As pets for kids go, small starter pets are a great way to instill responsibility in children. Not only does it teach them responsibility, but it can give them a sense of confidence and pride that can go a long way towards the “I’m a big kid now” mindset. If your child has been badgering you for a pet but you don’t feel they’re ready yet for a dog or a cat, there are a variety of small pets that make wonderful substitutes for larger animals, which will require more care and time. One of those is an Oriental fire-bellied toad. Sounds exotic, right? They’re actually one of the most common amphibians chosen as house pets among frogs and toads.
Also known as Bombina orientalis, fire-bellied toads are semi-aquatic amphibians found in Korea, China and adjacent parts of Russia. These brightly colored little creatures usually attain about two inches in size and can live for 15 years or longer, but in captivity they’ve been known to reach 30-plus-years of age. Although they’re found in different colors, they commonly get their name from their fiery orange underbellies. Whatever the color, they’re covered in black spots that can create a bordering affect. They also have large eyes with what’s been described as heart-shaped pupils. They’re actually pretty cute.
Diet of Fire-Bellied Toads
As far as food, these little critters enjoy a diet of live moths, crickets, earthworms and other small creepy crawlies, but not meal worms due to their hard shells. They need to be fed 2–6 food items 2–3 times a week and dusting it with calcium or reptile vitamin powder can keep them healthier. Remove any uneaten insects the following day. It’s been reported that providing a source of beta-carotene, like carrots, to the prey they consume (crickets) early in the frog’s life allows them to develop brighter coloration. Technically, because they have what are called tubercles on their skin, they are not true members of the toad family.
Fire-Bellied Toad Habitat
Because they are often found in a few inches of warm, stagnant water, you’ll want to provide them with a swimming hole of their own. For this reason aquariums or terrariums with a ventilated lid make excellent living quarters. Make sure they have an adequate amount of dry land to hangout on, too, because believe it or not they’re not considered strong swimmers and have occasionally been known to drown. Besides, you’ll need a place to deposit their food. They also like to hide, so you might want to give them one of those little rock caves you sometimes see in rodent cages.
Cleaning their Environment
Due to the fact fire-bellied toads are sensitive to soaps, detergents and chemicals such as chlorine or chloramine, you need to be aware of this when cleaning their cage. Only use hot water for cleaning and rinsing. Speaking of water, if you use tap water for their swimming area it will need to stand for several days first to allow the chlorine to dissipate before being added to their environment. Tap water treated with chloramine, if yours is, needs to be treated with a de-chloramine agent and allowed to stand before being added as well. Pet stores can point you in the right direction. Otherwise, bottled spring water is just fine.
Fire-Bellied Toads Odds & Ends
Fire-bellied toads thrive best in warm, humid environments. If you keep it frosty chilly in your home, you may want to provide your pet with a small incandescent bulb for heat. As far as humidity, a plant mister or ordinary spray bottle can be employed once or twice a day — more often, perhaps, if you’re running the AC nonstop. Some people use coconut husk bedding for retaining moisture in the habitat. Because these creatures are active and jump a lot, keep a tight lid on their living space and always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling them. The oils from your skin might not agree with them and they have mild toxins on theirs.
Customized Semi-Aquatic Habitats
There are several ways to pimp your tank if you really want to go out and create a visually pleasing setting that both your family and your frog will enjoy. You can include a fluorescent light for growing plants, however it's recommended providing a photoperiod of only 10-12 hours daily. If you don’t want to just stick a shallow bowl of water in their cage, you can create a shoreline effect with a gradual slope built up using medium- to large-grade gravel and fill the shallow end with 2–3 inches of water. Place a rock in the water for them to sit on. Just make sure and cover the gravel on their landmass with soil, moss or river rock so they don’t swallow it when eating.
Of course, the fancier you go the more work there will be involved in upkeep, cleaning and care — which you will inevitably be doing if your child is especially young. Just something to think about if you start getting carried away with decorating ideas. Remember, this is your child’s project, so you may want to keep it simple initially.