More on Fire-bellied Toads

stephenpope2000uk(Brighton, UK)April 9, 2005

Some extra thoughts that eluded me when replying to Sahoyaref's posting about planning her new set-up.

Fire-bellies usually come in two commonly available species - the well known 'Oriental' version with the brighter coloured topsides, and a drabber 'European' type - still with a firey underside. Females are drabber, but similarly sized to the males, in both species. They co-exist happily and easily interbreed. Care is identical. I wonder how many specimens in the trade are in fact hybrids...? Also, but far less common, there are Yellow-bellied toads in circulation, plus yet one further variant that I've never encountered at all. So, in theory, FOUR possible species, plus hybrids...

Fire-bellies need no extra heating under normal room-temperature conditions, but will still thrive in a warmer paludarium set-up, if that is what you require for your plants. Heating the water with a tiny wattage (25 to 50watts) aquarium heater-stat - to 23C, say - would conveniently achieve the temperature lift you'd be looking for, and the heat build-up towards the top of the paludarium would, in effect, give you another climatic zone to play with up there. Or you could leave well alone and just let the internal lights provide any ambient lift, plus a 'natural' cool down when the timer cuts off at night. As long as you don't chill them or cook them, there is a wide temperature latitude.

And talking of lights: do FB's need a special reptile-spectrum D3 light to help them synthsize skeleton-forming minerals? Most literature says they DO, others ignore the subject. My experience - with and without a special D3 tube - shows no difference either way, although I've always provided a Vitamin D supplement to the crickets in any case. For the record, plants grow nicely under D3 tubes - and the human eye can't detect any spectrum difference from any other cool white tube - so you can include one if you wish. How you tell at the plannning stage whether the frogs will ever choose to bask under that very spot once the paludarium is completed is another matter...!

Fire-bellies aren't really climbers like tree frogs, nor frequent swimmers in open water, nor do they eat while in water - but they will do all these things if they have to. It's just not their prefered lifestyle - so plan accordingly. The more varied and creatively designed the water and land environments, the more rewradingly the FB's behave. They love to pose and position themselves in relation to the other frogs, and it's really this endless social interaction that makes them such endearing reidents in your set-up. Plenty of little posing areas, both in and around the water...that's where cleverly positioned bogwood pieces really make a difference.

A friend of mine made a fantastic FB pauldarium, at phenomenal expense and on a zoo-standard scale. The water area was so large and deep that he was able to include sizeable tropcal fish, and the land area so topographically ambitious that it boasted fibreglass waterfalls of jacuzzi-like violence. When I first saw it I told him it was probably unsuitable for its intended occupants - the water was too deep and dangerous for the FB's, the waterfall too violent for the FB's to risk sitting in, and the terrain to steep for gentle pottering about and posing. But they loved it, and skillfully manouevred along the rapids without mishap! But I NEVER saw them venture into the fish pool area - it would seem they only like shallow, cluttered, boggy pools. Not deep open water.

The two challenges that really do need addressing, however, are maintenance and crickets. Designing in a convenient way of doing water changes is so important: occasional access to the filter pump and heater, but most of all a simple way to siphon out most of the water and replace it. You'll curse that you didn't prioritise this aspect right from the design stage if it later turns out to be difficult. Fortunately, I've found that a densely planted set-up needs relatively infrequent water changes - once established it will look after itself for a long time. Once a month would be sufficient, and I'd guess that even quarterly would be possible if everything is as it should be. Four or five FB's in a big pauldarium, with lots of immerse plants and beneficial biological activity to recycle the water...that's what you'd be aiming for. It's not like the chore of weekly water changes with fragile tropical fish. And the bigger the water volume, and the more surface area of land, plants, substrate and false-bottom that it trickles over, the better the recycling effect will be.

So, water changing is not necessrily the headache you might be imagining - as long as you have desiged well, have acccess, and have stocked realstically. But the they ARE a bloody pain! The FB's will stay put, but the crickets will probably escape unless you've sealed all the gaps. Even then they'll often be escapees as you drop in regular food deliveries - they'll leap out before you can slide the door shut. And where are the crickets themselves going to be living, for the month between buying them and using them all up as frog food?

It would be easy to fill an entire essay-posting simply on cricket issues alone! Although four sizes of crickets are easily available (regular monthly mail order is convenient) the only sizes relevant to FB's are 'pinheads' and 'small' - all the rest will usually be ignored as being too big. And during the month that you're housing and feeding-up your regualar consignment of tiny crickets, a proportion of them will grow too big - inevitably you end up with a surplus of large fat crickets that are no use. Your pet store will probably trade these for a new batch of tiny crickets, as they always have a need for valuable bigger food sources, but obviously this won't work with a mail order arrangement. Just something to bear in mind: what are you going to do with the monthly giant cricket surplus?!

In fact, it turns out that the crickets are much more work than the frogs. Cleaning them out at least weekly is advisable, otherwise they start to smell a bit. I keep my crickets in the largest size of lightweight plastic critter tank, with snap-on lid. I line the floor with kitchen towl and provide a pot of wet cotton wool for drinking, plus a bowl of proprietary cricket food - in effect, you're really feeding the frogs with this nutruent-rich stuff and the crickets are just the means of getting it inside them. But the crickets grow fast and fat on it, and have (I hope) happy short lives nonetheless. I catch a few crickets inside a big plastic beaker that's got a pinch of D3 dusting powder inside, shake them around a bit, and drop them into the pauldarium. That's it - a complete frog diet. You can handfeed (they'll escape uneaten otherwise) the occasional worm, with specially smooth reptile tweezers, if you like - just as a treat or supplement. But the crickets will suffice if you prefer.

Not spoiling your life with the crickets - that's the part that I've never entirely succeeded with. We should talk again about all this and see how it's progressing.

Steve - Brighton, Sussex Coast, UK

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sahoyaref(Alberta z3a)

Thank you SO much for posting, Steve! I had been wondering if I needed one of those special lights, and was also somewhat concerned about the crickets. I find them gross more than anything else, and was hoping I could find a way of not touching them. Guess I could wear gloves. . . or get really good with chopsticks. =) I was planning on keeping them in a small tank underneath the main tank, hidden in the stand. I still think I'll do this, making sure I have a tight-fitting lid. How high/far can crickets jump? The last thing I want is escapees. . . ugh! My son might even try to eat them if he finds them hopping around on the floor! Grosser and grosser! =P Worms I actually like, so I can't bear the thought of chopping them up while still alive and handfeeding the wiggling pieces to the frogs. Poor worms! =( I'll proabably just go to the pet store twice a month to get some crickets, and hopefully that way avoid the surplus crickets issue. I know about gutloading them and feeding them carrots to help the fire-bellys maintain that nice red belly, and dusting them. I'm sure the PetSmart near me carries all those supplies (except the carrots of course). =) I do have a question though: how often do FBTs need to be fed, and how many crickets at each feeding? I've read on the Internet anywhere from 5 crickets per frog per day to 5 crickets a week. Which is right? I plan on having three frogs to start with, hopefully two females and one male (though I know it's really hard to tell which is which). Oh, and I want the orientalis, not european ones. Oh yeah, also, how does one clean a cricket cage? I mean, where do you put the crickets while you clean the cage, and what cleaners are safe to use? Just regular dish soap, and rinse very well? Plus change the towel and clean the water dish and all that?

I defininitely also have experience with the pain-in-the-butt water changes! I'm really working on making this as hassle-free as possible. So far, my general idea is to have a false bottom in the main tank. This will catch all the frog poop and stuff, and it will be used by the plants in the tank via wet-walls/rain walls. The two back corner walls will be set up like this. I will probably also water the fake tree trunk in this way, since it will also house a number of epiphytes. To add fresh water, there will be a misting system, on it's own separate system of clean RO water. (Which brings me to another question: RO water or dechlorinated tap water? Some sites argue that a total lack of minerals in RO water is bad for the frogs, while others say that tap water is terrible, and should never be used at all. My local tap water is quite hard and full of bad stuff, so I would probably use a mix of dechlorinated tap water and RO water, if pure RO water is bad). In order to avoid raising the water level by the extra water added by the misting system, (which will probably come on for a minute or two every two-three days), there will be a stand-pipe in the tank, slightly higher than the desired water level. Any overflow will go into this pipe, which will drain into a sump tank underneath the main tank, hidden in the stand. There will be additional filtration in the sump (charcoal, bioballs, a sponge, whatever), and it will have the capacity to hold the extra water that will come in when the misting system is on. All I'll have to do is periodically remove the excess water in the sump, which is no problem, because I already do that anyways with my current terr, and I use the water to water my orchids every week. Only in my current set-up, it's a real pain, because I need to lift the hood, move the lights, remove the glass top, and hold a bowl under the waterfall to collect the extra water. I hate doing it! So yes, lots of thought into making maintenance as easy as possible.

Thanks for any input!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2005 at 12:13PM
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angelo_s(z6 NY)

are FBT nocternal becauce all of mine are in the cave all day and they only come out at night. also is this bad because they dont get any uv rays in the cave

    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 8:05PM
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sahoyaref(Alberta z3a)

No, FBTs are not nocturnal, they are diurnal (can be active in both day and night, but usually sleep at night). Just some guesses, but they might be staying in the cave because it has the highest humidity, or they find your lights too bright. Don't worry about the UV rays though. FBTs don't actually need a UV light. Just use a good vitamin and mineral dusting powder on their food. I assume you are using a screen top, because a glass top would block all the UV rays. A screen top, however, will NOT allow you to keep the humidity high enough. So I'd replace the screen with glass or acrylic, especially since you don't even need the UV.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 7:30PM
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angelo_s(z6 NY)

I use a screen top the humidity is about 85% even though I have a screen top it is almost compleatly covered by the light hoods

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 8:37PM
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sahoyaref(Alberta z3a)

Well 85% humidity is definitely high enough, so I have no idea why your FBTs are behaving in this way! Try emailing Steve.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 2:27PM
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joshua1229(Atlanta, GA USA)

I am planning on raising insects inside the vivarium with frogs and reptiles. Is this easy? How would you go about 'dusting' the insects?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2005 at 3:04PM
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Sorry josh, but raising the crickets in the same vivarium as the herps is not possible. It simply defies all logic.

If you really want to raise your own insects, you'll need to do it in a seperate container with specific conditions.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2005 at 2:41AM
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Sahoy: Be sure never to get in the position I am in - ordering 1000 crickets every other week!!

I have special 12" tweezers made for picking up crickets. They don't hurt the crickets at all (unless you squeeze too hard!). I only use them to handfeed certain animals, but you could definatly use them to avoid touching the crickets.

If I were you, I would go to petsmart once weekly and buy a few dozen crickets. You could keep them in a plastic critter cage and use the tweezers to transfer some to the the frogs' cage daily. When you run out of crickers, you could take a day to clean the cage with hot water and then re-stock your supply.

I honestly don't know why everyone makes such a big deal about the crickets. Yeah, they're gross, but it's not rocket science. In my experience, you just need to keep the crickets alive in their cage with plenty of food and water, and then clean and re-stock the cage when you run out. It's that simple.

BTW, my firebelly eats up 3/4th inch crickets, has no UV light, and is has been going on strong for 5 years now.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2005 at 3:04AM
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joshua1229(Atlanta, GA USA)

I don't understand- why is it not possible to raise insects in with Herps? will they eat everything? i figured they would eat thier fill, and the rest of the insects would breed.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2005 at 4:51PM
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deadhamster(Z5 MI)

Crickets can be destructive. They will almost certainly kill your plants, and sometimes will even eat your animals.


    Bookmark   August 12, 2005 at 8:56AM
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Let me re-phrase: Raising some types of insects inside the vivarium (like springtails) is possible. But, it isn't possible to raise crickets inside the vivarium. And, if you want to keep anything besides dartfrogs and some very small other types of herps, you'll probably end up having to use crickets.

There are a million + things that could go wrong if you tried to raise a sustainable source of crickets inside the vivarium. Trust me, it just won't work.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 7:24PM
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i picked out a green fire belly toad at the pet store. when i got him home he turned brown. some of the other frogs in the tank at the pet store were brown too, but like i said, i picked out a green one. i called the pet store and the guy told me in order to keep them looking green i needed a special terrarium light. i purchased the repti glo 2.0 that is a full spectrum daylight lamp with uva and uvb. i haven't had the light on for very long, but has anyone heard of the frogs needing this special light to stay their beautiful bright green color?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2007 at 4:45PM
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Please post how the full spectrum light works out. We got a couple of frogs yesterday and the pet store staff said that FBT color is temperature related. The store reportedly got some green frogs in and within 24 hrs they had turned brown due to the low temperature. We have a tank at ~74 F and they are still brown.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2007 at 4:19PM
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mabe you should try stronger lights and put some green plants in your tank,some frogs turn lighter in colour if they are happy/well fed, how much do you feed your frog?

    Bookmark   September 14, 2007 at 6:05AM
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some fire bellies change color because of limestone (which is bad because it will make them turn brown) or their lighting or just an occasional color darkening. Some may appear a light brown similar to a wood color. Also since amphibians dont fight (except in breeding season over a female) you could have males together without females.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2009 at 5:03PM
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