Rearing tadpoles

04 April 2019 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , amphibian
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.


  • Hazel:

    08 Apr 2019 20:15:00

    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

  • Steve Hove:

    24 Apr 2020 06:50:00

    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?

  • Lynne:

    01 Jun 2020 15:42:00

    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?

  • Charlotte Owen, WildCall Officer:

    02 Jun 2020 08:10:00

    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.

  • Josh:

    15 Mar 2021 17:11:00

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

    Charlotte Owen Wildcall Officer No it doesn't :)
  • Ross:

    20 Apr 2021 20:59:00

    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

  • Alix:

    23 Apr 2021 13:53:00

    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.
  • Barbara Same:

    25 Apr 2021 16:21:00

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

  • Elsie:

    27 Apr 2021 08:50:00

    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.
  • Daisy Sutcliffe:

    10 May 2021 11:10:00

    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?

  • Charlotte Owen:

    10 May 2021 11:51:36

    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.

  • Richard Watson:

    19 May 2021 18:00:00

    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?

  • E.Roberts:

    26 May 2021 18:03:00

    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
  • Ollie:

    27 May 2021 20:54:00

    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?

  • Ollie:

    28 May 2021 16:15:00

    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.
  • Miriam:

    04 Jun 2021 13:53:00

    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
  • Noleen:

    05 Jun 2021 13:18:00

    Is duck weed detrimental to tadpoles

    ANSWER: No
  • Emma:

    07 Jun 2021 19:44:00

    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
  • Rebecca:

    10 Jun 2021 09:51:00

    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
  • Dave Pimblett:

    12 Jun 2021 07:21:00

    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
  • Jane Horne:

    16 Jun 2021 08:41:00

    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.
  • Dominic Delaney:

    17 Jun 2021 06:55:00

    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.
  • Dominic Delaney:

    18 Jun 2021 07:05:00

    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
  • Karl:

    23 Jun 2021 13:29:00

    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.
  • Dawn McGinley:

    23 Jun 2021 16:44:00

    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.

  • Dawn McGinley:

    25 Jun 2021 02:31:00

    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.

  • Hannah Thorne:

    03 Jul 2021 16:22:00

    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?

  • Mags:

    04 Jul 2021 17:41:00

    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?

  • Zach:

    10 Jul 2021 13:54:00

    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?

  • Miranda:

    13 Jul 2021 12:47:30

    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.

  • Kim:

    13 Aug 2021 21:03:00

    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.
  • Matthew Finch:

    14 Sep 2021 13:18:00

    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.

  • Mary:

    01 Oct 2021 07:12:00

    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.
  • Mary:

    01 Oct 2021 15:33:00

    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?

  • Emily:

    28 Nov 2021 08:25:00

    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
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