There are currently three different species of toad kept in captivity which may be referred to as “fire bellied toads” – namely the standard fire bellied toad (Bombina bombina), the Oriental fire bellied toad (Bombina orientalis) and the yellow bellied toad (Bombina variegata).
And while the appearance of these three toad species are quite different as the name suggests they all display a bright orange/red belly which is used to ward off potential predators.
Should a fire bellied toad feel threatened it will flip over onto it’s back, revealing the bright warning colors and thus communicating to predactors just how unpleasant they will be to eat. This is particularly shocking as they are reasonably plain-looking when viewed from above.
Fortunately the care of all these three species of fire bellied toads is relatively similar and having kept dozens of specimens over the years in a range of different set-ups, and bearing in mind how popular these toads are, I thought it as time to put “pen to paper” in a digital sense and discuss what I have found to be the best possible setup for them.
Why Keep Fire Bellied Toads?
However for the more experienced exotic pet keeper the fact that they are so easy to keep and require so little maintenance means that they can make an easy addition to any exotic pet collection without significantly increasing the workload of maintaining your menagerie.
In essence fire bellied toads are relatively cheap to buy and only grow to a couple of inches in length so require only a small vivarium. In general fire bellied toads like a cool, moist environment so there is no requirement for artificial lighting or even heating when they are kept in the average home. This further reduces their housing costs and makes it very difficult to get their requirements far wrong.
However just because these toads are small and have minimal captive requirements don’t go thinking they are boring to keep.
Their colors alone should be enough to encourage you to try your hand at keeping them but furthermore these docile amphibians can be kept in small groups allowing you to watch them socializing and interacting. And whilst they’re not “noisy” pets you’ll soon hear a range of different calls from them as they settle into their vivarium.
Indeed without too much effort it is even possible to encourage fire bellied toads to breed in your home with a short winter cooling period followed by a water change that mimics the onset of the wet season that they would experience in the wild.
Basic Housing Requirements Of Fire Bellied Toads
These toads are quite aquatic in nature and will spend extended periods of time simply “hanging” in water if provided for them. They also like to jump into the water to escape from “predators” – an action you may well observe if you open up their tank or even walk past in a hurry.
Indeed many exotic pet keepers seem to keep fire bellied toads in an exclusively aquatic environment except perhaps for the provision of a branch or bit of cork bark to climb out on.
However my own preference is to provide both a land area and an aquatic area in their vivariums and my own experience is that they seem to spend roughly equal amounts of time in both habitats. I think providing a land area gives the toads the choice of where they want to sit – and as mentioned previously when given this choice a significant period of their time will be spent on land each day.
Furthermore I have found that feeding these toads is made easier when an area of land is provided. Wax worms, meal worms and baby crickets can be placed into a food bowl which the toads will rapidly learn to feed from.
By placing food into a bowl rather than into the water, it ensures the vivarium water is kept fresher and cleaner for longer which is not only nicer for your toads but also cuts down on your cleaning. Lastly observing your toads stalking the food in their bowl makes for added interest to your vivarium.
Choosing A Suitable Aquarium
The best housing for fire bellied toads is a standard aquarium as sold in any pet shop for fish keepers. Fire bellied toads aren’t overly active and so a huge tank is unnecessary. Personally I keep a group of four individuals in a tank measuring two feet long though slightly smaller quarters don’t seem to lead to any adverse effects.
Due to the volume of water you’ll be using ensure that your aquarium is water-tight if bought second-hand. Furthermore while fire bellied toads can’t climb glass a lid is recommended as this will keep out dust and any other household pets as well as helping you maintain a humid environment.
As always with amphibians whilst a humid environment is recommended it is important that the air is not allowed to become stagnant so a degree of air movement is recommended -ideally provided by including a mesh area in the lid.
The Water To Dry Land Argument
For example up until a few months ago I used a deep cat litter tray of water and placed it in the bottom of a standard aquarium, filling in the land area around it so that the substrate was flush with the top of the tray – thus making it easy for the toads to get in and out of the water.
However since then I have upped my game and now believe the best arrangement is to fix a piece of perspex, as available very cheaply from many DIY stores or from specialist suppliers online, across an aquarium using special aquarium sealant.
By glueing around the sides and bottom of the piece of perspex on both sides one can make a water-tight seal and thus ensure the land area does not become too waterlogged.
As a side note it is essential to use aquarium sealant rather than standard bathroom silicon which contains fungicides to prevent mold in your bathroom yet can harm aquatic creatures.
Setting Up The Aquatic Area
The ideal depth of the water area is at least as deep as your toads are long – which in practice means 3-4 inches minimum so that your toads can hang in the water as they would in nature with their leg’s outstretched without touching the bottom.
I add a layer of washed aquarium gravel partly to make the vivarium look more natural but to also provide a surface for beneficial bacteria to grow on which will help to keep the water fresh.
I also like to add a few good-quality artificial plants to the water to give it an even more natural feel and to encourage my toads to feel at home. As these can be quite shy creatures that spook easily even when they have been kept in the home for some time, these plants provide a little additional cover and security without ruining your enjoyment of them too much.
Depending on the volume of water you are providing a small power filter should be used (I use a Fluval 2 in my tank) to circulate the water gently and remove any mess such as faecal material and sloughed skin.
It is also important to use only treated water in your toad tank much as you would when keeping fish. This means at a minimum using one of the reptile-safe water treatment drops that will remove chlorine and other chemicals from the water.
For those people with the money to invest even better is de-ionized water which will eliminate the risks of “sludge lines” appearing as the water naturally evaporates leaving behind mineral residues which can be difficult to remove.
One final element of setting up the water area is adding some cork bark and/or artificial plants by the partition to enable your toads to easily get in and out of the water as they see fit.
Setting Up The Land Area
There are a number of possible substrates that can be used for the dry land area. For example vivarium composts may be used, as can bark chippings or choir mulch. One factor worth bearing in mind is that the toads will be jumping in and out of the water so if you use a fine substrate like compost you will likely find a fine film of this on the top of the water soon enough as the toads carry it in.
As a result bark chippings are probably the ideal substrate as these have extra weight, are less likely to stick to the moist bodies of your toads and are easy-enough to remove from the water should any get dragged in.
As well as this base substrate, try adding additional hiding places to help your toads feel comfortable in their vivarium. For this I use one or two more good-quality artificial plants to “mask” the back of the tank as well as a few strategically-placed pieces of cork bark under which the toads can conceal themselves.
This basic set-up for fire bellied toads works well, provides a pseudo-natural environment for them that looks great and allows them to behave naturally, as well as requiring minimal cleaning from you. Indeed apart from topping-up of the food bowl the only regular work is a partial water change of around 25% each week.
Under these conditions a full clean-out is only necessary every few months and the toads will virtually take care of themselves.