For many years now the Oriental Fire-bellied Toad has been a favorite with starter hobbyists and advanced herpetologists alike and when you witness their striking coloration of bright grass green with irregular black markings and fiery red bellies coupled with their seemingly playful attitude it is clear to see just why that is.
The Oriental Fire-bellied Toad originates from Korea into north-eastern China north of Jiangsu and the Primorye and Khabarovskii regions of south-eastern Russia where they inhabit a vast array of water bodies ranging from paddy fields to man made pools. Their general appearance varies little across most of their range but in Russia the bright green dorsum is replaced by a deep golden brown, there is call from some hobbyists and scientists to promote this ‘Golden’ form to a separate subspecies status but for now it remains as just a color variant. Once collected in vast numbers for the pet trade today it is estimated that 50-75% of the toads available in the hobby are the result of captive breeding by hobbyists and commercial farms.
These small (up to 6.5cm) toads are highly communal and as such are best housed in groups, a 24x12x15″ aqua-terrarium could happily house a small group of 4-6 adults. The toads are largely aquatic and their setup should replicate this fact. There are several ways to construct an aqua-terrarium the most common being a pea gravel substrate sloped at one end and topped with moss to form a land area or a glass divider glued into the tank to provide a dry land area separate from the water, both of these methods work perfectly well but my favorite method for these toads is to fill the base of an aquarium with water and float several large flat pieces of cork bark to form landing platforms for the toads to haul out if they so wish. The water level in our enclosures is maintained at 1-1.5″ deep at this the toads are able to rest in the water with their feet on the bottom of the terrarium and their eyes and nostrils out of the water, at this depth we have found the toads will spend longer in the water and breeding results are improved. The temperature should be kept between 15-25° C for normal maintenance. The water will need filtering and partial water changes should be carried out on a regular basis, it is often said that the toads own toxins can build up in the water and kill the toads in relatively short periods of time however these claims are in my view over exaggerated and it is much more likely that the build up of waste matter in the water would kill the toads long before their own toxins. The toads thrive best under bright lighting – the brighter the better and so fluorescent tubes should be used to provide additional light. One major key to keeping these toads in the best possible condition is to provide as varied a diet as possible – the usual insect fare of crickets, earthworms, wax moth larvae and mealworms are all greedily consumed as are Phoenix Worms, bloodworm, tubifex worms and field sweepings, with exception of the Phoenix Worms the feeder insects should be lightly dusted once weekly with a good supplement.
Sexing of the Oriental Fire-bellied Toad is quite easy once you know what to look for, the most obvious sign of a male would be calling and amplexing however when picking toads out from a group it is not always possible to observe them for a long enough period to see males display these actions, females are normally much more rotund than males but again when trying to pick out toads from a group of animals this can be difficult to go on especially if the toads are newly imported and in need of a good feed and so other things must be looked at. Sexually mature males have nuptial pads present on the forelimbs, these are visible permanently but can be difficult to make out if the male is out of condition and you don’t know what you are looking for. The skin texture can be looked at as a sign of sexuality, males dorsal skin is normally more spinney than females who are generally fairly smooth to the touch, well grown males generally also have thicker forelimbs than females. The last and less accurate sign to look at is the webbing on the hind feet, if you grasp the toad firmly in one hand and spread it’s toes out with the other hand you will see that the webbing on females usually finishes part way up the toes whereas on males it reaches right up to the colored tips of the toes. None of these signs other than calling, amplexing and nuptial pads can guarantee the sex of a toad but when combined they should help to give you a good chance of finding a pair.
These toads can reach sexual maturity within a year but it is advisable to wait till the second year before allowing them to breed. Under optimum conditions the Oriental Fire-bellied Toad will breed at any time of the year without any special stimuli. Males show their willingness to breed by calling and amplexing any other toad that swims by, amplexus in this species is lumbar (pelvic) with the male grasping just in front of the back legs. If another male or an unreceptive female is grasped a short release call will be made, if not released they will stretch their hind legs out behind them and attempt to squirm their way out of the males grip continuing to emit the release call until free. If a receptive female is amplexed spawning will shortly follow. If toads seem reluctant to breed, sudden changes to the depth and temperature of the water or introduction to a rain chamber may encourage them to spawn. Likewise a winter cooling period at around 16C can encourage the production and subsequent release of eggs in stubborn females. Spawning may take place several times throughout the year, on average we receive 3-5 clutches of spawn from each female with clutch sizes ranging from 150-250 eggs, the older the female the more eggs are produced. The eggs have a 2mm grey and white pole surrounded by a 4.5mm outer jelly capsule, these eggs are laid singularly or in small clumps spread around the water area of the terrarium deposited on submerged vegetation, the edges of the floating cork islands and scattered across the substrate. Eggs should be removed from the terrarium and transferred to standard rearing aquariums a 24″x12″x12″ aquarium with under gravel filter and dense vegetation can house approximately 150 tadpoles through to metamorphosis. At a water temperature of 24-25° C the eggs will hatch in approximately 5-6 days. A first the tadpoles will cling to the sides of the aquarium, plants and any other aquarium furnishings. A day or two later the tadpoles take shape and begin to swim freely around the aquarium at this point feeding should commence, a good quality flaked fish food finely crumbled will provide a good base diet, it is important that this is supplemented with algae either allowed to grow naturally in the aquarium or provided in the form of algae wafers, algae is a good source of calcium helping with limb development and also as a colour enhancer promoting the red ventral coloration to develop. As the tadpoles grow other foods can be offered to provide variety blocks of freeze-dried tubifex worms and chopped earthworm have proved to be a favourite. Around 15-20 days after hatching the rear legs will start to become visible, the front legs following approximately 4 days later. Once the front legs have formed fully and dropped they should be provided with a floating cork island to emerge onto or moved to a simple morphing container. The morphing containers we use are small-medium plastic tanks tilted to contain a few cm of water at one end and a dry area at the other, once the toadlets are ready to emerge from the water they can simply climb up the slight incline to dry land. As soon as they emerge from the water they should be caught and transferred to a small terrarium for further rearing. Over the next couple of days their tails will rapidly disappear and the 7mm toadlets will begin to feed on a variety of suitably sized livefoods including fruit flies, springtails and chopped live bloodworm and tubifex worms – these later two should be provided in a shallow dish of water from which the frogs will catch the worms. The toadlets will need feeding daily and the insects should be lightly dusted with a good supplement at every feed. It is best to house these young frogs in a few mm of water with flat stones and pieces of slate for them to rest on. It is advisable to split the young frogs into small groups housed in relatively small enclosures to keep them close to their food and ensure each gets an adequate share.
The Oriental Fire-bellied Toad is a very hardy captive and if cared for properly will have a long lifespan. Their active nature and brilliant coloration will keep anybody captivated for hours on end, combine this with their ease of care and readiness to breed and it is easy to see why these have always been and always will be one of the most popular species in our hobby, ideal for everyone from the novice keeper starting out in the world of amphibians to the experienced breeder.