Fire bellied toad Care

Bombina orientalis

Fire Bellied Toad (Bombina orientalis)

Fire Bellied Toad by brian.gratwicke

The fire bellied toad (Bombina orientalis) is a small toad from Korea, north-eastern China and adjacent parts of Russia. They inhabit a variety of habitats including road-leaved forests, open meadows, river valleys and swampy bush lands. Growing up to 2inches long and with a life span of 10-15 years, fire bellied toads are a semi aquatic species of toad with a characteristic orange and black colouration on their undersides which gives them their name. Typically fire bellied toads are bright green with black mottling over their back, their bellies are adorned with the aforementioned characteristic fire like patterning.

In the wild fire bellied toads are considered as “least concern” in the wild despite the fact their population is decreasing slightly and they face risk from habitat destruction which is largely the result of human activity (IUCN). Luckily however fire bellied toads are exceptionally common in captivity, they breed well and therefore you can be relatively confident when purchasing them you are acquiring a captive bred specimen (however, always make sure to check).

Fire bellied toads are recommended for beginners, and even for children as they are very interesting to keep, very active, inquisitive and interesting, plus wildly available and relatively inexpensive. They are also diurnal which means they are active in the day making them very entertaining to watch.

Of course fire bellied toads are a commitment and I urge people never to acquire them on a wim, or as an unexpected gift for somebody. They make particularly good first amphibians for children and can be a great option for those who wish to entice their young ones in to the hobby.

Fire bellied toad housing

A house vivarium which is 18x12x12in (Length Width Height) would house three or four fire bellied toads at a push, you would be able to house five to 6 in a vivarium which is 24x12x12 ( Length Width Height). These frogs are communal and do well in groups, with males even tolerating each others presence well (ie males can be housed together).

Fire bellied toads are considered semi aquatic and as such they require access to both an aquatic and terrestrial zone in their enclosure. For this reason, and the moisture associated with such a set up it is important that you use either a plastic terrarium (the inexpensive type which are readily available from pet shops or a glass aquarium. Other vivarium will most likely leak. I prefer glass myself simply for aesthetics as much as anything. There are a number of ways to do this but essentially you need a way of separating the terrestrial region from the aquatic one, if you don’t manage this you will just end up with a bog like soggy mess.

The best way to great a land and water section for your fire bellied toads is to either use a piece of foam floating in the water (less aesthetic), or to use pea gravel which has been used to create a raised land platform. See the diagram for an expertly drawn representation in Microsoft paint (if making websites doesn’t work out I can always fall back on art). It is important to provide something of a slope so your fire bellies have easy points of access; pebbles and other medium sized stones are ideal for this. Try to aim to have approximately 1/3 of the enclosure as land and the rest as water. This rule is not too strict - simply ensure you provide access to both land and water - a 1:2 split is simply a good starting guide.

Fire Bellied Toad Vivarium

Fire Bellied Toad vivarium plan painstakingly and expertly drawn in
paint by the author. Coming soon to the Tate Modern Art Gallery.


Upon the land section you should provide a few hides, halved coconut husks make fantastic semi natural looking hides, as do bits of curved cork bark which you can buy from most reptile pet shops. In the case of coconut husks, there are plenty of commercial products but half an hour or so with a jaw and/or a jigsaw, plus the price of a coconut and you have two hides (you halve the coconut remember). You should add moss to the land area too, be fairly liberal with it to allow the frogs to dig a little and disguise themselves in it should they wish to. Other decor can include items such as driftwood (which will provide hiding places, things to climb on and hunting areas). You can also make use of fake or real plants in your fire bellied toad set up to aid with creating a natural looking hiding place and simultaneously providing a variety of novel hiding places.

Do make sure that if you use anything collected from outside (ie rocks, logs, etc) that you sterilize them before adding to your fire bellied toad enclosure. You can do this by soaking them in boiling water or better still, if it is feasible, boiling them in water for 10-15 minutes before allowing then to dry.

Within the water section of the set up you need to provide water which is relatively deep, around 4-5inches to provide your toads with ample place to swim which they will do frequently. In addition to the land area you can construct other platforms using rocks or bits of driftwood to provide a little variation. The water used must be dechlorinated. There are a number of options for this; dechlorinating chemicals (consult your local pet shop as brands vary country to country), purchasing chlorine free bottled water or simply leaving water to stand in an open container for 48hours before using it. You may also wish to include some live aquatic plants in the water of your fire bellied toad vivarium. Floating weeds such as Elodea spp. are particularly attractive and help oxygenate the water, provide hiding spots in the water and make the vivarium look more visibly appealing.

A filter should be provided in order to keep the water clean, and partial water changes once every two weeks are recommended (when when you use a filter). Those who choose not to use a filter will need to do a partial water changes atleast twice weekly. This involves siphoning off approximately half of the water in the set up and replacing with fresh, dechlorinated water. The power of the filter required depends upon the size of the set up you have, the amount of water present and the frequency with which you are prepared to do the water changes. As such rather than advise appropriate water filters for your fire bellied toads I suggest you speak to your local pet shop with your exact requirements.

Some keepers recommend using heaters, it is very climate dependant. Generally fire bellied toads are fine with room temperature water however in the cooler winter months supplementary heat may be required. Ideal water temperatures should be 24-25c however as mentioned slightly cooler is ok. Personally I like to use a heater with a thermostat as much for peace of mind as anything else. A Heat mat on a thermostat can help provide supplementary heat in the terrestrial zone during particularly cold months. Aim for similar temperatures to the water (24-26c) whilst providing a temperature gradient allowing your fire bellies to thermoregulate as they feel the need.

Due to the fact the enclosure contains a large body of water you don’t really need to worry about humidity – the humidity will be quite high in your fire bellied toad vivarium any way. Just ensure that you offer sufficient ventilation so that moist air does not stagnate encouraging mould growth.

Fire Bellied Toad (Bombina orientalis)

Fire Bellied Toad (Bombina orientalis) by unnormalized

Feeding Fire bellied toads

Fire bellied toads are carnivorous and as such need to be fed upon a diet made up of animal based food. As such they should be fed a diet consisting of a variety of invertebrates approximately 2-3 times a week (youngsters will need feeding more often – 5-6 times a week is more appropriate) which have been appropriately gut loaded. As a tip, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that increased levels of carotene in the diet, ie the stuff that makes carrots orange, increases the intensity of the orange colouration seen in fire bellied toads. With that in mind consider feeding your crickets carrots as part of your gut loading procedure.

 Live crickets should be the mainstay of their diet, when determining the correct size of food to offer; choosing crickets which are no longer than the gap between the fire bellied toads eyes is a fairly good approximation of suitability.

In addition to crickets you should mix things up by offering locusts, waxworms, earthworms (which are relished!) and perhaps the odd freshly moulted mealworm (they can be a little fussy when it comes to mealworms, some love em some hate em – do however make sure you only feed freshly moulted white mealworms as otherwise their hard exoskeletons can be problematic).

Flies also make a great option and really get your toads active and moving. If you buy maggots from a fishing tackle shop (make sure to request un-dyed ones, ie ones which are in their natural colour) leave them in a warm spot for a few days until they pupate. Then continue to leave them until you see the first fly emerge (make sure you check them twice a day once they have pupated, once one fly emerges you tend to get about 10 million others emerge in the same day – when one does it they all follow suite). Anyway, as soon as you see your first emerged fly put the entire tub in the fridge. This will slow down the metabolic rate of the flies and as such slows own the rate at which they emerge. By doing this you can create a steady supply of flies for your fire bellied toads to eat for a good 3-4 weeks. Just be careful not to accidently leave your tub of pupae outside in the warmth for any length of time – if you do you will return to a buzzing nightmarish tub which would give even satan the shivers.

Aside from the terrestrial food options, you can also provide aquatic offerings. Tubiflex are often relished, as are some small fish like guppies if you are willing to do that (many people have certain moral qualms around feeding fish to their fire bellied toads).

Fire Bellied Toad (Bombina orientalis)

Fire Bellied Toad (Bombina orientalis) by Roberto Verzo


Breeding Fire bellied toads

If you keep your fire bellied toads in a group (as you should as they are a social species) and have males and females together you may experience spawning. There are however a number of factors which affect spawning so it is not guarenteed. People keeping colonies together for years is not unheard of.

The breeding season for fire bellied toads is spring (they know its spring due to changes in temperatures and more importantly the photoperiod – ie the number of hours of daylight). Typically each female will lay 100-150 spawn which as you can imagine, if you have a group this can be problematic and you can soon be over run.

At this point you need think carefully about what you wish to do with the spawn. If you are confident you are able to find homes for the offspring – which are very common in captivity so will not be in particularly high demand – then by all means keep them and raise them. Alternatively you can dispose of them by placing them in the freezer for 24-48 hours.

If you wish to raise them you should separate the spawn from the adults as they will eat it. Keep in a set up similar to how you keep the adults – in water at 60-8f which is filtered and receives a partial water change twice a week. Their rapid growth means fire bellied toad tadpoles produce a lot of waste meaning these regular water changes are essential. The tadpoles which will hatch out within 5-8 days can be fed on tubiflex, fly food and fish flakes. They develop quickly and after approximately 2weeks they will be large enough to rasp at chopped earthworms, raw meat, trout pellets and other fish foods.

They should at this point be provided with a terrestrial platform as they will soon begin to develop the apparatus required for life on land and start to venture towards a more terrestrial lifestyle. It is at this point you can begin to raise them in a similar way to how you would raise the adults, only offering smaller food of course.

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