What Do Tadpoles Eat? 15+ Foods They Love!

Raising tadpoles is a fascinating experience as you watch the metamorphosis from tadpole to frog.

This provides an excellent opportunity for children to learn about how animals grow up, and that not every animal looks the same as it grows.

However, if you are going to raise tadpoles then you need to know what to feed Tadpoles.

A proper diet is important for nurturing your tadpole’s growth and development. To find just the right food for them in captivity you will need to know how to replicate a wild Tadpoles’s diet.

This guide has everything you need to know about feeding the most common species of tadpoles at all stages of their lives.

By the end of this article you will know all you need to nurture your tadpoles into healthy adult frogs.

Tadpoles Eating

What Do Tadpoles Eat In The Wild?

What Do Tadpoles Eat

In the wild tadpoles are very elusive and tend to stay hidden. What we know about their wild diet comes from watching them in controlled ponds. Over the course of their development their digestive system undergoes a complex metamorphosis to switch from a plant based diet to a protein based one.

During the first stage of their life cycle they are herbivores.

This means they will eat algae, fungi, phytoplankton, and plant detritus.

At 6 weeks old they will transition from herbivores to omnivores. At this point they will feast on the same tiny micro-prey that small fish eat. Zooplankton, microbes, and insect larvae are all on the menu.

Once tadpoles become adults they will move on to full sized insects, snails, lizards, and even small mammals. Large adult frogs have been known to eat smaller frogs too!

Questions about what tadpoles eat:

  • What Do Baby Tadpoles Eat? Just like fish newly hatched tadpoles survive off of their yolk sacs. They behave like zooplankton at this stage of their lives. After about 3 days they will lose their yolk sacs and must find outside food. During their first month their diet is completely plant based. These tiny micro-predators will start off by feeding on microscopic algae and cyanobacteria. As they grow they will progress to larger plant material and algae.
  • What Do Bullfrog Tadpoles Eat? Just like other tadpoles they are herbivores. Very young Bullfrogs use suction feeding to take in algae and plant detritus floating in the water. After about a month they develop tiny teeth for scraping algae off of surfaces. They will eat bacteria and biofilm as well. As they get older they will eat small fish, insect larvae and even other tadpoles.
  • What Do Toad Tadpoles Eat? Newborn toads will eat algae and plant material. Many species enjoy detritus which is easy to break off and fit into their mouths. As they get older toad tadpoles will munch on fallen leaves, seeds, and reeds. As adults they eat absolutely anything that fits in their mouths.
  • What Do Tadpoles Eat In A Pond? Pond dwelling species have similar diets to small freshwater fish. They snack on microscopic particles and zooplankton drifting through the water. Up until about 6 weeks of age their diets are made up of algae, plant material, and detritus. After 6 weeks they will eat insects, fish larvae, water fleas, microworms, and snail veligers. As they get larger and begin growing their frog legs, pond tadpoles will eat larger insects and worms.

As you can see, some species engage in suction feeding, where they take in small amounts of water to create a vacuum that pulls in any particles and plankton drifting by. Whereas others may lie in wait underneath floating plants and lily pads, waiting for tasty morsels to drift their way.

Their specific feeding habits are based on the species and type of frog, their habitat, and their general environment.

Tadpole Feeding Guide

Small Tadpoles Eating

First and foremost their diet is based on their age.

For the first 3 days after hatching you do not need to feed them at all.

Once their yolk sac is gone and your tadpoles are free-swimming, they will need plant material and algae. This includes algae wafers and veggie flakes (which must be crushed into powder). Liquid algae and phytoplankton are some of the most common types of food. You can use a small pipette to place it directly into the water column.

During their first month these critters will need very little food to match their tiny bodies. As a general rule, you should offer 1/4th of a teaspoon of food for each tadpole in the tank.

Space the feeding out across a 15 to 30 minute duration to make sure that everyone gets an equal amount of food. You should do this every morning at dawn, and every evening after dusk.

Once your tadpoles reach 6 weeks old you can feed them tiny live prey, algae and plants. Water fleas, mosquito and fly larvae, brine shrimp, and bloodworms are all on the menu.

They will be ready for ants and crickets just before they grow their legs. You can tell they have reached this stage once they are larger, rounder, and their tails begin to shrink.

Vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, and spinach can be given at any age before your tadpoles turn to froglets.

Once they have reached the omnivorous stage of life you can increase their food intake to half of a teaspoon per each one in the tank. Feed them at the same time, for the same duration.

If your tadpoles live in an outdoor pond then you will only need to provide food every few days. The rest of the time they will rely on natural foods from the pond.

How To Feed Tadpoles

There are several different feeding methods:

  • Measure out the appropriate amounts of powdered or flaked food into a small teaspoon and sprinkle it into your pond or paludarium.
  • The pipette method can be used for liquid based foods like algae and microscopic live prey. Place the food in a small pipette and distribute it throughout the water column.
  • Finally there is the tweezer method for larger foods like insects and leaves. You will be using this method more often when your tadpoles are about to become froglets. Pinch the food item between a pair of small tweezers and offer it to your tadpoles. This method is much slower but you can save time by grasping multiple small prey items at once.

What To Feed Tadpoles

When feeding your tadpole you should match their wild diet as closely as possible.

Of course this is easier to do if you can raise them in an outdoor pond. They will have all of their natural prey free for the taking. However, in an aquarium you will need to bring a bit of nature to them.

You will need to research the particular species that you are caring for and find ways to recreate that species’ diet at home.

For example if you are raising Bullfrogs you must provide a lot of algae and floating plants. Clawed Frogs will need a mix of algae, plants, and tiny live prey.

What to feed them will also depend on how old they are.

All tadpoles are vegetarians in their first 6 weeks of life, but after 6 weeks, you will need to provide a mix of live prey and plant material.

There are a few general foods that are good for feeding just about every tadpole.

Tadpole flakes, algae wafers and pellets are a staple of their diet. You should crush them up into powder that can fit in their little mouths. A freshwater paludarium will breed algae naturally and this algae will be eaten by your tadpoles.

You must always provide both submerged and floating plants in any habitat that you plan to raise frogs in. In an outdoor pond you can grow Water Lily, Spatterdock, and Water Lettuce. In a paludarium substitute large lily pads for miniature lily pads. Float a crop of Duckweed, Frogbit, or Redroot Floater across the surface of your aquatic areas.

Lemon Bacopa, Tapegrass, and small Arrowhead species can also be grown in an indoor setup. In outdoor setups you can grow some Water Hyacinth.

Your tadpoles can also snack on garden vegetables.

Lettuce leaves are one of the best foods and you can float them along the surface of the water just like natural leaves. Other leafy greens include spinach, kale, and fresh salad greens. Do not use salad kits from the grocery store as they can be filled with additives.

Make sure to only use green vegetables such as cucumbers, zucchini, and green peas.

Live prey can be given once your tadpoles are about 6 weeks old. While they will still eat plants and algae, the live prey primes their digestive system for the transition to a protein based diet.

You can feed them the same kinds of small live prey that you feed Nano fish, including water fleas, brine shrimp, mosquito and fly larvae, and microworms. Once they start developing their legs you can offer adult insects such as ants and small crickets.

If you are raising your frogs in an outdoor pond they will have access to most of their natural prey and will not need as much outside food.

Frog Eating

What Can’t Tadpoles Eat?

Sugary fruits are at the top of this list.

A tadpole cannot process sugar the way that other animals can, so apples, bananas, berries, and melons should be left off of the menu.

Fruits are full of carbohydrates that translate to extra calories which make a big difference for an animal with such a small body. Starchy vegetables are also a problem because of the high amount of carbs. These include potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables.

Tadpoles of any age should not be given poultry, beef, or pork to eat. Their digestive systems are not very good at processing these heavy meat products and improper cooking can lead to illness.

You might also be tempted to feed them fish flakes. You should not do this as the protein content is usually too high for them.

During their first month they will only eat plants, algae, and other greens. They should not be given live prey before they are about 6 weeks old.

When your tadpoles are ready for protein they will be significantly larger and their bodies will be round.

You should not give them large insects or fish until they have grown their legs completely and reached the froglet stage.

Finally, avoid feeding wild caught worms or insects to tadpoles as they can contain parasites.

All live prey should be purchased from a shop that sells them specifically for pet food.

Tadpole To Frog

Should You Feed Wild Tadpoles?

Tadpoles

Wild tadpoles are very good at finding food on their own.

Not only do you not need to feed them, but doing so can be harmful.

Their specific dietary needs are often dependent on species and you may not know which species you are dealing with in the wild. What is good for one species is not necessarily good for another.

Also providing them with food can disrupt their natural feeding routine. After all, you do not know if they have eaten already or how much they have eaten. Not only this but frogs that were born in the wild are not used to eating commercial pet formulas.

Even if your food is safe for them to eat there is no guarantee that other animals will not come around to steal it. Enticing fish, birds, snakes, and other animals will expose the tadpoles to potential predators.

You should always leave wild animals to find food on their own, as nature intended. They will be just fine without any help from you.

Summary

Raising frogs from tadpoles to adults is a truly extraordinary experience.

It gives you an up close and personal look at one of nature’s most fascinating life cycles.

After reading this guide you should know how and what to feed most tadpoles. Just make sure you research your specific frog species for more in depth information.

However the majority of species will conform to the general dietary requirements and feeding methods we discussed here. The important thing to remember is that all frogs start out as herbivores and must transition to a carnivorous diet over time.

With this rule firmly in mind it will not be too difficult to plan a menu for any tadpole species.

We hope that this guide has helped you decide on the perfect diet for your young frogs. What is on the menu for your tadpoles? Let us know in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.

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