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Best Tadpole Foods (Based on my Experiences) – Seeking Additional Suggestions

tadpoleBreeding frogs and rearing tadpoles is one of the most enjoyable aspects of our hobby, and becoming ever more important to the survival of many species.  In the course of working with numerous species at home and in zoos, I’ve compiled a list of commercial foods that have proven especially useful as tadpole foods.  The variety of new food items that have appeared and the many frog species that have been recently bred by hobbyists have convinced me that it’s time to reach out see what new “wonder products” or ideas folks have tried. I have, therefore, highlighted some of the foods I’ve come to rely on, and would greatly appreciate hearing of your experiences with them and others. Thank you.

The Amazing Specialists

While the tadpoles of many commonly bred frogs (i.e. White’s Treefrog, Litoria caerulea) are omnivorous and take a variety of foods, others are specialists and will not survive unless their exacting requirements are met.  The tadpoles of African Clawed Frogs, Xenopus laevis and Malayan Leaf Frogs, Megophrys nasuta, for example, are filter feeders, while those of the African Bullfrog, Pyxicephalus adspersus, are as carnivorous as their pugnacious parents.  Poison Frog tadpoles of several species feed upon unfertilized eggs deposited by their mother, Goliath Frog, Conraua goliath, tadpoles consume a single species of algae, Fringe-Limbed Treefrog (Ecnomiohyla rabborum) tadpoles eat their father’s skin,  Brown Leaping Frog (Indirana semipalmata) tadpoles gnaw on wood (high up in trees!) …the list is fascinating.  Please post below if you would like information on these or other species.

General Considerations

In general, omnivorous tadpoles should be provided with as many of the following foods as is practical.  As we do not know much about the natural diets of filter-feeding tadpoles, they too should be given a wide variety of finely-ground commercial foods.  Horned Frog (Ceratophrys spp.) and other carnivorous tadpoles do best when high protein foods such as freeze-dried bloodworms, shrimp and pre-killed minnows are added to a Reptomin-based diet.

I’ve found that nearly all tadpoles relish kale, and experience has shown it to be a very beneficial addition to their diet.  I have, as an experiment, successfully raised American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus, and Green-and-Gold Bellfrog, Litoria aurea, tadpoles on a diet comprised solely of kale and tropical fish flakes.  Soak kale in hot water for 10 minutes or so before using, so as to improve its digestibility.

Reptomin Floating Food Sticks (Tetrafauna)

If I had to choose a single food that fits the needs of most tadpoles, I’d go with Reptomin Floating Food Sticks, which I have relied upon in zoos and my own collection for decades.  I’ve had excellent results using this product as 50-75% of the diets of a variety of tadpoles, including American and African Bullfrogs, Green Frogs, European Edible Frogs, American Toads, Wallace’s Flying Frogs, Australian Bell Frogs and Ornate Horned Frogs.

Reptomin contains a variety of animal and plant ingredients, including shrimp, algae and fish meal, wheat, corn and potato.  The floating sticks soften quickly, but not so much as to become unavailable to larger tadpoles, sink after becoming water-logged, and can also be ground up and offered to filter feeders.  Reptomin is also an excellent food for many adult aquatic frogs, newts, turtles, and invertebrates…I even use it to gut load feeder crickets and roaches.  It has crossed over from the pet trade and is now a staple in zoos worldwide.  Please see this article for further information on this valuable food item.

Canned and Sun-Dried Freshwater Shrimp (ZooMed)

red shrimpShrimp are very numerous in many freshwater environments, and likely play a role in tadpole diets.  While marine shrimps and krill have long been available as tropical fish food, freshwater species are difficult to find.  I was, therefore, pleased to learn that Zoo Med is now using a fresh water shrimp, Macrobrachium nipponense, in its Canned Shrimp and Sun Dried Red Shrimp products.

Excellent as a high-protein addition to the diets of most tadpoles and very important for carnivorous species, both products are easy to use.  Canned Shrimp, being quite “meaty”, is ideal for the voracious tadpoles of African Bullfrogs, Horned Frogs and similar species.  Sun Dried Shrimp can be crushed to meet the needs of smaller tadpoles and filter feeders.  You can read more about these products here.

Tropical Flakes Fish Food (TetraMin)

As with ReptoMin, tropical fish flakes are highly nutritious and an ideal food for a wide variety of tadpoles.  I’ve relied most heavily upon TetraMin’s original Tropical Flakes, and cannot recall any species that has refused it.  Developed in 1950, this product can be ground into a powder fine enough even for the tiny filter feeding tadpoles of the Dwarf African Clawed Frog, Hymenochirus curpites, but is also taken by American Bullfrogs and other large species.  I also provide it to feeder insects, snails, millipedes, and shrimp (and fish!).

Other flake foods developed for fishes with specific dietary needs (i.e. algae feeders, Cichlids) may also be used to add variety to tadpole diets.

Spirulina Discs (Wardley)

Wardley Spirulina Discs contain blue algae meal, spinach powder and other plant-based ingredients important to the health of nearly all tadpoles.  As carnivorous species likely consume some plant material in the wild, I add Algae Discs to both their diets and those of omnivorous/herbivorous tadpoles.  Many other foods formulated for plant-eating fishes are also useful tadpole foods.

Earthworm Fish Food Flakes (Zoo Med)

I’ve long championed earthworms as a herp food, and so was interested in trying out Zoo Med’s new Earthworm Flakes.  The flakes also contain salmon, shrimp meal and plankton, and are readily consumed by most tadpoles.  Further thoughts on this exciting new product can be found here.

Repto Treat Delica Bloodworms (TetraFauna)

tadpoleBloodworms, the larvae of midges (or “gnats”, Family Chironomidae), are one of the few small insects available to tadpole keepers.

TetraFauna’s Repto Treat supplies bloodworms encased within a vitamin-enriched gel.

Bloodworms and other aquatic insects form the basis of the food chain in many tadpole habitats, and are almost certainly an important food item.  Also, tadpoles consuming Repto Treat will be eating the entire organism, an important consideration if research on adult amphibians is any guide.  You can read more about the use of bloodworms as an amphibian food here.

There are many other tadpole food options…please post your ideas and experiences below, and I’ll be sure to share them with my readers and colleagues.


Further Reading

Breeding the Malayan Leaf Frog

Rearing African Clawed Frog Tadpoles

Arboreal, Wood-Eating Tadpoles



Tadpole image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Rainforest Harley

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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