Tadpoles don't stay tadpoles forever, so as pets they serve as living lessons about the natural life cycle. In just a few weeks, embryos become long-tailed tadpoles and then fully formed frogs. You'll watch them swim and develop, sprout legs and become frogs in real time. Success starts with giving the tadpoles a suitable environment to live in. They rely on particular circumstances in order to survive and grow, and if they don't have those circumstances they won't survive long enough to become frogs.
Fill an aquarium with water for your tadpoles. The container should be wide and short for the best oxygen accessibility. Ideally, the water will from nature such as from a clean pond or a clear stream. If you use water from the tap, let it stand for at least three days before you use it, or the chlorine it it can kill your tadpoles. You can keep about eight tadpoles in a single gallon of water, which should remain between 59 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Change the water twice a week, making sure to maintain a consistent water temperature. Changing your tadpole's water is similar to changing a fish's water. First, scoop out your tadpoles using a soft net and place them in a container of new water -- be especially careful, because tadpoles have sensitive skin. Dump out the tank and refill it with new water, then add the tadpoles back in.
Feed your tadpoles a combination of organic matter like sliced green grapes, zucchini, peas and broccoli. You can add algae-growing leaves from a pond or stream, or algae tablets from the pet supply store. There are no hard and fast measurements for how much food to give your tadpoles, so focus on giving them small meals throughout the day rather than one or two big portions. If they're leaving food, you're feeding too much.
Feed your tadpoles meat for proteins as they start to develop legs -- this is when their tiny bodies switch from vegetarian to meat-eater. Small insects, bloodworms and aphids are good choices.
Give your tadpoles a place where they can get out of the water. Once they start sprouting legs, they start losing their gills -- this is when they become more like frogs than fish and need to spend time outside the water. Solid areas made of rocks and sticks are typically best, because unlike lily pads and other floating plants, they don't prevent oxygen from getting into the water for any tadpoles that still need it.
Remove fully formed frogs from the tank once they're grown -- the giveaway is typically the absorption of the tail. At this point, they aren't tadpoles anymore. It's time to introduce them to the wild or give your frogs a new enclosure to live in.
crapaud buffle image by Christophe Fouquin from Fotolia.com
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.