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Fire-Bellied Toads and Barbourulas: Bombinatoridae - Fire-bellied Toad (bombina Bombina): Species Accounts

Animal Life ResourceAmphibiansFire-Bellied Toads and Barbourulas: Bombinatoridae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Fire-bellied Toads, Barbourulas, And People - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT


Physical characteristics: When seen from above, fire-bellied toads (also known as European fire-bellied toads) are usually dark gray or black with large black markings. When they live in places with green, leafy areas, they typically have dazzling lime-colored backs that are decorated with black spots. In both cases, their bellies are the same colors: red or orange with big black areas and small white dots. Sometimes, individuals have much more black on their bellies than red or orange. The fire-bellied toads have a rounded snout and eyes with a triangular pupil, but they do not have a flat, circular eardrum showing on each side of the head, as many other frogs do. The warts on their backs are rather tall with rounded tips. Their front feet do not have webs, but the hind feet do. Fire-bellied toads usually grow to about 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) long from snout to rump but occasionally can reach Its bright belly colors have helped to make the fire-bellied toad very popular in the pet trade. (Photograph by Harald Schüetz. Reproduced by permission.) 2 inches (5 centimeters) long. Males and females look similar, except that the male has a slightly bigger head. In addition, the males develop pads on two of the toes on each front foot and on the inside of the forelegs throughout the breeding season. A male uses these pads to help him cling to the female during mating.

Geographic range: Fire-bellied toads live in central and eastern Europe, including Denmark, Austria, Germany, Poland, Greece, Turkey, and other nations. Sweden and the United Kingdom are home to some fire-bellied toads, but the toads did not get to these countries on their own. Rather, people probably brought them into the countries and released them. When a frog comes to a new place in this manner, it is said to be introduced. Sometimes, people introduce new species on purpose, perhaps thinking that they would be good additions to the area. Other times, people set free their old pets. In many cases, these pets die, but sometimes they do quite well and begin breeding. Overall, however, conservationists warn people not to introduce new species, because they may hurt the other species that are already there, perhaps by eating their food or by bringing in new and dangerous diseases.

Habitat: Fire-bellied toads live in just about any watering hole they can find. Some populations, especially those in northern areas, prefer clean waters, but those in more southern areas can survive in somewhat polluted waters. These may include lakes and ponds, rivers and streams with slow currents, marshes, and small pools of water, sometimes located in forests and sometimes in more open habitats. The toads do not live high up in the mountains, as some other members of this family do. They spend most of their time either in the water or on land near the water's edge. Summer weather can dry up the small pools of water where some of the toads live, but they are able to survive by crawling into the wet, muddy gaps that remain.

Diet: Adult fire-bellied toads are mainly insect-eaters, often gobbling up mosquitoes. They will also eat many other land insects, like beetles, ants, and flies, as well as water-living insects and other invertebrates. The tadpoles eat a few insects they find in the water, but they are mostly vegetarian and eat algae and plants.

Behavior and reproduction: These frogs are active during the daytime and spend the warm, sunlit hours swimming or hopping about on shore looking for things to eat. They are more sluggish when the temperature drops below about 60°F (15°C) and often remain hidden until the weather warms up again. On warm, humid nights, they will wander farther away from their watering holes to find food. In the water, they can usually escape predators by taking a quick, deep dive. On land, these frogs have back colors that blend into the environment. When a predator does see one and comes too close, this toad will arch its back, displaying the unken reflex, to show off its bright belly-side colors.

Once the weather begins to cool off in the fall, usually September or October, but sometimes as late as November, the fire-bellied toads begin their hibernation (high-bur-NAY-shun), which is a state of deep sleep. To survive the cold of winter, the toads bury themselves in the mud either on land or underwater on the bottom of their watering holes. Hibernation usually lasts from about October to April. In May, after they wake up and become active again, the males start calling. Although they may call during the day, they begin to call even more as the sun sets. They flatten out their bodies and call from their watery homes, sometimes with their heads above the water's surface and sometimes from underwater. To make the call, the male blows up a single vocal sac that looks like a bubble under his chin when it is inflated. When the male is not calling, the vocal sac shrinks back down and is not noticeable. The call is somewhat like a chicken's cluck. During mating, the male climbs onto the female's back and grips her in front of her hind legs. His front foot pads help him to hang on.

Each year, females can lay 80 to 300 eggs, which they lay in small groups. The eggs hatch into tadpoles about one to two weeks later, and the tadpoles turn into toadlets between July and September, but always before the next hibernation. Although they now have legs, the toadlets stay in the water for this first year. When they reach about 2 to 4 years old, they are adults and ready to become parents themselves. In the wild, fire-bellied toads can live to be about 12 years old, but in captivity they sometimes reach as much as 30 years old.

Sometimes, this species of toad will mate with yellow-bellied toads and have young. These young are called hybrids (HIGH-brihdz). Scientists have compared these hybrids to young that have parents of the same species and found that the hybrid eggs and tadpoles are ten times more likely to die before they reach three weeks old.

Fire-bellied toads and people: Its bright belly colors have helped to make this toad very popular in the pet trade.

Conservation status: This species is not considered to be at risk. ∎

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