Raising Tadpoles

By John D. Miller | July 2, 1995
From Missouri Conservationist: Jul 1995

Have you wondered what it takes to raise tadpoles into frogs? It is fun, but more than simply a "drop in the bucket."

What is a tadpole?

A tadpole is the aquatic larval stage of a frog or toad. Appearing to be nothing more than a head and tail, these lumbering tadpoles spend nearly all their time grazing on algae or swimming to the water surface.

Care of tadpoles

Water is the most important item. Chlorine, added to most drinking water to remove bacteria and algae, will kill tadpoles. Treat your water to remove the chlorine, as you would for aquarium fish. Another important item is a large flat-surface container. An enamel or plastic pan which can hold 2 to 3 inches of treated water is better than an aquarium. Try not to keep more than two tadpoles for every gallon of water to prevent overcrowding. Sticks and gravel are not necessary however, a medium sized rock in the middle of your pan is needed later as the tadpoles turn into frogs.

Where to get tadpoles

Finding tadpoles is easy, but gathering them can be a challenge. Never remove tadpoles from public areas such as parks, refuges or conservation areas. Ponds, small lakes and creeks are ideal places to catch tadpoles with a small mesh net. Always ask permission on private property. Don't collect more tadpoles than your tank or aquarium can comfortably hold and never collect more than a few. Most important, know how to take care of tadpoles before you collect them.


Feed the tadpoles twice a day. Each tadpole should be given two tablespoons of fresh boiled spinach or lettuce (not cabbage). Although tadpoles naturally eat algae, this may be hard to get regularly and may introduce unexpected animals.

If available, two crushed rabbit food pellets can be given to each tadpole as a diet supplement. Flakes of hard-boiled egg yolk can be added twice a week for added protein. Give your tadpoles an hour to eat and then completely clean the container after each feeding.

Avoid using soap or cleansers in your tank. Remember to refill with treated water. As the front legs grow the tadpoles will no longer eat. At this point they will reabsorb their tail as a food source and the tail will appear to shrink.


Tadpoles undergo four remarkable changes that are easy to observe. First they grow legs - back legs first and front legs last. Second, they slowly lose their tails. The tail shrinks as its material is used as food by the tadpole.

Later, breathing with gills changes to breathing with lungs. Finally, the creature's diet changes from eating only plants to eating only live animals, such as insects. As the final stages of transformation take place the rock in your container will help prevent the new froglet from drowning.

One step further. After you complete your observations, release the young frogs back into the wild before the end of fall. Do not release animals that are not naturally found in Missouri. Write down things you observed and see if you can be more successful next year. Most of all, have fun learning about the big changes in these little animals.


This bullfrog tadpole may take up to 14 months to mature into a frog. This tadpole is 4 inches long and may be as much as 10 months old. Bullfrogs don't make good container specimens because of their long development time.

Gray Treefrog

Gray treefrogs can change into young frogs in as little as 8 weeks. These minute frogs are common across Missouri; the tadpoles are often found in small, fishless ponds.

American Toad

These tadpoles change into toads in only 6 to 8 weeks. This one, at three quarters of an inch long, is about half grown.

Blanchard's Cricket Frog

The tadpole of this small member of the treefrog family can change into a frog in about 5 weeks. This tadpole is one month old and only about 1 inch long. It lives on land near ponds and streams.

Green Frog

Green frogs need about 12 months to change into a young frog. This tadpole is 3 inches long and may be about 8 months old. The green frog also is a poor choice for containers.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Director - Dickson Stauffer
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Composition - Kevin Binkley
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Paul Childress
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer