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It’s the peak season for finding spawn and tadpoles in your garden pond. This is a fascinating time and naturally many people are curious to know more about the whole process. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about spawn and tadpoles from frogs, toads, and newts.
What is the difference between frog, toad and newt spawn?
Frogspawn is usually laid earliest, and in the warmest southern parts of the country it can appear in ponds as soon as January. However, it is more generally found from March onwards. The spawn is laid in clumps of a clear jelly-like substance with a small black dot in the middle, which is the fertilised frog’s egg. Frogs usually spawn in shallower water.
The embryo gradually consumes the jelly, which is full of the nutrients that enable it to grow. One frog will typically lay about three thousand eggs, but only about five of these will develop into adult frogs. This is because frogspawn is also a food source for other pondlife including newts, water beetles, dragonflies and birds.
The tadpole embryos develop a head and tail after two weeks and begin to form the gills that enable it to breathe underwater. After three weeks, the tadpoles will hatch en masse. They will continue to consume the jelly and begin to grow back legs. At this point the tadpole will grow a skin and change from black to a mottled brown colour.
Toad spawn is laid in triple stranded long strings, usually in slightly deeper water. It is often wrapped around pond plants. The eggs hatch after about 10 days and take about two to three months to develop into toadlets. The toad tadpoles remain black and usually move in shoals. They develop back legs first.
Newts lay their eggs individually and wrap them in submerged plant leaves. Species such as Water forget-me-not, Brooklime, Watercress and Water Mint are ideal for encouraging newts to breed in your pond. Newly hatched tadpoles have gills behind the head and they develop the front legs first.
Can a pond have too much spawn in it?
An established pond can attract many amphibians. When frogspawn is laid in large quantities, it tends to float to the surface of the pond and form in a mass. This can lead to fears that the garden will be overrun with hordes of frogs in a few month’s time. However only a fraction of the spawn will develop into adult frogs.
The majority of frogspawn and tadpoles fall prey to natural predators, including birds, dragonflies, and newts. If there are fish in the pond, they will also eat the spawn. Older froglets that leave the spawn are often a snack for hedgehogs, foxes, and badgers. This is all part of the native ecosystem and should not be interfered with.
Is it OK to transfer spawn between ponds?
It is not recommended to bring spawn from elsewhere into your pond, or remove any spawn that has been laid in your pond. This is because of the risk of transferring amphibian diseases, or unwittingly introducing invasive plant species to your pond.
If you have a new pond and are keen to see frogs in it, be patient and let them colonise it naturally rather than try to introduce them yourself. You can encourage amphibians to your pond by ensuring that it has tiered sides with a variety of depths, and is well stocked with a range of pond plants.
If you see spawn in an unsuitable place such as a puddle that is at risk of drying up, it is best to transfer it to the nearest pond.
What are the best pond plants for frogs, toads and newts?
Anything that provides shelter and cover for tadpoles and fully grown amphibians, helps oxygenate the water, keeps the water cooler, and attracts insects as a food source is ideal.
So for cover any of the deep water plants such as Water lilies, Water hawthorn, Fringe lilies and Amphibious bistort all put leaves up to the surface, keeping the water cooler and helping to shelter them from predators.
For oxygenation any of the native oxygenators like Hornwort, Willow moss and Water starwort are very effective and help provide a great ecosystem for all pond life, with their dense underwater foliage providing plenty of hiding places for smaller pond creatures. Some reeds and rushes, including all of the Reedmaces, Soft rush and Hard rush, and the Fibre optic plant will also help oxygenate the water through their root systems.
Pond plants that attract insects include anything that flowers, but in particular Purple loosestrife, Water mint, Water figwort, Water forget-me-not, Water plantain and Marsh marigolds. All of these plants are endorsed by the RHS which has designated them as Plants for Pollinators.
Finally, as mentioned above, Water mint, Brooklime, Water forget-me-nots and Watercress all provide soft leaves for newts to lay their eggs on, folding them over for protection, and their rambling growing habit provides further shelter for the pond.
Do you need to feed tadpoles in your pond?
In most cases it is not necessary to provide extra food for tadpoles. Newly hatched tadpoles will continue to feed on the jelly substance, and will also eat algae from the surface plants and rocks, as well as microscopic aquatic creatures.
The Froglife website states that it may be beneficial to feed tadpoles boiled lettuce or spinach if the pond is very new and lacking in nutrients, or has large quantities of spawn. However, too much food can pollute the water.
Should you protect tadpoles from predators?
It is not advisable to interfere with the natural process of the food chain. Tadpoles provide an important source of food for newts and other pondlife, and this all makes up an essential part of the natural world. As long as your pond and garden has plenty of sheltering places such as rocks and plants, nature will take care of the rest.
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