When schools were closed over a month ago, my daughter had a stockpile of science experiments and kits saved up for just an occasion. Five weeks later, supplies are thinning out as we’ve enjoyed making slime, growing crystals, exploding a volcano and so much more. If we want to keep learning, experimenting and enjoying science, we’re going to have to shift gears.
Fortunately, while Vayda and I were experimenting indoors, nature began to wake up. Over the next couple of months, many baby animals will be reared, making it the perfect time to study biology.
One project to try, if you have a natural water source nearby, is raising tadpoles. Vayda brought a batch in for her classmates in first grade and they raised them in a tank in their classroom. In more recent years, we’ve watched them mature in a vernal pool, we refer to as the loll, in my parents’ backyard. Whether we attempt to raise them in a tank to see all of the stages of development or we simply observe and document their changes in the vernal pool, I think it will be a good opportunity for Vayda to experience the science that surrounds us every day.
Setting up your tadpole tank
Before you decide to raise tadpoles you’ll want to ensure you have adequate housing. For most tadpole species, you’ll need a 2-5-gallon tank to raise them to a frog stage. However, keep in mind the smaller the tank, the fewer tadpoles you’ll be able to raise. You should only keep 15-35 tadpoles per gallon of water in your tank. So if you’re using a 5-gallon tank but only fill it with 3 gallons of water, then you should only house a maximum of 105 tadpoles. If you choose to keep more tadpoles per gallon, they may die faster or become carnivorous. Also, note that larger tadpole species, such as the American Bull Frog, should be kept in larger tanks with fewer tadpoles per gallon.
Once you’ve chosen tank or container with adequate space, you should collect gravel, a few larger rocks, small weeds and grass with the roots still attached to line the bottom of your tank. First, cover the bottom of your tank with gravel. Next, add the larger rocks to provide shelter and, eventually, land when your tadpoles start to transform. Then, put the small weeds and grass with roots on top of the gravel. The tadpoles will hang on to them and eat the roots.
After you’ve got your tank set up, collect water from the same water source you’ll be gathering the tadpoles from to fill your tank. Don’t use tap water because it contains chemicals that can harm tadpoles. Additionally, water from a natural water source generally contains mosquito larva which can serve as another food source for tadpoles.
The final step before adding tadpoles is checking the water temperature. You want to make sure the water temperature is similar to the water source you’ll be getting the tadpoles from. Because tadpoles are cold-blooded water temperature is important for their survival and development. You may consider leaving your tadpole tank outdoors to help regulate water temperature. Regardless of where you place your tank, make sure it’s out of direct sunlight with about 3/4 of it shaded.
Gathering and caring for tadpoles
When your tank is set up and ready gather your tadpoles and introduce them to their new habitat.
During the first couple of weeks, the tadpoles will eat the algae on the gravel and rocks and on the plants, you placed in the tank during set up. After that, you’ll have to boil romaine lettuce to feed them in tiny pieces or order algae wafers or aquatic frog and tadpole food to feed them. They should be fed every three to four days. If they’re not eating all of the food between feedings reduce the amount you’re feeding them to keep the water from getting cloudy.
Cleaning your tadpole habitat
The tadpole bait should be changed once a week. Follow the steps below:
- Collect enough water to replace 1/2 to 3/4 of the water in your tank and set it out near your tank for 2-3 hours before cleaning your tank, so that the temperature of the water is similar.
- Remove 1/2 to 3/4 of the water in the tank with a jug. Be careful to fish out any tadpoles that may have been scooped up in the jug, while removing the old water.
- Slowly add the fresh water to the tank.
Watching your tadpoles grow
It will take your tadpoles between 6 and 12 weeks to reach full maturity.
About midway through their cycle, you’ll notice their back legs forming. At this stage, tadpoles become carnivorous and will need to be fed fish food or live water fleas. You’ll also need a small area for them to crawl out of the water onto.
As their front legs start to appear and they transform into tiny frogs, you’ll need to lower the water level and provide stones for them to sit on because they will need air to breathe. Additionally, you won’t have to feed tadpoles with front legs that still have tails because they use their tail as a food source.
When your froglets are ready to be released, let them go in damp grass near their native water source.
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