Being a tadpole is the second stage of development in the life cycle of a frog, the first being an egg. This is true for most frogs, but not all of them, as some frogs do actually hatch from eggs, skip the tadpole stage, and start life as froglets direct from the egg.
When it escapes from the egg, the little tadpole will start to swim around and hunt for food. At this stage of the frog life cycle, it will look a lot more like a fish than a frog. It has no legs at all, just a rounded body bit at the front, and a tail at the back. It will swim around like this for a few weeks and will eat in the pond things like algae and bits of plants. It has gills at this stage that enable it to remain under water as it grows.
As it grows, it will start to develop lungs. It will gradually start to grow sets of limbs - the back legs grow first. Slowly the tadpole then grows front limbs, and slowly but surely the tail disappears. The tail disappears through a process known as apoptosis. Apoptosis is defined as the death of cells which occur as a normal and controlled part of an organism's growth or development. As the tadpole does not need its tail for survival, this is just the natural process of it losing its tail. Then, when the tail has gone, and the legs are developed, the tadpole has emerged as a beautiful froglet!
Once it is a froglet it is free to come and go from the water as it pleases. It is incredibly small at this time.
However, the tiny tadpole, if it makes to to froglet stage, has done very well to survive, as they have many predators during this stage of their life. Creatures such as birds, fish, newts, even foxes all like to feast on tadpoles. Also, if a tadpole is very, very hungry, it could eat another tadpole. I don't think this happens though unless other sources of food are incredibly scarce, but it does happen.
The whole process takes about 12 weeks for a tadpole to become a frog. Sometimes, if the water body that the tadpole inhabits is too cold, this slows down the process. Also, if there are many many tadpoles competing for a small amount of algae, then this can also cause problems for some tadpoles being able to reach the state of becoming a frog.
It is a tough life for a tadpole, and it seems like they are lucky indeed if they manage to progress through to frog-hood!
If you wanted to try and keep tadpoles yourself, then you would need to make sure that the water does not contain chlorine - and unfortunately tap water does. It is possible to get a good de-chlorinator from a pet shop, or if you can be patient, if you leave some water out in a bucket and leave it for a couple of days, the chlorine in it should evaporate and it would be ok to keep tadpoles in.Tetra Pond AquaSafe, Makes Tap Water Safe for Pond Fish, 250 ml
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