What Can You Feed Tadpoles? (Safe Food List)

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What Can I Feed Tadpoles? Guide to What Food Tadpoles Like! [Updated]

Tadpoles in a pond
Tadpoles are relatively undemanding; not a lot of time or resources are required to care for them. ricardo / CC BY 2.0

Tadpoles are fascinating little creatures and are an absolute joy to observe. Relatively undemanding, they won’t take up too much time or resources and are quite straightforward to care for. For the curious mind or the scout in you, rearing them to froghood can be an unforgettable learning experience. Upon acquiring a batch of freshly hatched tadpoles, one of the first things you’ll ask is, “What should I feed these little critters?”.

The good news is, unlike many of our domesticated pets, tadpoles can eat a wide assortment of cheap grocery staples. Pet stores may carry food that is formulated just for them, but you need not stick to these options. In fact, a varied diet of freshly prepared or homemade food is more than sufficient for a tadpole’s nutritional needs. Given appropriate food, most species of tadpoles will turn into their adult forms in just 3-4 months!

Tadpoles don’t eat the same food as frogs or toads and tend to have different preferences depending on their stage of growth. Upon hatching, tadpoles won’t readily consume any food. They can live off of the remaining yolk for the first week of their lives. It’s essential that they receive the right types of nutrients in the later weeks so that their organs and limbs can develop correctly.

What Vegetables Can I Feed Tadpoles?

A selection of vegetables
Many common vegetables are great sources of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for tadpoles. Rene Cortin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Absolutely! Early-stage tadpoles (up to 6 weeks) are predominantly herbivores. Many common vegetables (ones you’re likely to find in your kitchen) are great sources of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

Your tadpoles will certainly benefit from a diet of the following vegetables and green supplements. Just make sure to alternate them or create a feeding schedule to ensure that all of the necessary nutrients are provided. Pro-tip: to aid in digestion, you can boil some of the vegetables prior to dropping them into your tadpole tank.

  • Cucumbers – These are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Remove the skin and cut into small slices. These should ideally float on the water’s surface and encourage young tadpoles to swim upward.
  • Carrots – This orange-colored treat is rich in vitamin A. Cut thinly and allow slices to thaw and soften up completely before feeding them to tadpoles.
  • Broccoli –  Rich in iron, vitamins, and fiber. Boil until all parts are soft enough to chew. Feed in small quantities to your tadpoles.
  • Baby spinach – Clean thoroughly and boil for a few minutes. Cut up the leaves into tiny bits and let them float on the surface of your tadpole tank.
  • Lettuce – Avoid using iceberg lettuce as this is very low in vitamins and minerals. Try to opt for romaine lettuce. Boil or blanche leaves beforehand to break up the cellulose layers.
  • Other nutrient-rich vegetables for your tadpoles: finely sliced zucchini, skinless or crushed peas, boiled green beans, kale.
  • Aquatic plantsEdible aquatic plants, such as milfoil and pondweed, should only be fed to tadpoles that you’ve taken from an outdoor pond. These are generally not ideal sources of food for pet tadpoles as they can introduce pests and diseases to your tank.
  • Algae wafers – Algae make up a large portion of young tadpole diets in the wild. These can be provided with other veggies to ensure that all tadpoles are able to consume a fair amount of food. If you have an outdoor pond with tadpoles, this can also serve as a nice treat.

Young tadpoles will benefit from a fruity treat every now and then. Fruits should not be the main source of nutrition, however, as they may contain too much sugar. You may occasionally feed your tadpoles with small pieces of banana, strawberry, apple, and green grapes to supplement their diet with vitamins. Do make sure that the fruits and vegetables you use were not treated with pesticides as even a small concentration of toxins can be detrimental to tadpole survival.

Protein-Rich Food for Late-Stage Tadpoles

A selection of protein-rich foods
You can start to introduce your tadpoles to protein-rich foods, like egg yolk, once they have reached the later stage of growth (6 weeks and up). Smastronardo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Once your tadpoles have reached the later stage of growth (6 weeks and up), they are ready to ease into a more protein-rich diet. They become omnivores as they develop more complex structures and begin to grow limbs. To ensure that their developmental needs are met, you can gradually replace a portion of their vegetarian meals with the following treats:

  • Fish food– You can sprinkle a small amount of fish flakes (preferable to pellets) to go with vegetables during each feeding time. This should not fully replace other sources of nutrition because tadpoles should remain accustomed to as natural a diet as possible.
  • Small mealworms – This can be provided in live form and should be purchased from a reputable breeder or pet shop. Try to acquire sizes that are manageable for tadpoles to eat. Those that measure around 1 – 3 cm would be best.
  • Egg yolkRich in protein and calcium, egg yolk can be provided in hard-boiled form. Make sure not to drop too much at once as particles can cloud the water.
  • Brine shrimp – In frozen or flake form, brine shrimp is an ideal once-weekly treat for tadpoles. If your tadpoles belong to highly carnivorous species, you can use canned or cooked freshwater shrimp.
  • Frozen crickets – Tadpoles may prefer to eat live insects, but frozen or dried crickets can be used as an occasional treat if readily consumed.
  • Bloodworms – This is a high-protein treat that should be available in many pet stores. Bloodworms are the bright-red larvae of midge flies. They are also often used for carnivorous aquarium fish.
  • Small fish – Fish fry or juvenile fish are a great live treat to feed late-stage tadpoles. You can provide them with hiding places in a tank to simulate natural conditions. Your tadpoles will surely be grateful for the chance to expend their energy in a fish chase.
  • Sinking pellets or floating food sticks for frogs & tadpoles – If unable to procure live food or prepare homemade protein-rich options, you can feed your tadpoles with sinking pellets or floating food sticks. There are amphibian-specific formulations of these that can be purchased in pet shops (or their online portals).
  • Spirulina discs – Rich in vitamins and protein, spirulina discs can be given to your tadpoles as a nutritious treat. These can be used alongside algae discs to supplement plant-based food.

Can Tadpoles Eat Bread?

Tadpoles eating bread in a pond
Bread crumbs aren’t particularly beneficial to tadpoles and may not aid in their development. ianpreston / CC BY 2.0

Tadpoles appear to like any type of food, as long as it can fit into their mouths. Bread crumbs may readily be consumed, but they aren’t exactly beneficial to tadpoles and may not significantly aid in their development. Bread is nutritionally poor compared to other food types. As it is highly unlikely that tadpoles would ever eat bread in the wild, it may be mildly incompatible with their food tracts as well.

How Much Food & How Often Should Tadpoles Be Fed?

Tadpoles swimming in a pond with leaves
To prevent clouding up the water, provide your tadpoles with small amounts of food at a time. Timo Newton-Syms / CC BY-SA 2.0

Tadpoles are eager eaters and can be fed once a day. In the beginning, it is advisable to keep a feeding schedule to take note of feeding frequency, composition, and rate of food consumption. Once you’ve gotten the hang of things, it should be easier to determine when and how much food to feed your tadpoles.

Feeding sessions should ideally not last for more than 10 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your tank and on how much time you can spare. Provide your tadpoles with small amounts of food at a time to prevent clouding up the water. You should refrain from giving them more than they can eat, and remove any leftover food to prevent spoilage and nutrient build-up.

Tadpole Food Types to Avoid

Dog food
Avoid feeding your tadpoles food such as dog food with coarse grains. Anne Hornyak, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Though your tadpoles may eat just about anything, there are some types of food that you should definitely avoid. Just as some delicious treats can be bad for us, some food types can be more harmful to tadpole growth and development in the long run. These include dog food or cat food with coarse grains, processed foods with preservatives or seasonings, wild-caught larvae and bugs (may carry diseases and parasites), and nutrient-poor foods.

Try to stick to healthy sources of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Also, make sure that you provide food in moderation and regularly alternate food types and treats. Though it isn’t exactly possible to “overfeed” tadpoles, sticking to just one nutrient source can deprive them of some dietary needs. Lastly, keep in mind that their age and size can greatly influence their food preferences.

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