Tadpoles are actually pretty neat pets to have around for a while. You don’t have to keep them forever, for one thing (unless you accidentally catch yourself a non-native tadpole, but we’ll talk about that in a minute). They’re a little less work than your average fish, and they are really interesting to watch.
When my girls and I rescued some tadpoles from a tractor rut in a u-pick bluebery field outside of town, I was not very excited about our new foster pets, and after stopping by the big-box pet store to purchase all the tadpole infrastructure, I was even less thrilled. But after having these little guys around for a while, now, I have to admit that I adore them, right down to their cutie froggy faces.
Here’s how you can get some froggy faces of your own to adore for a while:
For bonus points, catch your tadpoles or frog spawn in a place where it’s very unlikely they’d grow to adulthood unharmed. In a wet spring, frogs might leave eggs in big ditches and puddles and wheel ruts that look a heck of a lot like ponds to them, but that will be long gone by the time the summer dry spell gets going. It’s okay to get them from a nice, fresh pond, too, but if some of your tadpoles die, as nature dictates that they often do, you’ll feel less guilty, perhaps, if you knew you’d snatched them from the reaper in the first place.
Tadpoles need a nice, clean environment that reminds them of their home. Start with a small fish tank, add in some gravel (bonus points for water plants–the tadpoles will LOVE them), put in lots of rocks and things for the tadpoles to hide around, and provide at least one nice and craggy rock that sticks up above the surface of the water–some people don’t put the rock in until late in the tadpole’s development, which is fine, but it’s also nice to have it there for the tadpoles to internalize its location.
The tadpoles’ water should be pretty clean, but doesn’t need to be fanatically so. The best combination of water is a mix of distilled, chlorine-free water and some water from the pond or creek where you’ll be returning your frogs. That way, you’ll know that the frogs will be used to the water there. Change the water at least a couple of times a week, and never use water straight from the tap.
The tadpoles actually like to live in their tank outside, as long as at least a third of their tank is always in shade. You can leave the cover off of their tank during the day, and even during a rainstorm (another sensation to acclimatize them to), but cover their tank well at night. An urban raccoon will systematically fish out and eat every single one of your tadpoles within the course of just one night.
Tadpoles do need to eat, and any pet store that carries food for frogs and lizards will carry food for tadpoles. Feed them judiciously, just the way you feed fish.
When your tadpoles turn into frogs, you need to be ready with a good web site or guide to native animals or at least the phone number to your county extension office. You’ve got to be certain that your little darlings are truly native wildlife, and that it’s safe and legal to re-release them. If it’s not, you have to be prepared to care for them for the rest of their little froggy lives.
Fostering tadpoles is fascinating, and a good lesson for kiddos about nurturing the creatures of our planet, about loving and then letting go, about biology and botany and all that good science enrichment stuff that experiential learning brings.