use. Or buy a dechlorinator from an aquarium shop. When you change the water, do so incrementally – e.g no more than 20% at a time. I currently have 102 exotic frog tadpoles and this approach seems to work. I also do use a bubble filter to give them some extra oxygenation, but they don’t necessarily need this – they wouldn’t have one in real life. They like the water a bit murky, but not so much that it cannot hold oxygen.

    14 Sep 2021 13:18:00

  • Mary:

    I have several hundred tadpoles in my 200 gallon stock tank. I’ve been feeding them fresh garden veggies. Most have rear legs now and a few with front legs. It’s been a fascinating journey but not sure how they will safely transition to land? I placed a 2 × 4 in the tank on a slant that sticks out of the tank to serve as a ramp.
    What else should I do for a success?

    ANSWER Bit late in the year now and they may not complete metamorphosis until next spring. Best to put them back in the pond they came from and let them do their thing, they also need protein once their back legs grow and cannot thrive on plant matter alone.

    01 Oct 2021 07:12:00

  • Mary:

    They appeared in my tank. Should I move them to the nearest pond? Again, there are several hundred.
    Today there are 2 frogs with very short tails climbing on the side of the tank not in water. They are now green. As they leave the stock tank, it is pasture currently without livestock. There’s a few more turning green so I’ll assume those are the next to mature. I will get some fish food today. Any natural protein I could give them? Poultry eggs maybe?

    01 Oct 2021 15:33:00

  • Emily:

    We have recently got some tadpoles and we don’t have pond weed so it pond weed a necessity or could we add some vegetation such as grass or flowers plz respond ASAP 🐸

    ANSWER Pond weed itself isn’t vital but a food supply is. Don’t add grass or flowers. Do make sure they have enough to eat (even more important if no pond weed). But it should be possible to get some weed/pond plants from wherever the tadpoles originated – where did they come from? They will need to be released back to the same pond eventually

    28 Nov 2021 08:25:00

  • Emily respont:

    They came from a old pool and we don’t have a pond 🐸

    07 Dec 2021 18:06:00

  • Hannah:

    I have some frogspawn in a tank in my garden, Do i need to cover them to protect them from wind and rain?

    ANSWER: No they should be fine if in water

    14 Feb 2022 11:56:00

  • Carol Atkinson:

    We have quite a lot of spawn in 2 buckets – there is still a huge amount in our pond but the last couple of years very few tadpoles have survived despite masses of spawn. Do we have to remove the old jelly but more importantly how do we change the water and get rid of the muck on the bottom??

    Answer: Spawn develops best in shallow, warm water that gets plenty of sun. If it sinks too deep, it usually doesn't thrive. Mortality is naturally high (which is why frogs lay so many eggs, hoping that at least some will survive) but it's also possible that there isn't enough food to go round (tadpoles need plenty of algae and plant matter to eat, until they grow legs and are then more carnivorous). There's no need to remove old jelly and it's best not to disturb the pond now that the frogs are busy - the best time to do any pond maintenance is in the autumn. It's good to have some sediment on the bottom but small ponds may benefit from occasional de-silting, especially if a lot of leaves fall into the water. You may need to drain the pond to do this, or use an old sieve to scoop out some of the sludge. This is disruptive though, and shouldn't be done too often - most ponds need very little regular maintenance.

    08 Mar 2022 15:01:00

  • Lesley Reed:

    I have tadpoles in my garden pond but they don’t all seem to develop. Come late autumn I can still see them swimming about! Some must develop as I have fresh spawn every year. Last Autumn there were a load but couldn’t see any this Spring. Do you think they died? I still have fresh spawn though

    Answer: There are many factors that influence the growth of tadpoles and they often develop at different rates in a pond, see here for likely reasons for slow development

    17 Mar 2022 14:43:00

  • Chris:

    I’ve been keeping some spawn indoors as they didn’t seem to grow in the pond for the last two years. Fed the tadpoles goldfish food yesterday, and they are now sick and dying. Perhaps I gave them too much or too early. Gave a full change of pond water to hopefully save some. Any ideas?

    ANSWER Hard to say as there are multiple factors that could contribute but possibly too many tadpoles/not enough oxygen and maybe too warm indoors – they usually do best outside in a sunny position. Tadpoles eat plant matter initially, and only become more carnivorous once their back legs have developed.

    27 Mar 2022 10:32:00

  • Eilis:

    We sadly lost a number of adult frogs when they were spawning last year in a hard overnight frost. This year, just in case it happened again, I brought half of the spawn in and the tadpoles are doing well in a washing up bowl. Kept in an unheated N-facing porch with natural light, plenty of pond water, duckweed and algae which add oxygen. I top them up using water from the pond where they were spawned and they will return to their pond when they are fully formed. I’m keeping a photo record of their development. So far, no hard frosts here so the remaining half will be developing in the pond.

    28 Mar 2022 12:15:00

  • Gavin:

    A large puddle had frogspawn in February but has been shrinking I have just been topping up this large puddle with spring water as the water got lower as we have had a warm dry march spell. I hope this will enable more tadpoles to survive to become frogs and April showers will appear. I also like the idea of putting a deep tray with plants and mud in the garden to emulate the conditions and watching the development and release of a small number

    29 Mar 2022 00:04:00

  • Joanne:

    Hello – we have a hatch of tadpoles in the header pool of our waterfall that goes into a much larger pond. The header pool has its own eco system with some oxygenating weeds etc but it is not full of weed (obviously we are not turning on the waterfall pump)! QUESTION – the pool is 1ft x 1.4ft with a depth of around 4” – can this sustain the couple of hundred tadpoles in terms of food or should we move some of them into the main pond (which has lots of weed but newts too)? Thanks for your help.

    ANSWER Probably better off in the main pond but if the header pool is connected, they may well find their own way there.

    19 Apr 2022 06:07:00

  • betty:

    will the froglets survive if I release them one by one as they mature

    06 May 2022 18:54:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    Yes, that should be fine

  • Elaine:

    Hi. We have ten tadpoles in a small fish tank. They’re doing really well, but are at slightly different stages. Three have all their legs but still have their tails while the rest only have their back legs. I have two rocks in the tank to allow them to get above the water when they’re ready but I’m worried that might not be enough. Should I separate the more developed ones and put them in more shallow water? Also, do I wait until their have completely gone before releasing them? Thanks

    07 May 2022 11:48:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    It is perfectly normal for them to develop at different rates, once they have matured and have four legs and no tail they can be released

  • karen wallbank:

    very helpful thank you

    10 May 2022 08:02:00

  • Kim:

    Hi we rescued some tadpoles from a housing building site and raised them in a tank at home with plants from my fishtail and duckweed that came with them from the pond,and micro organisms they are now turning into froglets and im not sure where to release them…we have some lovely nature walks in our area would it be ok to let them go nearby as their original ground is now demolished and tarmac over with houses on top 🤦‍♀️

    26 May 2022 16:44:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    Hi Kim, I would release them in an area near a pond, but don't put them in the water, ideally with lots of undergrowth, long damp grass and places they can hide. We would usually suggest releasing them near where you found them, but this isn't any option in your case.

  • Janet:

    The froglets are climbing out of our garden pond. I am worried about the dogs treading on them, can I transfer them to the vegetation as soon as they climb out ?

    24 Jun 2022 06:19:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    Yes, you can move them to an area of long grass

  • Brian Lewis:

    normally any tadpoles that are not eaten by blackbirds are eaten by them as they exit my pond as froglets. This year I saved 5 from the many that were born, however I’ve tried spinach and gold fish flakes and they have not eaten either. There is some duck weed that came from the pond but have not seen them eat any. On the tin of fish flakes it says to retrieve any that has not been eaten, the only way to do that is to strain the container through a sieve and maybe harm the tadpoles, any ideas, thanks, Brian

    28 Jun 2022 17:16:00

  • Angel:

    My kids have a blow up pool that has say for awhile with water in it. When we were going to dump the water and clean it to use it, we going tadpoles. We homeschool and I love the idea of my children watching the tadpoles grow to frogs and of course I don’t want to harm them. How can I save them but remove them from the pool? I don’t have a long nearby and I know zero about frogs. Help!

    14 Jul 2022 21:53:00

  • Geoff:

    I don’t have any rain or pond water. Can I use spring water from the supermarket?

    16 Jul 2022 12:12:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    You can use tap water, but put it in a bucket outside for 3 to 4 days to allow any chemicals to evaporate