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Care Guide: Tadpole

Living Care Information

commonly known as Pollywog, tadpole

Quick Start Information

  • Keep tadpoles in glass, plastic, or stainless steel containers only. Shallow trays, aquariums, and large culture dishes are all suitable tadpole habitats. Prepare the containers you will use to house your tadpoles ahead of their arrival.

  • You will need a source of room-temperature water (e.g., pond, natural spring, or dechlorinated tap water).

  • If you purchase spring water from the grocery store, be sure that it is labeled as “natural” spring water and contains no additives. Carolina offers spring water.

  • If you use tap water, you will need to purchase a dechlorination agent. Options include:
    AquaSafe® Water Conditioner
    Stress Coat® Water Conditioner
    AMMO-LOCK® Water Conditioner

About the Organism

  • Tadpoles are the larval stage in the life cycle of amphibians
  • The word tadpole means "toad head."
  • Biofilms from the Miocene era have yielded fossilized remains of tadpoles.
  • The process of tadpole maturation is known as metamorphosis.
  • In some parts of the world, amphibian species with large tadpoles are raised for food.
  • Domain: Eukarya
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Amphibia
  • Order: Anura
  • Family: Bufonidae, Hylidae, Pipidae, Ranidae
  • Genus: Lithobates, Pseudacris, Anaxyrus, or Xenopus
  • Species: Varies depending on availability and season


It is imperative that you have a housing container prepared for your tadpoles when they arrive. Once you have inspected your shipment, you will need to acclimate your tadpoles to their new habitat or holding container. Allow 50 to 60 minutes to complete the acclimation process. Have a habitat or holding pail made of glass, plastic, or stainless steel prepared with room-temperature water before proceeding.

To acclimatize your tadpoles:

  1. Float the bag in the holding pail or set the bag next to the habitat.
  2. After 20 to 30 minutes, remove about 1/4 of the water from the bag and replace it with water from the holding pail or habitat.
  3. Wait 15 minutes and then repeat step 2.
  4. After another 15 minutes, position a net over an empty cup or bucket (not the holding pail or habitat), and gently pour the tadpoles from the bag into the net. Transfer the netted tadpoles to the holding pail or habitat. Discard the shipping water and shipping bag.

Your tadpoles are now acclimated to their new environment.


Native tadpoles generally live in shallow water, so fill the habitat to a depth of 2 to 5 cm ( 3/4 to 2" ). Bullfrog tadpoles can have a water depth of 8 to 13 cm ( 3 to 5"), and Xenopus tadpoles should have a depth of 10 to 20 cm ( 4 to 8" ). Remember to always use spring water, pond water, or tap water that has been treated with a chemical water conditioner.

Change 1/4 to 1/3 of the water 2 to 3 times a week, or more often if it becomes cloudy. Be sure that any water you add matches the temperature of the current water. We do not recommend a filter, since it may suck up the tadpoles. A small aquarium pump with an air stone or other bubbler will help keep the water oxygenated. Keep the habitat at room temperature, away from heating or cooling vents, and out of direct sunlight.

Once a week, clean and rinse all habitats and utensils in hot water, without soap or detergent. Transfer the tadpoles to a holding pail while you clean the habitat.

Tadpoles can tolerate a wide range of temperatures but not a sudden temperature change. Never transfer tadpoles to water that differs in temperature by more than 1 to 1.5° C (2 to 3° F).

For maximum growth, put no more than 30 small tadpoles in every 4 L (1 gal) of water. As the tadpoles grow, decrease the population density by setting up more habitats and dividing the tadpoles among them.


Most native tadpoles are vegetarian and live on a variety of plant materials. You can add aquatic plants such as Elodea to the habitat for decoration and as a food source. Provide enough light for the plants to carry out photosynthesis, but avoid placing the habitat in direct sunlight.

Our Tadpole Food is an excellent food source for native tadpoles. Other options include pelleted rabbit food, ground dry dog food, fish food, and algae supplemented with finely powdered beef liver or powdered egg yolk. Parboiled lettuce and spinach are also suitable, but you should supplement them with other foods. Tadpoles that feed exclusively on lettuce or spinach may develop tumors. Xenopus tadpoles are filter feeders and will eat our Xenopus Tadpole Food, nettle powder, or pea soup.

Do not feed more than the tadpoles can consume in a few hours. If your tadpoles are newly hatched from eggs, wait to begin feeding them until they are actively swimming. For 2 to 3 young tadpoles, a small pinch of food every other day is a good starting point. The amount you feed will depend on the size and number of your tadpoles, so it may require some trial and error. Increase the amount of food you provide as the tadpoles grow.

Remove any uneaten food from the habitat a few hours after every feeding. This must be done to maintain water quality, which is essential for healthy tadpoles. You may find that a pipette, turkey baster, or aquarium siphon makes it easier to remove the uneaten food. Be careful not to siphon up or injure the tadpoles.

After the front limbs appear, tadpoles may stop eating. This is because they are literally digesting their tails and need no additional food. Tadpoles also develop lungs at about the same time as their front limbs, and they will need a way to reach the air to breathe. Add a flat rock or other object to the habitat once the tadpole has hind limbs, so that it will be able to climb out as it matures. (Xenopus are completely aquatic, so they don’t need a way out of the water.) Frogs can climb on almost any surface, but toads need a surface that provides traction. Spring peepers are excellent climbers and will escape from any container that does not have a lid.

Maintaining and culturing

Once frogs or toads are crawling out of the water with their tails mostly gone, move them to a terrarium. (Xenopus are completely aquatic; keep them in an aquarium as you would goldfish.) The terrarium should have a sand substrate and a source of water.

For frogs, put about 5 cm (2") of clean sand in the bottom of the terrarium and pile it to on one end to create a land side and a water side. The depth of water depends on the size of the frogs, but it should be a few centimeters at most. Toads are terrestrial and can drown if they are trapped in water, so cover the bottom of their terrarium with clean sand and place a shallow dish of water on top. Keep the terrarium at room temperature and away from direct sunlight.

Native frogs and toads need live insects to eat. Start by offering them fruit flies, then add small cricket nymphs as the frogs grow. Larger frogs and toads can be fed red worms (small whole worms or chopped pieces), wax worms, hornworm larvae, mealworms, and crickets. Feed frogs and toads 2 to 3 times a week. Once or twice a week, dust the insects with a commercial vitamin/mineral supplement prior to feeding.

Xenopus frogs do not need live food. You can feed them pelleted food such as HBH Frog and Tadpole Bites®.


Carolina provides living organisms for educational purposes only. As a general policy, we do not advocate the release of organisms into the environment. In some states, it is illegal to release organisms, even indigenous species, without a permit. The intention of these laws is to protect native wildlife and the environment.

We suggest that organisms be:

  • Maintained in the classroom.
  • Donated to another classroom or science department.
  • With parental permission, adopted or taken home by students.
  • Donated to a nature center or zoo.
  • Disposed of humanely, as a last resort.


Always wash your hands after touching an amphibian or any part of an amphibian’s habitat. For more information, see our Amphibians, Reptiles, and Prevention of Salmonella Transmission statement.



How do I know if I have Xenopus tadpoles?

Unless you raised Xenopus tadpoles from the egg stage, you probably have tadpoles of a native frog or toad. Native tadpoles are heavily pigmented. Xenopus tadpoles, especially in early stages, are nearly transparent.

What species of tadpole does Carolina have?

We ship a variety of species depending on seasonal availability. In general, spring peeper tadpoles are available in the early spring, followed by toads and then grass frogs. In the winter, we may send lab-reared grass frog tadpoles. Refer to any information that came with your order for the exact species you received.

Our tadpoles are now frogs. Can we release them into a pond?

No. A frog may be native to North America, but it may not be native to your area. Do not release Xenopus into the environment because it is not native and could damage native amphibian populations. Your state Department of Natural Resources or Department of Wildlife can advise you on relevant laws, guidelines, and regulations.

Our tadpoles are dying. What can we do?

Rushing the acclimation procedure can kill the tadpoles. Also, soap and detergent can leave a toxic residue.

You can try switching to a different water source. Tap water can have toxic metal ions, spring water from a grocery store might contain trace contaminants, and locally collected spring or pond water might contain a pollutant.

When performing water changes, be sure that the new water is the same temperature as the old water. It is also less stressful for tadpoles if you change small amounts of water more frequently, rather than changing a large amount of water all at once.

Unfortunately, the death rate of native frog tadpoles is often extremely high, even if you do everything right.

How long before the tadpoles become frogs?

Spring peeper and toad tadpoles transform into small adults in 6 to 8 weeks. Other species, including Xenopus, take 10 to 14 weeks. Bullfrog tadpoles may take 4 to 18 months to metamorphose.

Need help?

We want you to have a good experience. Orders and replacements: 800.334.5551, then select Customer Service. Technical support and questions: caresheets@carolina.com

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