tad·​pole ˈtad-ˌpōl How to pronounce tadpole (audio)
: a larval amphibian
specifically : a frog or toad larva that has a rounded body with a long tail bordered by fins and external gills soon replaced by internal gills and that undergoes a metamorphosis to the adult

Illustration of tadpole

Illustration of tadpole
  • tadpole in stages

Examples of tadpole in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Scientists have compiled many more nematode connectomes, as well as brain maps of a marine annelid worm, a tadpole, a maggot and an adult fruit fly. Lauren Leffer, Scientific American, 21 Aug. 2023 Gerber is curious to see whether the cellular mechanisms in insect metamorphosis are the same in other animals that undergo variations of the process, like tadpoles that become frogs or immobile hydra-like creatures that become jellyfish. Yasemin Saplakoglu, Quanta Magazine, 26 July 2023 Frogs and their warty subset, toads, typically live by water, where adults lay eggs and swimming tadpoles awkwardly grow into their legs. Popsci Staff, Popular Science, 29 June 2023 The children fished for tadpoles in the stone pond while the rest of us snacked on fava beans and made small talk. Jamie Quatro, Travel + Leisure, 24 June 2023 Even the tadpoles of Cuban tree frogs compete with the tadpoles of native frogs, making the species an even stronger invasive threat. Sam Walters, Discover Magazine, 30 May 2023 Hind limb of an African clawed frog © Heather Angel/Natural Visions/Alamy; a scanning electron micrograph of an African clawed frog tadpole © Dennis Kunkel Microscopy/Science Source; and an image of the Xenopus pregnancy test from a 1938 article by Edward R. Elkan in the British Medical Journal. Anne Fadiman, Harper's Magazine, 10 Feb. 2023 Our solar system actually has a few such strange orbits, known as horseshoe or tadpole orbits, depending on their shapes. Briley Lewis, Popular Science, 3 May 2023 The researchers tested their prototype by shining a laser onto transparent samples including the muscles in a tadpole’s tail, a mouse brain, and an entire chicken embryo. Bysara Reardon, science.org, 14 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tadpole.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English taddepol, from tode toad + polle head

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tadpole was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near tadpole

Cite this Entry

“Tadpole.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tadpole. Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


tad·​pole ˈtad-ˌpōl How to pronounce tadpole (audio)
: the larva of a frog or toad that has a rounded body and a long tail, breathes with gills, and lives in water

called also pollywog


Middle English taddepol "tadpole," from tode "toad" and polle "head"

Word Origin
A young tadpole looks like a large head with a tail. In time it will develop back legs and then front legs. Finally it will lose its tail and become a toad or a frog. Our word for this immature form of a toad or frog comes from Middle English taddepol. This word was a combination of two others, tode, meaning "toad," and polle, meaning "head."

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