Grow Guide: Raising Tadpoles

Got tadpoles? Help them find their feet and start their journey out of the pond.
Tree Frog

Tree Frog

You can help raise a family of frogs in your backyard with a little pond TLC.

Photo by: Photo by Felder Rushing

Photo by Felder Rushing

You can help raise a family of frogs in your backyard with a little pond TLC.

QUESTION: 

Two weeks ago I was peeking into my small pond where a frog family, toad family and a few goldfish live. I saw hundreds of tadpoles! My main concern is helping them live to get out of the pond. Will they all make it out safely?

ANSWER:

Glad you care enough about these little “polliwogs.” With all the bad news about environmental problems, including the worldwide loss of frogs, you are making a positive backyard contribution! And you aren’t alone; a good friend of mine actually collects big buckets of rainwater to put tadpoles in until they reach maturity. He feeds them bits of leftover lettuce and a few fish food flakes, and allows green algae, a real tasty treat for tadpoles, to grow on the sides of the buckets.

American Toad

American Toad

You can spot the difference between frogs and toads by the eggs: frog eggs are laid in gelatinous masses; toad eggs are laid in long, sticky strings

Photo by: Image courtesy of Felder Rushing

Image courtesy of Felder Rushing

Another friend once had some tadpoles hatch in a shallow part of a gravel driveway, and she kept a hose running ever so slowly to keep the makeshift hatchery full of water without pumping in too much chlorine. She put out a sign warning visitors to watch their step for the “Future Frogs of America.”

By the way, while most tadpoles look a lot alike, you can tell if they are frog or toad tads by the kinds of eggs that were laid. Frog eggs are laid in gelatinous masses; toad eggs are laid in long, sticky strings.

As for helping pond tadpoles make it to maturity, accept that many simply will not because of competition from one another, fish eating a few (even bad-tasting toad tadpoles can be eaten by some fish), and other predators.

When they have grown legs and start absorbing their tails, tadpoles need to be able to get out of the water easily. Though little frogs can climb on nearly anything, even very slick surfaces, toad tads need something kind of rough to crawl on.

Cool, Fresh Water Is Important

Help tadpoles and your fish as best you can by keeping fresh water in the pond, and providing lots of plants and other surfaces for algae to grow (again, one of their favorite foods).

Your original question included a concern about adding chlorinated tapwater to your pond, even when the pond gets low. It is very important to keep water levels full in the summer, because low levels can quickly overheat, as well as lose oxygen, both of which can kill both fish and tadpoles. Plus, keeping pond water cooler helps on algae control.

For my three ponds, I don’t worry about very slowly adding a little chlorinated water a bit at a time. But if you have a lot to fill, store rainwater in a garbage can or other large container; stored tap water should be allowed to air out two or three days, to give chlorine time to evaporate. Keep stored water covered or screened to cut down on mosquito larvae. And remember that temperature is also important; add water in the morning, not late afternoon when the bucket water may be way too warm.

Finally, be very careful when selecting algaecides for your pond, as many can seriously harm aquatic life, including tadpoles and little dragonfly and other insect larvae. Try to shade over half the water surface, either with floating plants with big leaves or perhaps a small tree planted so it leans over the pond. And avoid over-feeding any fish—excessive nutrients, both from uneaten food and from fish excrement, contribute to algae. Goldfish can live a lot longer without regular feedings than most people realize!

Raising tadpoles is easy, and can be very rewarding. Just don’t expect them to all make it to adulthood, or we’d be overrun in no time!

Gardening expert and certified wit Felder Rushing answers your questions and lays down some green-wisdom. You can get more of your Felder fix at www.slowgardening.net.