The fire-bellied toads have quite spectacular coloring for toads and live most of their amphibian lives in water, appearing more like frogs. All the species of fire-bellied toads, including the yellow-bellied toads, have been placed into their own family classification called Bombinatoridae. True toads belong to the family Bufonidae. These eight Bombinatoridae species have similar body shape and habitat, but differ in size and color.
The eight species of Bombinatoridae include European fire-bellied toads, two yellow-bellied toads, Guangxi fired-bellied toads, giant fire-bellied toads, Hubai fire-bellied toads, Lichuan fire-bellied toads and oriental fire-bellied toads. The Guangxi fire-bellied toad is commonly called the large-spined bell toad. Most of these toads are not threatened species, although the Bombina pachypus, or Apennine yellow-bellied toad, is endangered. Oriental fire-bellied toads have become popular in the pet trade, but remain common throughout their habitat range in China.
Fire-bellied toads live in and around freshwater in Europe and Asia. Most species can be found in China. They survive well in wetlands, lakes, ponds, ditches and slow-flowing water. As water becomes scarce, they hide under rotting forest vegetation and in the muddy bottoms of streams. General habitat alteration and loss threatens all amphibians, including the fire-bellied toads. Drainage of habitat, habitat fragmentation, disease, pollution and loss of genetic diversity can decrease these animal populations.
Fire-bellied toads appear dark-colored with wart-like bumps on their backs called tubercles. The smooth bottom side of these toads is red, orange or yellow with dark spots in an irregular pattern. These medium-sized, carnivorous toads range from 3 to 5 centimeters across the back, although the giant fire-bellied toad may reach 6.5 centimeters. As adults they eat snails, insects and worms, and live up to 20 years.
The dull coloring on fire-bellied toad's backs helps camouflage them, while the bright colors on their undersides send a warning. These toads secrete toxins from their skin and the bright colors advertise that fact. When threatened, they exhibit a behavior called the unkenreflex. During the unkenreflex, fire-bellied toads rise up on their front legs and arch their backs, which causes them to flip over onto their backs to show color as a warning to predators. The toxin is not threatening to humans, though some people may develop skin sensitivity.
In captivity, fire-bellied toads can be group-housed in aqua-terrariums with mesh tops that permit good ventilation. A basking area should be present and possibly a heat source to keep habitat temperature around 64 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The terrarium requires frequent water changes and cleaning due to toads expelling large amounts of waste. Captive fire-bellied toads can be fed insects, worms and raw fish or meat, which can be dusted with mineral and vitamin supplement.
- Marc Staniszewski's Bombina FAQ: The Fire Bellied Toad (Bombina Species) FAQ
- Amphibianweb: Bombinatoridae
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Bombina Pachypus
- National Geographic: Oriental Fire-Bellied Toad
- Animal Diversity Web, Univeristy of Michigan: Bombina Orientalis
- Smithsonian, National Zoological Park: Oriental Fire-Bellied Toad
- Carolina Biological Supply Company: Fire-Bellied Toad
Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.