Doesn’t the name ‘fire-bellied toad’ conjure some nice images in your head? The name makes me think of toads that can spit fire at things, which unfortunately isn’t true of the Oriental fire-bellied toad, or of any fire-bellied toad. Still, fire-bellied toads are neat animals, worthy of a blog post, even if they can’t spit fire.

At least one part of the Oriental fire-bellied toad’s name is true – they are found in east Asia. They range from northeast China to Korea, Thailand and southern Japan, as well as in southeastern parts of Russia. Fire-bellied toads can live in a number of different habitats, such as coniferous or deciduous forests, river valleys, swamps, or open meadows. One important part of their habitat is that these toads (who are not true toads, but I’m going to refer to them as toads because it’s easier) need to be close to water. Any water source will do, from lakes to swamps to puddles.

A nice picture showing off the fire-bellied toad’s bright colouring. Image by Yan.h (assumed)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As far as toads go, the Oriental fire-bellied toad is quite pretty. Their backs are usually bright green with black spots, though they can be brown or black coloured. Their bellies are usually bright yellow or red-orange (which is where the fire-bellied comes from, so I guess that makes sense). These are fairly small amphibians, growing only to about 4 cm. Females are typically larger than males. The toads are covered in pronounced tubercles or ‘warts’ that often feel like little needles.

Reproduction in Oriental fire-bellied toads occurs from May to August, and is a confusing time for all toads in involved. Male toads call loudly while swimming, hoping a female will come by. Unfortunately, many males also stop by each breeding site, so there are often many more males than females. The males will hop on the back of any toad they see, which leads to a lot of male-male attempts at copulation. Once a male actually finds a female, he hangs onto her while she swims around, laying eggs as she goes.

The bright colouration on the fire-toad’s belly is a warning to potential predators that it is toxic. When frightened, the toad secretes a milky toxin from its hind legs and belly. To make sure any predators know that the toad is toxic, the toad will flip itself upside-down and arch its back, showing off the brightly coloured belly.

Fire-bellied toads are quite popular as pets due to their bright colouring and relatively low maintenance care. They can live a very long time, up to 30 years in captivity. If you do have a fire-bellied toad as a pet, you probably know that frequent handling of the toad can be dangerous, as ingestion of the toxin the toad secretes can lead to a fair bit of discomfort. One might say it leads to quite the fire in your belly…

Cover image by Vassil, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons