Frogs have one of the most fascinating life cycles of all animals, and watching them grow can be a fun and educational activity to enjoy with your kids.
That’s why many parents turn to tadpoles for a real life lesson.
But, how do you find tadpoles in the wild? And can you bring them home to watch them develop into adults?
You can usually find tadpoles in calm, shallow water during the spring and summer months. The shallower the better — frogs feel safer when the water isn’t deep enough for predator fish to swim in.
From there, tadpoles can be easily caught with a net or a jar for fun observation. Just remember to put them back safely unless you plan on raising them yourself (and only if your state or country allows you to).
In this article, I’ll show you where and when to look for tadpoles, and some tips on proper catching and handling. Plus, I’ve thrown in some fun froggy facts that you can share with your children to get them interested in these fun amphibians.
Where to find tadpoles near your house
You can find tadpoles in shallow water close to the banks of ponds, swamps, and creeks during the spring or early summer.
In warmer climates, frogs will lay their eggs earlier in the year than they do in cooler parts of the world.
You’ll most likely find tadpoles in ponds, puddles, swamps, brooks, and creeks. You’ll usually find them in calm, shallow areas near the edge of the water.
To search for tadpoles, start local.
You may already know of some parks, but a Google search can help you find wetlands, woodland ponds, flooded fields, or stream backwaters. Just be careful not to trespass, as some areas that look public could actually be private property.
Frogs prefer to lay their eggs in small pools of water that will start to dry up in the summer to keep fish away. This acts as protection for the tadpoles.
In different areas of the country, and indeed the world, you’ll find different types of frogs, toads, and newts.
Amphibians are cold-blooded, so they are very sensitive to moisture and temperature extremes. Each species has its own preferred combination of temperature, rainfall, and vegetation that it needs to thrive.
If you struggle to find any tadpoles near your home, we suggest visiting your local nature center and asking there.
The staff will be familiar with which species of frogs live around your hometown and they can advise you on the best spots to look for them.
The best time of year to find tadpoles
The best time of year to find tadpoles depends very much on where you live.
Frogs wake up from their winter hibernation whenever the weather becomes warm enough. Then, they begin to mate and lay eggs.
In the United States, spawning begins in the southwest as early as mid-January and then advances across the country with frogs in the coldest areas waiting as late as June to lay their eggs.
So your best bet will be to look for young tadpoles in the spring and summer in most areas.
Each frog can only spawn once per year and they need to be sure that the last frost of the year has gone, as freezing temperatures will kill the eggs.
Toads usually spawn a little later than frogs as they don’t hibernate near the breeding ponds, so they need to migrate there first. They also like the weather to be a little warmer.
The life cycle of a frog
Again, the life cycle of a frog is absolutely fascinating. Few other creates on the planet transform quite as dramatically as young tadpoles turning into frogs!
That makes them a really fun observational activity for kids.
Here’s what you can expect to see if you manage to find a creek or stream populated with eggs or tadpoles near your house:
- A mother frog lays thousands of eggs, each one containing a tiny black tadpole surrounded by clear jelly
- The tiny black dots turn into comma-shapes as the unhatched tadpoles develop
- Still inside the clear eggs, the tadpoles begin to grow tails
- At two to three weeks old, the tadpoles hatch out of their eggs but don’t yet have enough energy to swim
- A week after hatching, the tadpoles begin to swim and grow teeth
- At five weeks old, the tadpoles begin to grow back legs
- 12 weeks after hatching, the tadpoles look like frogs, but with tails
- At around 14 weeks, the froglets’ tails drop off and they become frogs
Before you set off looking for tadpoles, we suggest showing your kids this cool time-lapse video that condenses eleven days of tadpole development into just one minute…
Local laws about collecting amphibians
Each state has different regulations about collecting frogs, toads, and salamanders.
In both the State of Washington and the District of Columbia, it’s illegal to collect any native amphibians for personal purposes.
Other states generally allow you to collect tadpoles, but there may be some additional restrictions about the species or number of amphibians that you are allowed to legally collect as well as the time of year that you’re allowed to do it.
You may also be required to submit a report to the local authorities.
It’s important to note that more than half the country requires you to have a permit or fishing license to collect tadpoles. However, these may not be required for children, so depending on where you live, you may be able to supervise as your children collect the tadpoles to get around this requirement.
Before you begin, take a look at this pdf which lists the legal requirements for collecting amphibians in every state. If you’re still unsure, we suggest contacting your state department of natural resources to ask for clarification of the rules in your area.
If the law in your state prohibits you from collecting amphibians, you can still observe them in their natural habitat. Just be sure you don’t touch or disturb them.
How to catch tadpoles with the kids
If your state allows it, you might consider collecting some tadpoles and watching them grow at home.
(It’s also a lot of fun to catch and release them, just be careful not to harm any young frogs!)
You can raise tadpoles in a pond in your back yard or a small tank indoors. At home, you’ll be able to view the tadpoles and watch as they get noticeably bigger and more developed each and every day.
Collecting frogspawn or tadpoles is fairly straightforward. But you should make sure that you have all the equipment prepared before you head out.
To catch tadpoles you will need:
- A small mesh net (you could use a jar, but a net is easier)
- A bucket of clean, chlorine-free water (such as fresh rainwater)
- Wellington boots (if the area is muddy)
To catch tadpoles, you’ll need to scoop them into your net or jar.
If you put the jar in the water and wait for them to swim in you could be waiting for a long while as tadpoles are unlikely to swim towards an unknown object.
One you’ve caught the tadpoles, if you intend on putting them in a tank at home, you’ll need to transfer them to a large Ziploc bag filled with clean water.
You can then place the bag inside the bucket to keep it secure. Be careful when transporting your tadpoles home so as not to bump them around too much as that will stress them.
Raising your own tadpoles at home
In some areas, you’re allowed to catch and raise your own tadpoles — keeping them inside as pets the way you might raise fish.
This is a lot of fun for kids and can help them not only learn about frogs, but learn important responsibility skills as well.
To care for tadpoles indoors you will need:
- A two-gallon tank with a lid
- Some rainwater or water that has been filtered with a Brita filter to remove the chlorine
- Some freshly-washed gravel
- A bunch of pondweed
- A plastic bag
- A small amount of rabbit food, lettuce, or broccoli
- Fish flakes
- Some medium-sized rocks
Once you’ve collected your tadpoles and safely transported them home, follow these instructions to properly care for them.
How to rear tadpoles at home:
- Prepare your two-gallon tank by lining it with washed gravel.
- Fill the tank with water (do not use tap water because it contains chlorine)
- Tuck some pondweed into the gravel to oxygenate the water
- Collect a clump of frogspawn with about 30 to 50 eggs
- Take the tadpoles home in a plastic bag of water and float it in the tank to slowly acclimatize the eggs to the new temperature
- After a few hours, tip the tadpoles out of the bag and into the tank
- When the tadpoles are hatched, you should feed them with two or three pellets of rabbit food, a boiled lettuce leaf, or a finely-chopped floret of cooked broccoli
- Feed every three days, removing any uneaten food
- Change half of the water for freshly-collected rainwater every week
- When the tadpoles have back legs you can feed them with flaked fish food
- When the tadpoles grow front legs, lower the water level and add a beach of rocks so that they can breathe air
- When the froglets begin to climb the walls at night, they’re ready to be set free!
Please don’t be upset if not all of your tadpoles make it to adulthood. This doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong, it’s just nature’s way.
The reason why frogs lay so many eggs is that the majority of them won’t survive in the wild.
By raising the tadpoles in captivity you’re protecting them from predators and harsh weather, thereby increasing their overall chances, even if most of them don’t make it.
How to know if you found a frog, toad, or newt tadpole
Frogs aren’t the only creatures that lay eggs that develop into tadpoles. Other amphibians like toads and news also reproduce in this way.
When you find some tadpoles, it can be tricky to know whether these will grow into frogs, toads, or newts. Look carefully at the tadpoles to see if they have any features that will give you clues as to their identity.
Most species of adult frogs, toads, and newts don’t stick around to look after their offspring so you probably won’t be able to rely on spotting the parents to help with the identification.
How to identify amphibians based on the eggs:
- Frogspawn: A cluster of jello-like eggs
- Toad spawn: Long ribbons like a chain or pearls
- Newt spawn: Individual eggs wrapped in plant leaves
How to identify amphibians based on the tadpoles:
- Frog tadpoles: Brown or mottled in color, grow back legs first, and do not shoal together
- Toad tadpoles: Jet black in color, grow back legs first, and often form shoals
- Newt larvae: May be brightly colored, grow front legs first, and have a frill of gills behind the head
Tadpole fun facts for kids!
Here are some fun facts about tadpoles to share with your kids so that they think you’re the cleverest parent around!
- The world’s biggest frog is the goliath frog and it is as big as a house cat. However, the tadpoles are the same size as tadpoles of an average frog
- Another name for a tadpole is a polliwog. This comes from the Middle English word ‘polwygle’. ‘Pol’ means ‘head’ and ‘wyglen’ means ‘wiggle’
- Poison-dart tadpoles are unique in that they ride on their mother’s backs
- Toads can lay up to 6,000 eggs at once
- Each frog or toad egg contains enough food to feed the tadpole for three weeks
- Tadpoles have almost 360-degree vision
- Tadpoles and frogs don’t drink – the water soaks in through their skin
Finding tadpoles and watching them grow is a fun way for parents and kids of all ages to spend time together while learning about biology with such a fascinating and visible early life cycle.
Depending on where you live, it may be illegal to handle tadpoles. If this is the case, you can still look at them in their natural habitat, provided that you don’t disturb them.
If catching tadpoles is permitted in your area, it can be exciting to rear some at home in a tank and release them after they have developed fully-grown frogs.
Kids love exploring nature, and your backyard can often be a great source for learning!