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Tadpole Care Sheet

Got eggs?
Make sure to read through the Egg Care Sheet for information on that life stage. Also, please note that these are general guidelines, and species specific information can be found on the individual species care sheets.
Egg Care Sheet

Poison Dart Frogs (Family: Dendrobatidae) are best known for their toxic secretions and aposematic (warning) coloration by the general public, but it's the extreme amount of parental care shown by the family that really sets them developmentally apart from most other anurans. While most keepers commonly remove eggs, this practice is not necessary if tadpole deposition sites are offered, and is unnecessary or detrimental (depending on species) to the development of the tads of egg feeding frogs.

In Tank vs. Individual vs. Communal Raising:
Dendrobatid tadpoles can generally be organized into three general groupings: tadpoles to be left in the parents' viv, tadpoles best raised individually, and tadpoles best raised communally.

Tadpoles to be left in tank belong to two groups - the obligate eggfeeding group and the facultative egg feeding group. These two groups have adapted to niches of small water bodies that do not have enough nutrition for the tadpoles, in which their diet is partially (facultative eggfeeders) to completely (obligate eggfeeders) made up of feeder eggs from the parents. The eggfeeders, species such as Oophaga pumilio and O. histrionicus, MUST have their tadpoles left in the tank and cared for by their parents; they cannot be raised artificially as they are so highly adapted to living off feeder eggs that they cannot be raised on other substances. In this case, water filled containers should be provided in the viv such as film canisters, or plants such as bromeliads.

The tadpoles of facultative eggfeeders, comprised of the vanzolinii group of Ranitomeya -- R. imitator, R. sirensis, R. flavovittata and R. vanzolinii -- have diets of feeder eggs, but will accept and develop well on artificial diets and so can be raised artificially as described below.

Many of our most popular frogs, Dendrobates and Ranitomeya species, are often raised individually. While the clutches initially contain multiple tadpoles, they are typically deposited individually into bodies of water. The smaller tadpoles of the thumbnail group can be raised in bodies of water as small as shot glasses and film canisters, while the larger Dendrobates tadpoles are best raised in larger bodies of water around a cup (8 fl. oz./240ml) or larger.

Many Dendrobates species -- tinctorius and leucomelas, at least -- can be raised communally with great success. Keepers report larger and stronger froglets at morphing, simplified care for the tadpoles, and occasional but few losses.

Communal tadpoles are usually deposited in large puddles to small pools with little water flow and no fish, and usually the whole clutch is deposited in the same water body. Communal tadpoles tend to belong to species with larger clutches, belonging to the genera Allobates, Ameerega, Cryptophyllobates, Colostethus, Epipedobates, and Phyllobates. The tadpoles have very low aggression, and can be raised in large containers such as fish tanks and sweater boxes. These tadpoles are the most problematic to raise in tank unless the water body they are deposited in is large in size, at least a gallon or more, and are best pulled and raised outside the tank.


This can be a little bit of a confusing issue with dart frogs, and needs to be explored further. In general, the tadpoles of species kept in captivity are mostly omnivorous detritus eaters. There are only a handful of exceptions, such as eggfeeders (which only feed on feeder eggs deposited by the parents), and primarily algae eating species such as R. reticulatus and Ameerega sp. Omnivorous diets should include grazing on bacteria, algae, omnivorous fish/tadpole foods, and detritus such as boiled leaf skeletons from oak and wild almond leaves.

There has been a trend in recent years of using spirulina/chlorella algae mixes as the majority of a tadpoles' diet, and while available from many frog supply retailers, this is not a good tadpole staple and should make up only a minor percentage of the diet for omnivorous species. While not as obvious in more common Dendrobates species, the effect of algae based diets on morphing time and size is more obvious in other genera, especially Epipedobates, and has been shown in some early comparative studies in Dendrobates. HBH Frog & Tadpole bites seems to be a good staple diet, and fish flakes, algae mixes, and boiled leaf skeletons should also be included for a varied, and healthy omnivorous tadpole diet.


Water and water quality maybe one of the most debatable aspects of raising tadpoles. In general you want clean water that contains minerals.
  • Bottled Spring Water - For a small number of tadpoles this may be a good option as it will provide consistency.
  • Aged Tap Water - Tap water can be used if it is properly treated and in many cases filtered. The chlorine and Chloramine must be removed. Softened water should not be used. The main issues with tap water is consistency between locations and in some area time of year.
  • RO - Is the best way to remove nearly everything from the water, but requires remineralization. While some products marketed for this purpose are available, the reconstitution recipe in the AZA Amphibian Husbandry Resource Guide is likely the best option.
Find more info on water chemistry below under "spindly leg syndrome".

Tadpole tea:
As with many aspects of the hobby people have varied success with a number of things one being tadpole tea. Tadpole tea is used to describe a number of different ideas and theories manly around adding tannins to the water. This can be accomplished a number of ways and below I will list some of the common methods.
  • Adding leaves - adding leaves or parts of leaves to your tadpole containers can release tannins into the water and you will notice over time the water will take on a brownish to reddish color.
  • Boiling leaves - and straining out the water into a storage container. Then adding a tablespoon or so into each tadpole container.
  • Boiling Peat Moss - and straining out the water into a storage container. Then adding a tablespoon or so into each tadpole container.
  • Black Water Extract - is a commercial product that can be used in small amounts.
Water Changes:
Water changes are another controversial topic. There are two sides to this debate: some never change the tadpoles water and others change it weekly or more often. Recently it has been suggested that some plastic containers could leach chemicals into the water and cause deformities though many larger breeders use all plastic containers without issue. Water changes could also play a part in the amount of leeching that occurs.

Water Temperature:
Over the years there have some discussions on common tadpole issues and a possible link to water temperature. With that said the hobby standard seems to be to keep the tadpoles in water around the low to mid 70s for best results. Recently there have been some innovative ideas on how to keep them at the right temperature. See the link below for an example on the past discussion:

Coming out of the water...
While the hind leg development is gradual and easily viewed, forelimb development actually occurs in pouches on the body. When the froglet begins metamorphosis, the forelimbs "pop" from these pouches fully developed. At this point the "polliwog" is no longer eating, and should be moved to a morphing container. Depending on the species, tail absorption and movement onto the land will take a few days (Epipedobates) to upwards of a week (Dendrobates). Once the polliwog is actively up and hopping around on land and absorbed its tail, it can be moved into the froglet containers.

Morphing containers vary by keeper, and can be for individual froglets, groups of froglets, or simply a shallow, water-filled depression in the froglet containers. Many species are able to pull themselves out the water with a small land area or sphagnum in the water.

Spindly Leg Syndrome
Spindly Leg Syndrome (SLS) is a developmental abnormality observed in some amphibians, including dendrobatids. It is most commonly observed as the deformity of both front limbs, but it can also result in the deformity of a single limb, or even the absence of one or both front limbs. The exact cause of SLS is unknown, but genetics, nutrition and husbandry are all potential contributing factors. SLS is also temporal, in that breeding frogs producing healthy tadpoles can later produce tads with SLS, and frogs producing tads with SLS can later produce healthy tads.

While there are certainly more aspects of the causal pathways of SLS to be uncovered, contributing factors now known include:

  • Calcium availability to the tadpoles, which is largely taken up from the water and is likely dependent on other compounds present in the water. In more than one study, reconstituted RO water yielded less SLS than tap water.
  • Vitamin B and folic acid availability may play a role
  • Quality and quantity of food provided to tadpoles. Overfeeding, especially with protein-rich diets, leads to a higher incidence of SLS.
  • Keepers report lower rates of SLS when ensuring that parent frogs have sufficient supplementation with Retinol-Vitamin A.

The relationship between spindly leg syndrome incidence and water composition, overfeeding, and diet in newly metamorphosed harlequin frogs (Atelopus spp.)
Observations on spindly leg syndrome in a captive population of Andinobates geminisae

Tadpoles with SLS are generally identified by the characteristic "spindly" nature of the front limbs. The limbs are not as developed as they should be, and may be shorter, skinner, or even "curled". Metamorphs with SLS are unable to support their own weight, and for that reason can also be identified by their "top-heavy" appearance (chin touching the substrate), and their limited capability for movement (propelling themselves forward with their rear limbs only). The prognosis for froglets with SLS is poor, as they have great difficulties with feeding, and if housed with other froglets, are unable to compete for food. Therefore, metamorphs with SLS are generally euthanized. Euthanasia may be performed by administering a drop of benzocaine (Orajel®) to the ventral surface (belly) or the skull. Other humane methods of euthanasia are discussed in the Emergency Supportive Care Sheet. However, some have tried raising froglets with SLS with limited success, as the condition is permanent.

Tadpole Pictures:
Imitator Tadpole:

Imitator Tadpole with back legs:

Ameerega pepperi tadpoles (courtesy of fishingguy12345):

Food Recipe Ingredient Terrestrial plant Plant

Ameerega pepperi just out of the water (courtesy of fishingguy12345):

Wood Plant Tints and shades Pattern Metal

O. pumilio 'Bastimentos' transporting a tad:

Vent tad showing front arms about to pop:

D. truncatus Tadpole Morphing:

Top view of tadpole morphing container:

Side view of a tadpole morphing container:

Example of SLS in R. reticulata:


Corey Wickliffe (Kerokero)
Oz (rozdaboff)
Greg Strait (GREASER) reticulatus SLS photo
Kyle Kopp (kyle1745)

If you would like to see any updates or modifications to this care sheet please let myself or a moderator know.

Last updated January 2023 by Socratic Monologue.


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