Tadpole to Frog Guide: Grow a Leopard Frog Without Really Trying

Tadpole to Frog Guide: Grow a Leopard Frog Without Really Trying

Everything You Need to Know to Grow and Care for Your Leopard Frogs

Whether you have just acquired a new leopard frog tadpole or are contemplating getting one, congratulations! 

Frankly, I’m not surprised that you’d want to adopt these adorable, slimy, bug-eyed creatures as your pet. They live such a fascinating life that anyone who knows even the teeniest bit about frogs will want to know them better.

With proper care, your tadpole will grow into a healthy frog that can live for years. I hope you’re not afraid to commit, the journey will be worth it.

Frogs aren’t similar to other pets you may already own or are familiar with. Unlike dogs, frogs can’t be taught tricks. Unlike goldfish, they can’t be left unattended for a week while you’re out of town.

While most people know how to take care of these common pets, they can be clueless when it comes to a frog. What can you feed your frog? How big do frogs get? How long does it take a tadpole to grow into a frog?

All these questions need to be answered for the eager leopard frog owner. And that’s why we made this guide for you!

What you have in front of you is a comprehensive manual that explains how to have the most fun possible with your amphibian as you care for them.

It is not necessary to read this guide completely. For ease of use, it has been divided into 5 sections. If you have a question or problem, turn to any of the following chapters:

Basic Facts about Leopard Frogs
How to Care for Leopard Frog Tadpoles
How to Care for Leopard Frogs
Leopard Frog Behaviour You Can Observe
Leopard Frog Care Tips

Section 1: Basic Facts About Leopard Frogs

There are about 14 leopard frog species. All these species have a common identification factor: they all have dark and round spots on their back. Since the spots looked suspiciously similar to the ones that leopards have, the people who study, herpetologists, gave them all the common name “leopard frogs”.

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Commonly, leopard frogs that can be bought online or in pet stores are northern leopard frogs and southern leopard frogs. If you want to observe other species of leopard frogs up close, you’ll have to catch them.

What Do Leopard Frogs Look Like

Leopard frog tadpoles usually don’t have a very detailed appearance. They only have a mouth, gills, and a tail. They are described as a dark, round head quickly moving through the water with the help of a wiggly tail. This diagram will help you understand the various parts of a tadpole:

Labelled Diagram of a Tadpole

But leopard frog tadpoles do have some characteristics that can be used to distinguish them from tadpoles of other frog species.

When viewed from above, leopard frog tadpoles have dorsal eyes, not lateral. They usually have a vertical white line down the middle of the snout between the nostrils. This can be a key distinguishing feature.

Leopard frog tadpoles have dorsal eyes

The body color of the tadpoles varies from light to dark. Their belly is light pink and you may or may not be able to see the intestinal coil. The tail fin has a low-to-medium arch. The fins can be clear or covered with large dark spots.

Leopard Frog Tadpoles with spots and fin arch

Adult leopard frogs are easily recognized by their slim, streamlined bodies. They have typical frog-look, with powerful back legs and slightly angular head. The color of their body, beneath their black spots, can range from bright grass green to brown or dull tan. The skin on the side of their stomach is white and lacks any pattern.

Here is a labeled diagram of an adult leopard frog:

Labelled Diagram of a Leopard Frog

How Big Do Leopard Frogs Get

Leopard frog tadpoles are usually less than one inch (2.5 cm) long. The froglets can grow to almost 3 inches, when measured from end of the tail to top of the head, before growing back legs and absorbing the tail back into their main body.

The adult leopard frog is 2 to 5 inches long (5 to 13 cm). The females are usually larger than males.

In captivity, the size of your leopard frog will actually depend on how well their development was. This includes factors such as:

  • A good, nutritional diet throughout your frog’s growth
  • Timely feeding
  • Having a large habitat so that the water quality remains good
  • Regular water changes
  • Designing the habitat to mimic the natural habitat of the frog
  • Maintaining the correct temperature in the habitat

If you take care of all these things, you should get a healthy adult frog that will be 2 to 3 inches long (5 to 8 cm).

Where Do Leopard Frogs Live in the Wild

Leopard frogs need moisture, so they like to live in or near streams, ponds, wetlands, lakes and wet meadows. They prefer the presence of permanent, slow-moving water, including aquatic vegetation, but can be found in agricultural areas and on golf courses.

But there is not much food available for them in the water. They need to come to land to capture their prey. Because they require both land and water, the habitat of the leopard frog in the wild is the narrow zone between water and grassland.

Another reason for leopard frogs to choose this zone is to escape predators. As soon as they sense danger, leopard frogs need to be able to quickly jump into the water and swim away to safety.

What Do Leopard Frogs Eat in the Wild

Leopard frogs are opportunistic feeders. They eat just about anything that can fit into its mouth.

Leopard frog tadpoles and froglets are herbivores. In the wild, they feed mostly on algae and other aquatic plants which they scrape off submerged rocks and twigs with a rasping mouth.

In the wild, adult leopard frogs forage for non-aquatic insects and worms at night in the narrow zone between water and grassland. They’ll eat beetles, ants, grasshoppers, pillbugs, slugs, and snails. They stalk their prey, leap after it, and snatch it up with their long, sticky tongue. Given the chance, they’ll even eat other small frogs, small birds, and snakes!


Section 2: How to Care for Leopard Frog Tadpoles

Now that we’ve covered some basic information about your leopard frogs, let’s start preparing for your tadpole’s arrival. Leopard frog tadpoles are not that difficult to take care of. If you have any experience keeping fishes then it will be a walk in the park.

If you’ve ordered only tadpoles, you’ll have to get a number of things before the tadpole arrives:

  • Habitat or container in which you can keep them till they grow back legs
  • Store-bought tadpole food
  • Aquarium water conditioner
  • Thermometer  

If you’ve ordered a tadpole to frog kit online or bought one from your local pet store, you’ll get all these things and more with it. You can use them as per the kit instructions.

Selecting a Good Tadpole Habitat

Leopard frog tadpoles will do fine in 2- to 5-gallon tanks. You can even use the 1-gallon or 2-gallon plastic bin containers that can be easily bought at the local pet store, if you have just one or two tadpoles.

Plastic Bin Habitat for Tadpoles

When the tadpoles arrive, check if they’re moving and swimming in the aquarium bag. If they’re not moving, they might be sleeping. Although tadpoles don’t sleep much, they do sleep when they feel safe, but shaking the bag should wake them up and alert them.

If they’re sleeping and don’t move even after you shake the bag, they might be dead on arrival. This can happen if the temperature on the way to your home was too hot or too cold.

Occasionally, tadpoles are born quite weak due to conditions during birth and don’t live for more than a few days. This can also be a reason for why they were dead on arrival.

Although you can use the small containers or tanks for the tadpoles, once they grow and get bigger, they’ll need a bigger habitat. Adult leopard frogs require a large amount of room to comfortably live in captivity. If you wish, you can get the bigger habitat from the start so that you don’t have to buy two habitats.

Preparing the Tadpole Habitat

After ensuring that your tadpoles are alive and well, you can set the aquarium bag aside safely while you prepare their habitat.

You can add some accessories inside the habitat if you want to before we add water to it. For leopard frog tadpoles, which are completely aquatic, you don’t need many accessories inside the habitat. In fact, tadpoles can be kept on a bare-bottom.

But having gravel will increase the surface area for growth of helpful bacteria which helps in maintaining water quality. A water plant will also be beneficial as it will keep the water clean and provide the tadpoles some shelter or hiding place.

Adding Water to the Habitat

Once you’ve added the accessories you wanted, fill the three-fourth of tadpole habitat with distilled water. Don’t use tap water as it contains chemicals that are dangerous to tadpoles.

If you don’t have distilled water, warm up some tap water that will be enough to fill three-fourth of the habitat. Add some aquarium water conditioner to it and stir to mix well. The water conditioner will remove chemicals in tap water and make the water suitable for your pet amphibians.

Let the warm, treated water sit till it reaches room temperature. It should match the temperature of the water inside the aquarium bag in which your leopard frog tadpoles arrived. Two hours should be enough time.

Adding Tadpoles to the Habitat

Next, you can pour the tadpoles along with the water inside the aquarium bag into the habitat. Don’t be worried if there is no movement at first. It can take up to a day before the tadpole starts moving around and exploring the habitat.

You should keep your tadpole habitat at room temperature (60°F to 80°F) and out of direct sunlight. You can check the temperature of the habitat with the help of a thermometer. If it is colder than 60°F, use a submersible heater to maintain the temperature.

Don’t shake, tap or move the habitat otherwise your tadpole might feel stressed.

Feeding Leopard Frog Tadpoles

You can give your leopard frog tadpoles standard aquarium fish foods from your local pet store. You can also buy diets that are designed specifically for aquatic amphibians and tadpoles. If you have any aquatic plants inside the aquarium, your tadpoles might feed on them. In addition to all this, they’ll also eat all dead organic particulate matter within the aquarium.

Your tadpoles may not eat the first day in their habitat as they adjust to their new home. This is fine and there is no need to worry.

Avoid Overfeeding Your Tadpoles

Make sure that you’re not putting more food in the aquarium than the tadpoles need. Any food that you feed them should get eaten by the tadpole within an hour or less. Remove any excess food that’s remaining in the aquarium after an hour and reduce the portion next time. Leftover food decays over time inside the water, making the habitat unsuitable for your tadpoles.

I don’t recommend feeding them leafy food items because they decay faster inside the habitat than store-bought tadpole food.

Keeping Your Tadpole Habitat Clean

I’d say that the most important thing you need to keep in mind for proper tadpole growth is the water quality. You’ll need to partially change the water in the tadpole tank at least once a week. If it takes lesser time for the water to get cloudy, then you’ll need to conduct partial water changes more frequently.

I don’t recommend doing complete water changes unless the habitat is getting too cloudy very frequently. The water that has been inside the habitat for any amount of time develops bacteria that helps keep the water quality good. If you remove all the water from the habitat, you will lose this bacteria as well. It will then take some time for this bacteria to form once again.

Before you start the partial water changes, wash your hands and rinse them well so that you have no soap or detergent on your hands. Soap and detergent contain chemicals which are harmful to tadpoles.

Remove any decor items you might have put in the tadpole tank and wash them in warm water. Then remove almost all but 3 inches of water from the habitat with the help of a cup or similar utensil. Refill the habitat three-fourth with distilled water.

Again, if you don’t have distilled water you can warm some tap water, add aquarium water conditioner to it, and let it sit till it reaches room temperature. Then add this water to the tadpole habitat.

You can clean the habitat with a cloth and distilled water or treated tap water. But avoid using any kind of soap, detergent, or other chemical cleaners.

Section 3: How to Care for Leopard Froglets and Adult Frogs

In 2-3 weeks, your tadpoles should develop back legs. At this point, you should start preparing the new, bigger habitat for your leopard frogs. They will start growing bigger at a faster pace now and the 2-gallon habitat won’t be enough for them.

Setting up Your Leopard Frog Tank

It’s important to select just the right enclosure to make sure your leopard frogs have a home that is safe and enjoyable. Don’t just grab the first one you see at a yard sale or pet store!

Your leopard frog tank needs to be sturdy and well-built. Don’t use any glass enclosure. Reptile tanks generally don’t work because they won’t reliably hold water. If you want to repurpose an old tank instead of buying a new one, test it out by filling it with water and letting it sit for a few days while you watch for leaks.

What Should Be the Size of Your Tank

While your leopard frog tadpoles won’t mind the limited space in 2- to 5-gallon tanks, the froglets and adult frogs will require a lot more space. If you’re unable to provide this space, the growth of your pet frogs will be stunted and they’ll be smaller and weaker.

As a general rule of thumb, for every adult leopard frog that you have, you need at least a 10-gallon tank or habitat. Using a large amount of water (more than 10 gallons) will keep the conditions inside the habitat stable for a longer period of time.

If you have two adult leopard frogs, you should get a 30-gallon aquarium that is 36 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 16 inches in height. The floor space is always more important than height.

The size of the habitat should be appropriate for your leopard frogs. If the habitat is too small:

  • it’ll get dirty faster than a larger tank
  • it’ll be harder to clean
  • your leopard frog will not enjoy the full quality of life in an enclosure that isn’t big enough
  • your pet may become unhealthy and it might not grow to full size

Bigger is always better when it comes to frog tanks. If you’re in doubt, it’s usually best to go with the bigger size.

What Should be the Material of the Habitat

My advice is to avoid typical glass aquariums or aquariums made of similarly transparent materials unless you can afford big enough glass aquariums. Large plastic bins and stock tanks are better for housing your pet frogs.

Glass aquariums have transparent sides. The frogs inside the glass aquariums can’t see the sides and think that they can escape the enclosure by simply jumping out. They try to jump through the glass sides and end up injuring themselves.

When getting a glass aquarium, get at least a 30-gallon one so that the frogs have enough space and don’t feel the need to go exploring.

Designing the Leopard Frog Tank's Layout

Adult leopard frogs are semi-aquatic. Their habitat should have a land area as well as a large water area. The land area is important to allow basking and relaxing. There are several ways in which you can create semi-aquatic environments for pet amphibians.

Making a Semi-Aquatic Setup

For your leopard frog, the easiest way to create a semi-aquatic habitat is to fill an aquarium a third of the way full with water. Then place several large, round rocks towards one end that protrude from or rise above the surface of the water.

You can place some plants or pieces of driftwood on top of the large stones. This will provide a cover and help your frogs feel secure. Make sure that the rocks are stable enough that they stay in one place and do not fall over or harm the frogs.

Another way you can create a semi-aquatic habitat for leopard frogs is to create a small shoreline setup. In this method, you use medium to large grade gravel and put most of it on one side to form a land area. The end half of the aquarium has a thin layer of this gravel.

Make sure that the slope between the two sides is gradual. In order to help the slope hold its form, you can place some pieces of slate or river rocks along it.

Once the rocks and gravel are in position, you can fill the habitat with enough water so that the water line is slightly below the land area. Make sure that you cover all the exposed gravel on the land side with large river rocks, sheet moss, soil or a combination of these so that your pet frogs don’t ingest the gravel.

Leopard Frog Semi Aquatic Setup

Avoid decorations that might trap your frogs and prevent them from surfacing for air. Make sure to cover any small gravel on the land area with large rocks, sheet moss, soil or a combination of these so that it cannot be swallowed by the frogs. If you create a large float in the aquarium tank with cork bark or plastic, make sure that the frogs don’t get stuck beneath it and drown.

Give Them Some Hiding Places

You also have to consider the shy nature of the leopard frogs when designing the habitat and put in some things that can be used as a shelter. Leopard frogs rely on shelters to protect themselves from predators in the wild. In captivity, they feel safe when they know they have some shelter nearby they can use in case of trouble.

You can use live or fake plants, driftwood, cork bark, and rocks in the water as well as the land area to provide some shelter. You can also grow floating vegetation if you use strong enough lighting. Floating plants provide cover and help maintain water quality.

Getting the Temperature and Lighting Right

Leopard frogs flourish and grow properly when they’re kept between 60°F and 80°F (16°C and 27°C) for most of the year. You can use submersible aquarium heaters to heat the water, if you live in a cold place and the ambient room temperature isn’t high enough. Ideally, the temperature during the day should be between 68°F and 75°F and around 60°F at night.

Over the land side, you’ll need to create a warm area so that the frog can bask and relax. For this, you can position a low wattage incandescent light bulb over the land side. You can also use UVA or UVB lights. The tank should be moderately lit as they tend to hide in bright light.

Make sure that the light doesn’t overheat the habitat or tank. With the help of a good thermometer, measure the different parts of the habitat and monitor the temperature carefully throughout the year.

Cover and Close it All Up

Leopard frog tanks should always have a cover on top of them. This protects your frog in several ways:

  • It will prevent outside objects from accidentally falling in
  • It provides a barrier between your pet and any heat or lighting sources you may have mounted above the tank.
  • A secure screen cover is essential to prevent escapes.

If you can get a lid that interlocks with the tank or has a locking mechanism, it will be even better.

Keeping Your Leopard Frog Tank Clean

You’ll also have to keep this bigger tank clean and well-maintained. You’ll need to change 25% of the water once every week or more frequently if it gets cloudy faster. Changing any more might change the pH values adversely and affect the leopard frogs.

A power filter will help maintain water quality but it is not the substitute for partial water changes and complete clean outs. But there is debate regarding the usability of water filter. Some experts say that constant vibrations from the filter pump can be a sensory overload for these amphibians.

Twice every month you can completely clean the habitat. Here are some guidelines for cleaning your frog tank:

  • unplug any electrical devices, such as your filtration and lighting systems, before cleaning your tan
  • make sure your frogs are in a safe place while you clean the tank
  • supervise kids when cleaning the tank
  • don’t clean filter or other tank components where food is stored, prepared, or eaten. Frog habitats can harbor harmful germs and bacteria.
  • use rubber gloves when cleaning your tank, for the reasons stated above.

If you’re going to use tap water, you should buy an aquarium water conditioner that removes chlorine and chloramines. Use it to treat the water a day in advance of the water change.

Watching Your Leopard Frogs Grow

2-3 weeks after the tadpoles grow their back legs, their front legs will appear. Gradually the tadpole will develop lungs and you will notice changes to your tadpole’s head, like elevated eyes and a wider mouth.

When the tadpole’s front legs develop, it will stop feeding on tadpole food and its tail will begin to shrink. During this time it will start climbing partially out of the water. It will rest in the land area of the habitat, basking in the light.

A tadpole that has front and back legs but still has a tail is called a froglet. A froglet may stop eating tadpole food but not might be ready to eat adult frog food yet. The froglet will get its nourishment from its tail as the tail is absorbed into its body.

The tail should completely disappear in 2-3 weeks. The froglet will then be considered a juvenile frog, ready for its first frog meal.

Feeding Your Leopard Frogs

Like most frogs, leopard frogs eat live insects and other invertebrates in captivity. You can feed them small insects or cut-up the insects if they’re too large. Most of the time you’ll be feeding them crickets and earthworms. You can mix up this diet with wax worms, mealworms, night crawlers, silkworms, and roaches.

Feed the juvenile frogs daily and use a variety of food items, if you can.

You can offer two to six food items per frog, two or three times every week. Don’t feed them too many insects. Leopard frogs are greedy eaters and can become obese if overfed.

If you offer it to them, your leopard frogs might also try to eat small rodents and aquatic animals like ghost shrimp and feeder guppies.

Supplements are Necessary for Leopard Frog Growth

The insects that you’ll be feeding your leopard frogs won’t contain the required nutritions in proper amounts. Nutritional deficiencies prevent growth and also give rise to diseases.

Juvenile frogs will require the nutritions even more than adults as they’ll still be growing rapidly to their full size. To ensure proper bone development, you should use a high-quality vitamin and mineral supplement that’s recommended for reptiles and amphibians.

Powder the nutritional supplement on the food items before offering it to your pet frogs. This should be done at every feeding for the juvenile leopard frogs and at least once every two or three feedings for adults.

Section 4: Leopard Frog Behavior You Can Observe

Frogs shouldn’t be held at any stage of their life cycle. A tadpole’s skin is fragile and is easily damaged if handled improperly. A frog is delicate and may escape or be injured during handling.

So although you cannot hold or play with your leopard frog in the conventional sense, you can observe their quirky behavior and enjoy their company.

Leopard Frog Tadpoles and Air Bubbles

Leopard frog tadpoles are completely aquatic and begin their life with gills. But as they grow, they develop lungs to breathe air. This allows adult frogs to climb out of water and catch their prey on land. This transition allows for some interesting behavior.

As your tadpoles grow, you’ll observe them go up and down from the bottom of their habitat to the surface of water. At the surface, they’ll twist and let out an air bubble. Then they’ll sprint back to the bottom of the habitat.

Tadpoles are just like aquatic animals, such as whales, dolphins, sea lions, elephant seals, hippopotami, and manatees, that require air to breathe. They stay in the water all the time but have to surface to breathe.

In the case of the tadpoles, they exhale the old air at the same time that they inhale new air, full of oxygen. But sometimes this old air gets stuck and they need to do a twist in order to push that out. Then they breathe in fresh air and zip back to safety at the bottom of the habitat.

Effect of Light on Leopard Frog Growth

There is a strong correlation between the kind of light that your tadpoles are exposed to and their growth speed.

Red light can accelerate the tadpole growth and make them mature faster. If you want your tadpoles to grow rapidly, you can use a red light in their habitat or wrap red cellophane over the light source inside their habitat.

On the other hand, direct sunlight and ultraviolet light sources can cause harm to your tadpoles. Keep your tadpole habitat away from direct sunlight and UV sources.

You can also observe the difference in their movement speed in the absence of light sources inside the habitat. In bright light, they move speedily inside the habitat. In the absence of light, during the night or cloudy days, tadpoles are usually sluggish.

Section 5: Leopard Frog Care Tips

During special times, you’ll have to make some important decisions which will affect your frog’s welfare. Three such situations that we’re going to talk about are hibernation, when you go out of town for vacation, and when you’re unable to take care of your leopard frogs any longer.

Leopard Frogs and Hibernation During Winters

Leopard frogs usually start to hibernate when fall comes. They hibernate in water that will not completely freeze over in the winter. Your frogs are naturally wired to hibernate. Their movement will slow down when the fall starts and they may stop eating in winter. This will last for about three months.

In order to make this a comfortable time for your leopard frogs, you can cool the tank to 37°F to 39°F during the winter months. You can also safely decrease their food portions drastically, keeping in mind that although your frogs won’t hibernate completely, their metabolism will slow down drastically.

Leopard Frog Care When You’re on Vacation

Under no condition should you take the leopard frogs with you when you go on a vacation. Taking care of the frogs while on vacation is a very difficult job. Not only will it take the fun out of your vacation but your frogs will suffer as well. The travel will be very stressful for your leopard frogs.

But as you can imagine, you cannot devise an automatic feeding and water change system which will take care of the frog in your absence. You’ll have to find someone whom you can trust to take care of them.

Relatives, Friends, and Neighbors

You can ask your relatives, friends, or neighbors to pet-sit your frogs while you are out of town. You should prepare a care sheet for them to refer to and teach them how to feed, change the water, and turn the lights on and off in your absence. You can hand them this guide as a reference manual.

Local Pet-Sitters and Veterinarians

Local herpetologists and companion animal veterinarians will provide the best care to your frogs but they will charge you accordingly on the higher end. Local pet-sitters will be cheaper and should do a better job than relatives, friends, and neighbors as they’re used to following strict instructions and dietary rules.   

Finding a New Home for Your Frogs

It is possible that at some time you’re unable to take care of your frogs any more or you’re preparing to move away.

Although it might be tempting to just release the frogs outside in the wild, that might not be the best thing to do. Your frog will not know how to survive in the wild because it has not learned to hunt on its own.

Instead, you should contact your relatives, friends, and neighbors who would like to have a pet frog and will be happy to adopt it. You can also donate your frogs to a school where they can be used as a wildlife display and looked after by the school staff and children.

If neither of these works out, you can contact the local pet store and ask them to find a new home for your frogs.

Over to You

Leopard frogs are fun beginner pets that can be managed easily if you pay attention to a few important things. You can easily order tadpoles online and grow them in your home, school, or office space.

After you order your tadpoles, you should start preparing for their arrival by learning as much as you can about them and setting up their habitat. All the things that you’ll require can be bought at the local pet store. You’ll just have to devote about an hour or so daily to look after them and care for them.

Leopard frogs are excellent pets for children. They can learn about the variety of life in our world as well as important biological processes such as metamorphosis, life cycle, and molting. This will instil an appreciation for life in them and spark their curiosity.

So, it’s time to get started! Save this page for later reference and start preparing for the arrival of your leopard frog tadpoles.