Captive Care

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The European fire-bellied toad is of the family Discoglossidae, a family which contains five genera and about 13 species. This family is characterised by the lack of a protruding tongue, requiring food to be caught in the mouth and encouraged further into the mouth through use of the forelimbs. Of these genera some of the best known and most popular captives are of the genus bombina, which in itself contains six species which can be found from the relatively cold climes of Eastern Europe (even as far north as Denmark) right across the world’s largest land mass into Asia as far as the Chinese gulf.

Of this genera three species of toad are suitable for the less experienced budding herpetologist. These include Bombina variegata the yellow bellied toad of western Europe, Bombina orientalis the oriental fire bellied toad, found (unsurprisingly) in the far east and Bombina bombina the European fire bellied toad, with whom this booklet is concerned. Morphology The fire-bellied toads are arguably amongst the most attractive of all toads, good examples show a mottled and warty green and black body though this may vary to grey, grey/brown and even black. The underside of the toad presents the origins of its name, and true Bombina bombina should display an intense red to scarlet belly which is scattered with black irregularities.

These toads are rather diminutive and even the largest rarely grow any bigger than around two inches. Highly aquatic in nature these toads have strong webbing in between their digits allowing them to move quickly across areas of water, and may often be found floating of the surface of areas of still water, such as ponds marshes or ditches, with their bodies flattened either resting or waiting for passing insects.

Longevity The record of longevity for B.bombina is twenty years, however under proper conditions these toads should survive at least fifteen years in captivity. In the wild those toads that manage to avoid predation and other fatalities have been known to live around twelve years. Management Enclosure This species is best housed in a spacious aqua-terrarium, in groups of a dozen or more individuals therefore the material of choice is often glass, this has the advantage over other options (such as Perspex) that it remains at optimum clarity and is therefore ideal for such aesthetically based vivaria.

One disadvantage of glass is the weight and cost, especially when considering larger designs. The easiest way of acquiring an enclosure is to purchase one from a suitable retailer rather than attempting to build your own, though a rough guide on building an enclosure are mentioned here. Regardless as to which method is chosen one should certainly understand the requirements of they’re captive before purchasing or attempting to build an enclosure.

There is a common misconception that glass is a material, which is difficult to work with. This is not so, and most glass industries will either sell you glass cut to length, will cut glass for you or can advise you on techniques for which you can master yourself. It is not advised however that vivarium construction using such techniques are suitable for vivaria that are to hold any significant amount of standing water, and naturally this includes large Bombina enclosures. Bonding of glass sheets should be done with the use of silicone sealant. However such sealant is best bought from an aquatics retailer, and not from D.I.Y. stores, and certainly not glass building sealant, which may contain many harmful substances to your captives.

It is imperative to ensure adequate access for adjustments, feeding and provisions of light, humidity and other environmental factors. This can be suggested as top access. Although not often recommended due to its nature of startling the enclosures captives, side access in all but the most elaborate aqua-terrariums is rarely a possibility. An additional advantage of providing top access is the lack of obstruction which is often a problem with access through the side, especially the front which is a hefty flaw in any display orientated design due to its destruction of the aesthetics.

However even with top access, a sliding glass double door should be implemented across at least one section of the top entrance. This will not prove an infallible method of retaining the enclosures captives, due to the nature of accessing small vivaria, but will also dramatically reduce the numbers of escapees once used properly. Additionally a segmented area of covering, unaffected by this system can be used to include the ventilation system.

A suggestion may be double layered fly screen, or for a rather more permanent solution, mesh, designed for motor vehicle body work repair can be placed cross hatched across the three layers of covering. Additional aeration may be provided by adding a fan; small fans are usually all that is required in the vast majority of enclosures. Indeed it is often a better option to employ many smaller fans, spread across the screening, than one large one as draughts must be avoided, (these can kill). A good idea would be to implement computer processing fans, as these can be linked up to other electrical systems, install discretely and are easily obtainable. Naturally care must be taken to ensure the vivarias inhabitants cannot come into contact with the fans components or electrics.

The covering lid can be constructed of many materials, and often wood, and metal are the most common choices. Whichever the choice (which may often be decided by influence of already present d�cor) provisions should be made for any fittings, which may need to be attached. One obvious reference is mainly to any fittings emitting heat or moisture, which may warp or degrade construction materials, especially wood if it remains untreated.

Upon the top cover, (as for the initial security partition beneath), provisions must be made for ventilation. Ventilation within toad enclosures is often a factor easily overlooked. Firstly the materials must be found which provide adequate air exchange, without perforations too significant, not just to retain the captives, but more so any prey items that may be offered Finally a practical resolution can be finished to the lid by the addition of hinges to the top cover for quicker more functional access, providing minimal disturbance to the vivarias inhabitants.

Once the enclosure has been bought/constructed its location and orientation can be decided. Firstly a location must be decided upon that is not apt to much disturbance. Settings such as hallways are entirely unsuitable, as are kitchens due to the toxic chemicals emitted by gas stoves, which kill fire bellies (and many other amphibians). Quieter locations, such as a spare room, bedroom or possibly the lounge (depending on you social activity) are more suitable.

The vivarium then has to be orientated within this room, this is not as easy as one might initially assume. The most important factor is to avoid direct sunlight, when natural light through a window or door gathers within glass vivaria the result is similar to that of a greenhouse, and may literally cook everything inside your enclosure. Indirect sunlight is a better option, facing the vivarium east, towards the setting sun is acceptable, but as lighting is available on a completely artificial basis it could be advised that northerly-faced orientations are a safer option.

Once the desired room and orientation have been selected, there are a few other considerations to be taken into account before the final destination of your vivaria can be decided. The positioning of the vivaria will depend greatly on the structure or surface upon which the enclosure can rest. If your enclosure includes its own base, such as a cabinet design or similar than this is not an issue. However if like the majority of enclosures for fire bellied toads, you have opted for an enclosure requiring support, then a strong firm, even surface is required.

This prevents any stress points developing on any point of the tank, and therefore reduces the likelihood of breakages (which with this system will require a complete abolishment and the entire project will have to be recommenced). If a suitable structure is not found for the vivarium then re-enforcement can be made to the present arrangement. Otherwise a stand may be purchased if you have bought a retail tank, however should you have built a customised vivarium then you may well have to build the entire supporting structure yourself.

Access to electrics should also be considered when positioning your enclosure. If your ideal site is not within reach of an electric point than work will have to be done to re-route electrics towards it. All electrical leads should be connected to a power supply situated above the vivarium, ensuring no moisture runs down the cabling and into the mains. The same applies for the water supply. The majority of the aqua-terrarium should be filled with water, as the toads spend most of the time floating here waiting for passing feedstuffs. A minimum of 6 inches (18cms) of water is ideal, allowing them to dive under the surface when they feel threatened. This depth also permits the laying of eggs (as discussed later in the breeding section).

Above the land based section a basking spot should be provided via use of a hot bulb (around 25-40 watts), however, care must be taken to ensure the toads cannot harm themselves by making contact with the implement, and this is best achieved through putting the bulb the other side of a barrier, or by fitting a guard. Alternatively the bulb can be placed around ten inches (30 cms) above the basking area where it will be out of reach of even the most adventurous and persistent toads.

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