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I bought bullfrog tadpoles for my pond. What do I need to know about them?| Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I bought bullfrog tadpoles for my pond. What do I need to know about them?

Q: I bought bullfrog tadpoles for my pond. What do I need to know about them?

Iris – Kirkland, WA

A: Those big croaking amphibians sure love living in a water garden. Bullfrogs gobble pesky bugs and nibble on nuisance algae while entertaining their human hobbyists with their leaping prowess and trance-inducing ribbit-ribbit songs.

When they’re adults, bullfrogs are impressive creatures: As one of the largest frogs in the world, they grow to 8 inches long and weigh up to 1½ pounds. When they’re tadpoles, they’re impressive, too. The dark green swimmers measure up to 6 inches long, which is larger than most other frog species, and sport a dorsal fin that begins behind its arrowhead-shaped body.

Caring for your tadpoles involves understanding their habitat, diet and developmental stages. Here’s what you need to know to grow your baby bullfrog into a beefy bug-eating adult.

Healthy Habitat

Bullfrog tadpoles like to swim in shallow water on fine gravel bottoms. As they grow, they tend to move into deeper waters. They have speckled-skin camouflage to help protect them from predators, but you should still plan to provide a wide variety of floating and submerged plants, like parrots feather, frogbit and water lilies, as well as rocks and other hides to your pond. The little guys will hang out among them should a hungry bird or fish fly or swim by for a bite to eat.

Algae, Please

When they’re young, bullfrog tadpoles are herbivores that love to nibble on the string algae that forms along your rocks and under plants. Though they have been observed eating frog eggs (gasp!) and other newly hatched tadpoles, the algae should keep them more than satisfied – at least until they become adults. That’s when they become carnivorous critters with a hankering for bugs, rodents, reptiles, birds, small fish and even an occasional bat.

From Tadpoles to Adulthood

While they’re in their tadpole – or pollywog – stage, these tiny gilled critters live exclusively in the water. But after about one year, the tadpoles will start to grow legs. Shortly thereafter, they grow arms. As their tails shorten, they develop lungs and their gills disappear. The tadpole, now several years old depending on where it’s growing up, has finally transformed into a froglet that can make the leap from water to dry land.

Once your tadpole has grown into an adult, you can expect that bad boy to be around for 8 to 10 years. Enjoy your new pond pal! Ribbit!

Pond Talk: Have you ever been to a frog-jumping contest? If so, tell us about it!

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12 Responses

  1. I loved my bullfrog, and for some reason, he never bothered my fish. They would swim by right in front of his face, and never made a jump at them. But he did try to get birds, but never caught one. I read it was only the males that would sing, so mine was a male. I really missed him when he disappeared. Found him in the road flat as a pancake.

  2. …I agree with Catherine, largely for this reason: Bullfrogs EAT BIRDS. They will grab birds that come to your pond to drink, and eat them whole, as snakes do. Think I’m kidding (or wrong)? Do a search re: “bullfrogs eat birds.” I first saw this at our previous property/pond (tail feathers were still hanging out of the frog’s mouth). That wasn’t the only time I saw it, but the first time it really stunned me. I also began to frequently find dead birds along the pond — one’s the single frog rejected, for several possible reasons). I finally caught the frog and gave him a new home in the river in the area. I’ve had to do that at least four times since (also where we live now), as a young frog or two suddenly shows up at our pond. They don’t start eating birds, though, until they (the frogs) are mature. The young frogs do eat fish fry, though, and will pretty much clean up. So if you’re hoping to get new fish from your current fish breeding you need to keep that in mind.

    Frogs eating birds has been a problem for us at two different suburban properties in which I installed small ponds (in NY State). Bullfrogs’ original habitat was the southeastern U.S. But they’re highly adaptive and are now everywhere, and their numbers are massive and excessive in many areas. I suggest that if you’d prefer to keep your bird population in tact, DON’T buy bullfrog tadpoles for your small pond.

    Aas an alternative you might try to get a few tadpoles from a native frog from your area (e.g., green frogs where I live) if you love frogs (though that may be easier said than done).

  3. We received the following suggestion from a customer via email:
    Anyone who wants to raise tadpoles in a fish tank, can feed them cook asparagus. First, cut off the butt ends. Then, cook until tender. Let them cool and then feed two or three lengths, depending on how many tadpoles you have. Put the remaining asparagus in the refrigerator for later. I have been doing it this way for years. I will raise newborn tadpoles through the winter and then release them into my pond in the spring. This gives them a head start, so I won’t lose to many to my fish.

  4. If you have green frogs they will be eaten by the bull frogs along with maybe your small fish too

  5. I buy the tadpoles and they develop into frogs with tails, but never winter. I gave up since some told me that they need mud to winter and I have a EPDM rubber liner in the city. I am in zone 7a in Cambridge, MA.

  6. My bullfrog even made a jump at a half grown kitten when it went to get a drink. That kitten never came back!!

  7. Please do not encourage people to foster bullfrogs!!! They are invasive destroyers of other amphibian species already facing way too many threats from Roundup and other environmental hazards. Toad tadpoles take much more time to develop, are efficient predators/helpers in garden settings and much more appropriate to nurture.

    • Hi Catherine – Thank you for your comment. We get this question a lot so we felt it needed to be addressed on the blog. There are a lot of plants and animals that can be added to ponds that are considered invasive. It’s up to us as pond owners to make sure there is a balance and to follow local laws regarding invasive species.

      • I have one bullfrog that appeared in my pond all on it’s own. It’s been living there for 5 or more years now and has become huge. This summer I discovered two new young bullfrogs but, I noticed the last few weekends that there is only one young one now. I don’t know what happened to the other one. I still have the one huge bullfrog too. I’m pretty sure it’s a male. The toads still lay their eggs in the pond, I have thousands of tadpoles, 25 goldfish & too many to count mosquito fish. The dragonflies are constant, the honeybees come daily as do the hummingbirds. So far, my pond is very eco!

  8. We feed our tadpoles boiled lettuce which they love.

  9. They are also quite loud. Perhaps most important, please make sure they do not escape into native waters or the wild in general. They can decimate native frogs and other species. They will eat anything they can get in their mouths (which are very large)!!

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