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Home > Frogs > What Do Tadpoles Eat in the Wild & As Pets? Vet-Approved Nutritional Analysis

What Do Tadpoles Eat in the Wild & As Pets? Vet-Approved Nutritional Analysis

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Dr. Luqman Javed

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The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Tadpoles do not stay tadpoles for long, and if you’ve ever raised frogs, you’ll know that tadpoles can be quite a challenge. Tadpoles will usually slowly transform into frogs after only a couple of weeks, depending on the species, and they’ll need all the nutrition that they can get during this time in order to turn into healthy, happy frogs. Initially, tadpoles feed on their egg’s yolk sack, whether they are in the wild or as pets.

It’s important to remember that while tadpoles will be frogs or toads one day, they aren’t yet, and they have vastly different dietary needs than those of frogs. So, while they are going through this important developmental stage, they have unique needs that can present a challenge when raising them as pets. In this article, we’ll take a look at what tadpoles eat naturally in the wild and how you can replicate that as closely as possible when keeping them as pets.

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What Do Tadpoles Eat in the Wild?

Tadpoles start their lives almost completely herbivorous, and in the beginning stages, their diet is fairly simple. They then have a more omnivorous lifestyle, and by the time they become frogs, they are almost exclusively carnivores. Tadpoles will usually be confined to or stay in a small area of the pond that they were born in and feed on the surrounding algae. As they grow larger, their diet expands too, and they’ll begin to nibble on other plants and moss and gradually begin to eat insects or larvae.

There is a massive range of food that tadpoles could possibly eat, depending on where they are born, and as such, experts are still not completely sure of everything that these little critters feed on.

What we do know is that tadpoles will feed on their egg’s yolk sack initially. This is packed with protein, and when it’s finished, they will need to start feeding for themselves. This is when they will move on to algae, and their intestine is long and specially formed to digest vegetation. Once they are mature tadpoles, their intestine shortens (relative to their body), and they will eat whatever can fit into their mouths, be it plants, leaves, moss, or small insects.

tadpoles eating
Image By: 7103983, Pixabay

What to Feed Tadpoles as Pets?


Please note that many states and jurisdictions may have legislation that prevents capturing or owning tadpoles, frogs, or toads. Always make sure you have permission to legally own an exotic pet before deciding to adopt one. If you are in the US, please refer to state laws before deciding to adopt an exotic or wild pet. Elsewhere, please refer to the relevant laws where you reside.

Capturing wild animals is not advised, as this disrupts local ecosystems. In addition, amphibians may naturally harbor Salmonella and spread it to humans and other pets. Frogs or toads are not recommended to be kept alongside children, the elderly, pregnant individuals, or those with a compromised immune system. Hygiene is of utmost importance when dealing with amphibians.

Some species of frogs have naturally occurring poisons or toxins which they can release by different mechanisms, depending on the species. All toads are toxic to a certain degree, and they are especially dangerous for pet dogs. Therefore, caution and thorough research prior to adopting a pet is very important.

It’s important to note that tadpoles kept as pets, as in the wild, have different dietary needs depending on their stage of life. If you are raising tadpoles as pets, you’ll need to consider this and adjust their diet accordingly.

While the timelines can vary somewhat depending on species, the following is a general guideline as to what to feed tadpoles during their first few weeks of life:

  • Newly hatched: There is not much that you can feed tadpoles during the first few days after they’ve hatched, and if anything, they’ll feed off of the algae available in your tank.
  • 1-2 weeks: At this point, tadpoles are growing rapidly and have eaten all their egg’s yolk. They will need to be fed a variety of greens, including lettuce, broccoli, or small amounts of fish food or algae flakes. There are also commercially made tadpole pellets that are made especially for growing tadpoles.
  • 2-4 weeks: This is the final stage of rapid growth for most tadpoles, and they will begin to eat more insects and insect larvae and less plant matter. They can still be fed on small amounts of pellets, algae, and plant matter, but you can begin adding brine shrimp flakes, bloodworms, and crickets.

Once your tadpole has grown their legs and is living a largely terrestrial life, you can begin feeding them on a standard frog diet, which is largely carnivorous. Depending on the stage that they are at, the following foods are all ideal for growing tadpoles:

  • Algae
  • Algae flakes
  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Fish flakes
  • Aphids
  • Bloodworms
  • Crickets
  • Pellets
  • Fruit flies
  • Insect larvae
  • Mealworms

How Often Should You Feed Tadpoles?

Tadpoles grow fast, evidenced by the fact that after just a few months, they are already almost frogs! With this rapid growth comes a big appetite, and they’ll need to be fed a large amount once a day to keep them healthy. Be careful of overfeeding, as the uneaten food can sink to the bottom of their tank and begin to decay, causing a filthy tank in no time. If there is a large amount of food left an hour or two after feeding, you are likely giving them too much.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine exact amounts, as it depends on the age and species of tadpoles, as well as the food you are giving them. The best way to feed tadpoles is to offer them the amount of food they can consume in 10-15 minutes 5-6 times a day.

Once your tadpoles have begun to sprout legs, you can begin feeding them less frequently. They no longer need their tail and will begin absorbing it for nutrients, and you can begin normal feeding again once their tail has almost disappeared. It is also important to change their setup from purely aquatic to semi-aquatic as they mature, as adult frogs lose their gills.

tadpole closeup
Image Credit: Efraimstochter, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

The transformation of a tadpole into a fully-fledged frog is a fascinating process to watch. This small window of life as a tadpole is just a tiny portion of a frog’s life cycle, but so much growth takes place in these few weeks.

A tadpole’s diet changes almost as rapidly as their outer appearance, and the foods you give them need to be adjusted based on their age, just as would naturally occur in the wild. As long as this protocol is closely adhered to, looking after and feeding pet tadpoles is not as complicated as it may seem, and soon enough, you’ll have a fully-grown frog on your hands that will be worth the effort!

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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