Natural History and Care Info on the Fire Bellied Toad.

Few amphibians are as endearing as the fire-bellied toads. Their size and bright colors,
coupled with their ease of care and handleability, make them an ideal pet for both new
and veteran keepers alike.
Natural History
Fire-bellied toads of the genus Bombina can be found throughout calmer rivers and
ponds in continental climes and floodplains across Europe and Asia. Eight species
belong to this genus but the most common in the pet trade are European fire-bellied
toad (Bombina bombina), the Oriental fire-bellied toad (B. orientalis), and the yellowbellied
toad (B. variegata). Despite being referred to as “toads” fire-bellies are true
frogs; the confusion comes from the fact that, unlike most frogs, they have have bumpy
rather than smooth skin. All species of fire-bellied toad look very similar, growing up to
1.5 inches in length and green in color with dark blackish patterning. The “fire-bellied”
part of their common name stems from the vivid red, orange and black coloration of
their underbellies. This is an example of aposematism and is meant to advertise the
frogs’ toxicity. When confronted by a predator the toad will exhibit a behavior known as
the unken reflex, where the animal arches its back to display the warning colors on its
underside, starts secreting toxins from the partoid glands in its skin, and inflates its
body cavity with air to appear larger and more difficult to swallow. This toxin is potent
enough to kill a water snake or small wading bird, but for larger predators the foul taste
simply encourages them to spit out the frog. Fire-bellied toads prey on a variety of
worms and insects, but do not appear to exhibit the cannibalistic behavior common to
many there frogs. As a result, they commonly live in large groups and can be housed
communally in captivity. Fire-bellies can be quite vocal during the mating season, their
barking calls sounding like a blend of cricket chirping and the honking of a baby
crocodile. With proper care, fire-bellied toads can easily live 10 to 14 years.
Housing, Temperature, and Lighting
Fire-bellied toads do not need elaborate setups. A 10-gallon tank will house up to three
frogs comfortably, while a 20-gallon can hold a half-dozen or more. The exact setup of
the tank can vary somewhat; some keepers to a 50-50 mix of land and water while some
simply but in a large water dish. As long as there is both water and a place for the frogs
to come out, then things should be fine. Coconut mulch makes an excellent substrate.
Fire-bellies are not not climbers, so tank furnishings are not critical. A small cork round
or pice of mopping wood will suffice, if desired. Make sure to add water conditioner
after every change, as frogs are very susceptible to environmental contaminants due to
their semi-permeable skins. Heating bulbs are not necessary for keeping fire-bellies.
They thrive at room temperature (anything hotter than the low 80’s can be potentially
dangerous but can handle temps into the 50’s) and require no special lighting. Keep the
tank out of direct sunlight, as tis may cause the tank to overheat.
As with all frogs, fire-bellies are carnivores and will readily consume just about any
insect they can fit into their mouths. The ideal prey item should be no bigger than the
length of the frog’s head, as anything larger presents a potential chocking hazard. To
increase the nutritional quality of insects, gut-load them before offering and also make
sure to coat them in calcium powder as needed. Fire-bellies should be fed up to a halfdozen
or so appropriately-sized insects one or two times a week. Any uneaten food
should be quickly discarded so as not to foul up the water.
Handling and Taming
Fire-bellied toads are extremely easy going and thus, are much more handleable than
most frogs. That being said, it is not advisable to handle per amphibians much. Their
delicate skin can easily tear or absorb harmful chemicals from the environment, and the
oils secreted from human skin are not healthy for the frogs, either. Some keepers wear
late gloves if they need to handle their frogs, but this is not necessary. As long as one
washes their hands after handling, their is minimal risk of exposure to the frogs’ toxins.
Never wash your hands before handling, as the frogs may absorb soap residue through
their skin and bacon poisoned. Fire-bellies are accomplished jumpers and as a result, it
is best keep ones frogs near to ground-level to prevent them leaping from potentially
lethal heights.
Author’s Note
My very first pets were a pair of fire-bellied toads I received from my uncle on my 4th
birthday. I named them Joe and Tony and kept them in a plastic Critter Keeper in the
kitchen with aquarium gravel for substrate and two rocks big enough they could haul
out if they wanted to. The water was changed as needed and I fed them usually once a
week. All and all, it was a pretty spartan setup, especially compared to what one usually
sees in retail pet stores. Joe lasted for over 19 years, Tony more than 22, and in all
likelihood both were a couple years older than that when they passed. According to my
research, Joe and Tony are the oldest fire-bellied toads kept in captivity


Written By: Grayson Kent

Sponsored By: The Painted Reptile


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