Fowlers Toad Tadpoles take 30-40 days to transform

Delaware is home to 14 different species of frogs & toads. Typically, frogs & toads lay jelly-like eggs in freshwater. Usually a pond or ditch is best. Any movement in water, such as a flowing river, would wash away the delicate eggs.

Metamorphosis

Toad Lifecycle

Metamorphosis is the physiological change when a body morphs from one shape to another. Examples include caterpillar to butterfly or tadpole to frog.

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“I have tadpoles! Now what?….”

Space

Small tadpoles do not need too much space. It would be best to have it wider to allow for more surface area with only a few (3-5) inches of water. A large plastic container (13″ x 8″ x 5″ or 6-quart) works just fine. They sell these as shoe boxes as the dollar store most times.

Example of a small bin for raising small tadpoles.

If you want to invest in something a bit better, I recommend a kritter keeper. They are always a good investment. My kids and I have several because we always find cool stuff we just want to look at and release afterwards. One of my girls just doesn’t ‘touch nature’ and that is okay. So she enjoys using the kritter keeper. It makes her feel more comfortable.

A great kritter keeper setup for tadpoles by Alyssa Parise Arnold

You can also use any fish tanks you have around. Nothing more than 10 gallons for a few tadpoles or that would be a lot of maintenance. Now if you have a lot of tadpoles, meaning more than 20+, you will want something closer to a 10 gallon + tank. If tadpoles compete for space, they will nibble on each other competing for space and food. I have a 20 gallon tank filled 1/2 way to support hundreds. But with that many, I have additional equipment including an aerator & a large filter plant.

Be sure to create a habitat. Rocks & stones are great to add to their space.

Diet

Tadpoles feeding on romaine lettuce

Tadpoles begin their life as a herbivore. They only eat plant material. You can feed your tadpoles romaine lettuce. This can be found at your local grocery store. Just give it a good rinse before you feed it to your tadpoles. Amphibians have VERY sensitive skin, so chemical residues can seep in and prove fatal for your tadpoles. Most fatalities I see are a result of contaminated lettuce. After your lettuce is rinsed well, cut or rip into tiny pieces. Sometimes romaine for small mouths can still be difficult to chew, so you can boil it to soften it up. The lettuce will get yucky brown and slimy. That is okay. Just remove any moldy lettuce. The lettuce breaking down is a good thing. Always have food available to them. If underfed, they may nibble on each other. Just continue this process until they fully transform. When metamorphosis is complete, your frog or toad will become exclusively an insectivores (This means they eat only…. you guessed it! Insects!).

Another option is specific tadpole food. I always have some on hand. Doesn’t everyone? It can be purchased at the local pet food store or online. It is not necessary but I usually feed my tadpoles a combination of both along with pond algae.

Tadpole food pellets are available online and at most petfood stores.

There is a third option., algae wafers. I have not fed my tadpoles exclusively these but I am going to try it with my tank. I will have to update you as I go but it is essentially what they need.

Water Changes

Filtration for tadpoles can be difficult. Many species are so small a filter would suck them up. In the wild, tadpoles live among rotting leaves and debris in shallow waters. But those eating machines do produce a lot of waste and that waste starts to build up acidity in the water. It is important for their health that you change the water a little at a time. Do not do full water changes. The water contains essentail bacteria the tadpoles need to feed on. I usually take a few ounces of old water out (dump it on my plants outside since it has nutrients!) and replace it with new water approximately twice a week. For me and my tank of hundreds, I put a house plant (Pothos) in my tank and it helps to filter waste.

I add a houseplant ‘Pothos’ to help filter water & provide oxygen. The roots are sitting in a strawberry punnet in the water.

If you have HEAVILY chlorinated water, keep a bucket of water outside and use that water for changes. When water is exposed to sunlight for 24 hours, it will help burn off that chlorine making it safe for your tadpoles. Well water is 100% fine. Again, they have sensitivity to their aquatic environment since they skin are like sponges, soaking up everything, chemicals included.
Be sure to keep water temperature the same during changes. Amphibians are ectothermic (meaning they do not produce their own body heat, they rely on an external source for warmth). If you drastically change the water temperature, you can ‘COLD shock’ them. It is important that they have some warmth as that is needed for metamorphosis to take place. Without warmth, the food in their stomach will turn rancid. In order for them to properly digest food and absorb nutrients, they need to keep their metabolisms high.
If kept indoors, keep them in a warm spot away from A/C vents. If you find that your tadpoles aren’t morphing, it is usually a lack of heat. Consider purchasing a small tank heater to keep them water close to 79-80 degrees. We keep our home very chilly in the summer. We have a very small, efficient house and I have to cool off quickly from hot gardening days.
Another possibility is to keep it outside in the shade in a large bin. It is where they would naturally progress anyways.

Day & Night

In their growing process, it is important for tadpoles (like all other animals) to have a circadian rhythm. This means they need to have a ‘Day’ & a ‘Night’. Do not put your tadpoles in direct sunlight! But keep them somewhere they get a sense of day & night. You can even use a lamp. Just be sure to give them a full day’s light. This will help them grow, grow, GROW! I love this light, see below. (I am not paid for anything & I do not receive money from amazon. This is just a great light.)

This light is what I use for my open top tanks. It has timers along with blue & white light.

Among the many fascinating transformations happening in the growth of your tadpole, they will eventually switch from using their gills to using their lungs. For more information, click this LINK to read about tadpole respiration.

Handling

Remember this guy from Monsters University? “Definitely want to touch it!”

Depending on the size, tadpoles can be quite difficult to handle. Whenever you come into contact with amphibians, you want to make sure your hands are washed and thoroughly rinsed BEFORE and AFTER. That sensitive, sponge-like skin soaks up oils, soaps, lotions, dirt, etc. from our hands so always wash. But if you just can’t help it and you want to feel your tadpole, then simply cup your hands in the water and keep them submerged. You can even put a small piece of romaine in your hand to ‘hand-feed’ them! Tadpoles need to stay wet so taking them out of the water is a ‘no-go’. It didn’t stop my 4 year old, but we run the babies right back to the water. Just do not pinch them to pick them up. They are still very fragile at this stage.

Toadlet – The Last Step

When your toad has developed arms & legs (tail still remaining), it is at the last moments of becoming a full terrestrial (land-based) amphibian. During this stage, the animal is called a ‘toadlet’. At any stage, you may see your tadpole heading up to the surface to do something that looks like it is ‘taking a breath’ and it is. Your tadpole transitions from using their gills to using their lungs. This final step will require a lot more surface trips for air so you will need to put something in the water to allow the toadlet to rest partially above the water. A large rock with a flat surface would do the trick! Just something to help them get out of the water momentarily. This last step you may also notice a reduction in eating. The tail of your toadlet is packed with crucial nutrients that will feed the toadlet. The tail will start to ‘disappear’. That is the body absorbing the tail to receive those final nutrients. When the tail is nearly gone, your toad is ready for dry land and to be released!

Toadlet ready for the world!

Safety

It is important to thoroughly wash your hands with warm soap & water after handling tadpoles or any of their equipment.

The art of handwashing!

Release

Once your toad is nearly fully formed (or all the way formed), he or she is ready to go off into the world and complete its function in nature. Yes, your toad is going to be really small. It is okay. It is packed with defenses and, in the end, is still a part of the food chain. So the question is… where do I release it? You want to release it in Kent County, Delaware since that is where they came from. You can put it in a wooded area near a water source such as a pond or stream or into your garden to defend against slugs and bugs!

Ready for Release!

Optional

I have an air-stone in my tank. It is optional for smaller groups of tadpoles, but when you have as many as I have, it is a requirement. If you want to add an air-stone, that is perfectly fine! Just know that as long as you are regularly changing the water and they have lots of surface area, they will be just fine without.

Air Stone to provide additional oxygen

More Information

Common Wealth of PA – Fowler’s Toads
Smithsonian Information – Fowler’s Toads
University of Georgia – Fowler’s Toads
Virginia Herpetological Society – Fowler’s Toads
Pinterest Activities for Frogs & Toads
Frog-themed Activities for Children