Herpetology - the study of amphibians and reptiles

Fire/Yellow-bellied Toads – Bombina bombina/variegata/orientalis


These amphibians belong to a family of quite primitive frogs & toads – the Discoglossidae (possessing a round tongue) and they are related to both Painted Frogs & Midwife Toads. The terms ‘frog’ and ‘toad’ being quite subjective in this family, those with warty skins being termed toads! There are three species that are likely to be kept in captivity: Fire-bellied Toads & Yellow-bellied Toads from Europe, and Oriental Fire-bellied Toads from Korea/Russia. All are attractive and easy to keep – and with a bit of effort easy to breed as well. Bear in mind that these toads are long-lived (10 years or more) and sociable so it is worth investing in a mixed sex group of one species.
The European species tend to be brown on the dorsum with black markings with the ventrum yellow or orange or red with black markings. Oriental Fire-bellies are more attractive, usually bright green with black markings on the dorsum though there is a ‘golden’ (exaggerated importer’s description) form from Russia with green replaced by brown. All species are warty and have triangular or heart-shaped pupils.
One problem is that the various species/sub-species will inter-breed and this should be avoided as resultant hybrids are of no interest to hobbyists. I strongly advise keeping only one species, and the rest of this article will concentrate on the ever popular Bombina orientalis. This is the largest of the three species but still no longer than 7cm body length.

  Oriental Fire-Bellied Toad (Bombina orientalis)  

Oriental Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina orientalis)



Oriental Fire-bellied Toads are highly sociable and should not be kept alone. They are semi-aquatic and will spend time both in and out of the water so need an aqua-terrarium, that is an aquarium with at least 1/3 given to land and water no deeper than 10cm. Alternatively a terrarium with a water section at the front will suffice. A terrarium 1m x 0.5 x 0.5 would accommodate 6 animals.
They appreciate live vegetation – both in the water (Canadian Pondweed, Indian Fern, etc), and on land (Scindapsus, Java Fern, Bromeliads, Orchids, etc).
Good lighting is essential but even with UV tubes the belly colour is apt to fade. For best colouration they should be kept in an outdoor reptilliary or greenhouse.
They are very tolerant of temperature but ideally 19-24o C with a cooler winter period. If kept outdoors they should successfully hibernate, but not for newly imported Korean animals.
Although they appear a little ungainly they can in fact climb quite well and will escape from any vivarium that is not securely covered.


They will breed fairly readily in captivity – particularly in outdoor/greenhouse conditions. Moreover, they breed repeatedly from early spring through summer. Adults are quite easy to sex, though at first glance the two sexes appear similar. If you have a pair the male will have sturdier forelegs, more extensive webbing between the hind toes, slightly spiny skin and a voice! The call is a high soft honk which can carry a surprising distance to attract a mate. Females do emit a rapid call when annoyed – usually by an over-amorous male!
Probably the only downside of keeping this species is that the males can create a lot of noise during the breeding season.
Females become very plump during the breeding season and mating always occurs in water. Amplexus is unusual in that the male grips the female around the top of the hind-legs (lumbar amplexus), as opposed to gripping behind the fore-legs (axillary amplexus) which occurs in all our native species. The pair remain paired and egg-laying takes place amongst water plants. The eggs are laid in small loose clumps and are cream/grey surrounded by jelly.
Tadpoles hatch within 2-4 days and at first hang from water plants. They will metamorphose in as little as 4 weeks, or up to 3 months in cooler temperatures. Although they can be left in the aqua-terrarium, this will lead to heavy losses so it is best to remove a number to rear in an aquarium at 20-22o C. They should be fed on top brand fish flakes but the water must be well filtered or changed regularly. Always use the same temperature water when doing a water change. A high density of tadpoles will impede proper growth and result in tiny weak toadlets, for optimum results I recommend rearing tadpoles in isolation in small vessels but with frequent water changes. This is very labour intensive but does guarantee sturdy youngsters! Remember to add powdered cuttlefish when the tadpoles are well-grown to ensure strong bones.


Toads can only detect moving prey, hence live food is essential. They will take most commercially available livefoods as well as smaller earthworms, smooth caterpillars, and insect sweepings. It is vital to dust commercial livefoods with a multi-vitamin powder regularly. Do not feed adults every day as they will become obese and lose vitality.
Juveniles are quite easy to rear on smaller insects and DO need feeding every day – they should grow rapidly.
N.B. Adults will occasionally cannibalise juveniles so rear them separately.

Obtaining your animals

The European species are protected but are available from breeders now and again. The Oriental Fire-bellied Toad is frequently imported, but again it is preferable to support the captive breeding of the species by obtaining from reputable hobbyists.