What to do with Tadpoles in Fall/Winter

As the weather gets cooler, I have been getting quite a few people reaching out to see what they should be doing with tadpoles that were caught over the summer. Here are some answers to the most common questions I have received.

spring in a jar
Photo by Photo Bungler and used with the Creative Commons license. Original photo found here.

When will my tadpole transform into a frog?

If the tadpole has not started metamorphosis by end of summer/ early fall; it is quite possible that the frog will stay a tadpole over the winter.

Photo by Hy’Shqa and used with the Creative Commons license. Original photo found here.

What causes the tadpoles to morph into a frog?

It is thought that the two main factors in the tadpoles development are water temperature and food availability.

  • Water Temperature too cold -> can slow the rate of development
  • Surplus food -> can delay metamorphosis
Photo by Joshua Ganderson and used with the Creative Commons license. Original photo found here.

In labs, tadpoles who spent the time in low temperature water with short food supply were the most likely to wait until after winter to become frogs; however in the wild, the early change to cold water with short food supply were known to metamorphose before winter. It is now thought that the tadpoles are choosing to stay a tadpole over winter instead of completing metamorphosis.

Photo by David Skinner and used with the Creative Commons license. Original photo found here.

What are the tadpoles outlook if they stay tadpoles over winter?

Tadpoles may have a better chance of survival if they delay metamorphosis. As a tadpole in winter, they need less oxygen to survive which is helpful when there is a layer of ice which is blocking the air from the water surface causing a low-oxygen water condition that could cause a frog to suffocate. Tadpoles who delay turning into frogs may have a distinct advantage on land as well. By delaying metamorphosis until the following spring, tadpoles will be larger and better suited for competing for on-land resources.

Photo by Callie Nickolai and used with the Creative Commons license. Original photo found here.

What to do with remaining tadpoles that have not metamorphosed?

If you know where it was originally caught:

  1. You can continue caring for it, however you will need to be prepared with a tank set-up in case it morphs before the lake/pond is thawed.
  2. You can return it to the pond/lake it was originally caught from

If you do not know where it was originally from you will need to set-up a tank that will allow it to transform from a tadpole to a frog and then continue hand raising it through its life. Please do NOT transfer frogs from an unknown area to your pond/yard. This can unknowingly spread diseases and invasive species.

Photo by Rob and used with the Creative Commons license. Original photo found here.


Cover photo was taken by Thomas Wood and used with the Creative Commons License.  Photo was cropped & text was added to original.  See Original photo here.

10 thoughts on “What to do with Tadpoles in Fall/Winter

  1. I overwintered tadpoles in a styrofoam container, covered by more styrofoam. Frogs had laid eggs in my rain barrels in summer 2019, where the water became too hot in July for them to survive, so I moved them to styrofoam containers. ,Mama frog had laid eggs late (in the fall 2019) in the container. I continued to feed them during the winter and removed ice layers the few times they formed. They lived to become froglets in spring/summer 2020. I was glad when they left the “nursery”.

  2. Question: I have I believe 2 different broods of green frog tads in my pot I grow a lotus in. The weather is now changing & they are still tads. Should I just leave them? Bring in the house? Or relocate to nearby pond? I have a pond but it’s A plastic preform pond with no dirt or gravel at the bottom & fish are big enough to eat them!

  3. I have late tadpoles in 5gal bucket.late oct.what do i do with them.And what to feed where to put them for winter.

  4. I have acquired a large tadpole after buying sucker minnows for ice fishing. It’s early Feb., it has front legs and I’d like to keep him till summer. can I leave it in the garage? It stays above freezing most of the time.

  5. Besides having 15 tadpoles in a 30 gallon aquarium, half of them have their back legs now,So when the one’s develop their front legs, I will place them in a separate tank,and hopefully their mature before the pond frreezes,so I can release them back in nature. My number one concern is what do I do with tadpoles that are in 3 of my 55 gallon drums that probably total 300 !!!. I might move them inside my garage which is much warmer than frigid cold outside. I’ve kept rain water for my plants in the garage in barrels, and I’ve done fine.

    1. I would recommend finding a nearby pond/lake to place them in. Many frogs spend a winter as a tadpole. Once the frogs develop their front legs they will ready for live food.

  6. I have tadpoles in an abandoned pool, no chemicals left but worried they won’t survive if I leave them there. Any tips?

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