Tadpoles: Definition & Stages

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

A tadpole is the larval stage of an amphibian and is characterized by a large head, rounded body, and long tail. Learn more about the tadpole, and explore the changes in the tadpole stages. Updated: 01/19/2022

What Is a Tadpole?

It is a life form that starts out like a blob, then slowly it changes. Its tail vanishes, it develops lungs, and legs sprout out of its body. No, this isn't some horror movie. . . it's biology! Specifically, the biology of tadpole development.

A tadpole is a stage in the lifecycle of amphibians, like frogs. The tadpole is a larval stage, or a period in the life cycle of some animals where the offspring look nothing like the adult. A tadpole lives almost entirely in the water, although there are some amphibian species where the tadpole can survive on land. Remember, the tadpole does not look like the adult, and must undergo a series of physical changes, called metamorphosis, before it becomes an adult. Let's check out how a tadpole becomes a frog.

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  • 0:04 What Is a Tadpole?
  • 0:56 The Tadpole Stages
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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The Tadpole Stages

We will focus on frogs, but other amphibians also have a tadpole larval stage. Tadpoles have a tail and fin-like structures as well as gills, so they can breathe underwater. After a series of changes, the tadpole will eventually turn into a frog, and it should be noted that these stages are variable depending on the species.

Stage 1: Eggs

The eggs are laid in a gelatinous mass, and eventually, as the eggs develop, you can see a tiny tadpole-like critter inside of the egg. Of course it depends on the species, but most eggs hatch after about 6 to 21 days.

Stage 2: Hatching

Right after hatching, the tadpoles are most at risk of being eaten. In an attempt to reduce predation, they affix themselves to weeds and try to blend in with their environment. Instead of swimming around looking for food, they get their nutrients from remnants of the egg, which, conveniently, is already in their belly.

Stage 3: Free Swimming

Between 1 to 4 weeks after hatching, the tadpole will release itself from the weeds and begin to swim. At this stage, the tadpole will eat algae or other tiny plant matter.

Stage 4: Teeth

At around 4 weeks, the tadpole's diet can diversify to include more plants and possibly small insects. This is mainly due to the development of teeth, as well as the guts of the animal becoming more complex. Skin slowly starts to cover the gills as the tadpole will utilize lungs instead of gills by the time it becomes an adult.

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