Last spring, we found some tadpoles at the creek and decided to try raising tadpoles into frogs as part of our nature study! It was probably the best homeschool science experiment we’ve had to date. Watching metamorphosis rather than just seeing lifecycle pictures was pretty amazing.
Unfortunately our first batch died within a few days. We learned not to use our tap water and to do a little more research. Using just a small tank without a filter, we managed to keep the second batch alive and fed for about 2 months while they grew into baby frogs!
I intend to do this every year, although this year I’d like to get a filter so there’s less poop in the tank to clean. If this is your first year doing this, read on to see what to feed your tadpoles, changes to watch for, what water to use, and how to make them a little habitat!
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How long does it take for tadpoles to turn into frogs?
The process takes roughly around 14 weeks, but can differ depending on what kind of frogs you have and at what age you brought them home.
We got our tadpoles at a creek in mid May, and they were actually already tadpoles (not eggs anymore). They sprouted legs and arms about a month after we got them.
A few had become full on baby frogs within 2 months before we had to say goodbye! Don’t let the time frame scare you…raising tadpoles is totally worth it! And they are very low maintenance.
Supplies you’ll need for raising tadpoles into frogs at home
This can be nearly free, and it’s a very short term “pet” which is nice! You’ll need:
- water from the creek/pond where your tadpoles came from OR
- tap water + water conditioner to neutralize chemicals
- small 10 gallon fish tank (get a lid too if you plan to keep your frogs long or they will be able to jump out).
- fishtank filter if you don’t want to have to clean the tank ever (mostly tadpole poop build up). We didn’t have one so I had to swap out the water about once a week.
- Spinach for tadpole food
- Rocks from the creek/pond for hiding in
You could just keep your tadpoles in a stainless steel pot or the milk jug with top cut off if you want to try going cheap. But having glass sides will make it so you can observe the tadpoles from any angle and see their bellies and growing legs from under the water level. So worth it!
We bought a 10 gallon tank (without a lid or filter) from a local pet store…cheap and effective.
One mom at the creek did give me a heads up that they didn’t use a lid one year and their little frogs ended up hopping out of the tank!
That didn’t happen to us, but we kept the water level shallow in a deep tank. We also stopped raising the frogs soon after they lost their tails but were still tiny.
How to keep tadpoles from dying
We made a few mistakes along the way. I’ll go into more detail, but a few things that are really important if you want to keep your tadpoles and froglets alive!
- Using tap water can be bad, bad, bad. This was our first mistake that killed the whole batch. If you can’t get water from the same source as your tadpoles, this water conditioner can make your tap water safe to use.
- Feeding them the right food for their development. I’ll explain when how to know when tadpoles have transformed from omnivores into carnivores. They’ll start eating each other if you don’t change the food source! Yikes, it happened to a few of ours.
- Keep the water clean and filled. Filters make this easy, but if you don’t have one I’ll show you how we tried to keep their tank clean-ish.
- Keep the tank inside in a temperature controlled home. A tank left out in the heat or by a hot window can raise the water temperature too much and kill your tadpoles.
- Arrange a few rocks to stick out of the water so your froglets can climb up and breath air. If you don’t make a way for them to get out of the water with their tiny legs, they’ll die.
How to get tadpoles home from the creek or pond.
We cut off the tops of a couple of well rinsed gallon milk jugs. These make perfect containers for the kids to scoop up tadpoles and water! Bring an extra jug just for water for your tank.
Also grab some rocks from your creek or pond of different sizes. Your froglets will need a spot out of the water they can get to once they sprout legs and need to start breathing air.
It’s great to find some rocks with algae on them because the tadpoles can eat that when their mouths are tiny.
Any pond grass or pond plants can also be a great addition for your tadpoles tank for food and shelter. They may try to eat the plant eventually, but it also adds a hiding place and helps clean the water.
Is tap water safe to use for your tadpoles?
Our first mistake is that I didn’t bring much water home from the creek. So I added a little bit of tap water to fill up a metal bowl and called it good. Turned out it wasn’t so good…
Well, as you know that batch died around day 3. Everyone’s tap water is different, but tap water often has added chlorine, fluoride, and other things that can kill your fish or tadpoles.
If you only have tap water, you can try leaving it out in the sunlight for over 24 hours to make it safe for the tadpoles.
Or, order yourself some water conditioner. It’s very inexpensive! It neutralizes things like fluoride, chlorine, and heavy metals that can kill your tadpoles. Follow directions because you only use a tiny, tiny bit!
Can you use rainwater in your tadpole tank?
We did and it worked so well! However, there can be a lot of nasty things in the water if you are collecting it from say…your gutters on your roof. Don’t do that.
We put out a few clean-ish buckets and used the rainwater from there to refill lost water. Just make sure your buckets of water are a similar temperature as your tank water and not hot!
How often do you have to clean the tadpole tank?
We cleaned ours whenever the water seemed to be looking dull and brownish or when there was too much poo on the glass bottom. I’d say it was about once a week.
I also learned not to put in so many spinach leaves because they discolored the water when they didn’t get eaten up.
No getting around it…our tank was nastier at the end of 2 months than when I first started! But I didn’t have a filter, and my “cleaning” was simply scooping a cup into the water to catch as much tadpole poop on the glass bottom as I could. I know…so glamorous.
I’d say this method is CHEAP, but not fun and you can’t get all the nasties out without removing your tadpoles, rocks, etc and rinsing the tank. Maybe next time I’ll splurge and get a fish filter and a lid 😉
What do tadpoles eat?
Tadpoles go from being omnivores to carnivores throughout metamorphosis.
Spinach was our go to food until the tadpoles started sprouting legs and became carnivorous. Don’t ask me how we knew when this happened…ok I’ll tell you. We found a few legs floating around without bellies. Kind of terrifying.
And a sign to put some bugs or protein in the tank.
Since we had different sizes of tadpoles, the spinach was still being eaten. But we weren’t sure if some of the bigger tadpoles were eating spinach or not…until we found they’d been eating each other.
You can expect them to go from omnivores to carnivores around when they begin to sprout legs. Their shrinking tails will provide nutrition for them too, so it’s normal if they eat less or not at all as it shrinks.
Once you see legs, it’s your sign to try dropping in an occasional dead insect, like fruit flies, regular flies, a dead worm, or dried bloodworms to see what they go for. If it doesn’t get eaten in a couple days, scoop it out so it doesn’t decay in there.
Have fish food at home already? You can feed that to your tadpoles in the early stage before legs sprout. Check out this post other things tadpoles can eat.
Should you microwave the spinach?
I did, but only at first when their mouths were very, very tiny like and they didn’t seem to be getting any traction on a raw leaf.
New baby tadpoles feed on algae, and plants. Microwaving or steaming spinach can break it down and make it easier to eat.
I can’t remember how many weeks later I tried giving them a raw leaf, but eventually it got eaten in a day or two so I stopped trying to soften the spinach with heat!
When to release your frogs back into the wild
You can take your tadpoles, froglets, or full grown frogs back to the spot you took them from anytime you are over it! Ideally, wait until you can see the full process of metamorphosis and observe them losing the tail and growing the arms and legs.
Plus, how amazing to watch their diet change and see them go from water breathing to air breathing!
I’d love to hear any stories, good or bad, in the comments as well as tips you have found! I’ll update this post after we raise tadpoles again, but for now I hope this helps you feel brave enough to try it!
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