Fire-Bellied Toad

Bombina bombina

The melodic  "ooh . . . ooh . . . ooh"  of the Fire-Bellied Toad may be heard on many ponds in the wetlands. After periods of high water, these animals may often be found on flooded fields and meadows.

Description
Its call is unmistakeable. A small species, only seldom does the Fire-Bellied Toad grow to 50 mm. Pupils are heart-shaped. On its back are many small warts with small rounded spikes, giving it a somewhat rough texture to the touch. On both sides of the neck is an arch-shaped glandular formation. Back is often dark with large dark spots; greenish individuals are also possible. The darker spots are punctuated by white dots. It is the belly, however, which makes the Fire-Bellied Toad unique: against a blotchy base of grey to black are red spots (giving rise to the common German name for Bombina bombina, "Rotbauch-Unke", or "Red-Bellied Toad). Sometimes these spots may be more orange or yellowish in colour; this should however not lead to a mix up with the Yellow-Bellied Toad (Bombina variegata). A good way to correctly identify the Fire-Bellied Toad is by its thumb, which has a black underside up to the finger pad. In contrast, the Yellow-Bellied Toad's finger is yellow on the bottom.

Distribution

Inhabits the lowlands of Eastern Europe. In Austria, northern and eastern Lower Austria as well as Burgenland. Common in the Danube wetlands east of Vienna.

Endangerment and Conservation Status
Like all amphibians, is endangered due to destruction of its habitat.

Behaviour
The male uses its call to mark its territory in a pond. Before it begins the call, the Fire-Bellied Toad first fills its lungs with air by moving its lower mouth. Inflated like a small balloon, it flattens its body on the water's surface and allows the air to move back and forth between lungs and vocal sac. Mouth and nostrils remain closed during the call. The small waves around the calling toad which are caused by this movement can be seen if observed closely. In lush weedy waters, where the waves are broken by vegetation, the territories are smaller; as a rule, 2-3 meters diameter is the norm for each male. It is astounding to see how quickly newly-formed waters or flooded fields are adopted as reproduction sites. Depending on the weather, mating season normally begins around the end of April and lasts until late summer. The male climbs on the female's back and grips her in front of her hind legs. Normally, certain phases with heightened reproductive activity can be identified throughout the year. The Fire-Bellied Toad lays its eggs in clumps with up to around 50 eggs. The eggs hatch into tadpoles within days, and these develop to metamorphosis within two to three months. Main sources of food include all types of insects and insect larvae; the mosquito makes up a considerable share of its diet – something humans should certainly appreciate!

Special Characteristics
Where Fire-Bellied and Yellow-Bellied Toads come together, successful mating between the species may take place producing hybrids which exhibit characteristics of both species. As well, the frequency of the call will then lie between those of the two parental species. The ranges of the two species overlap in the Vienna area. Often cited in conjunction with the Fire-Bellied Toad is the so-called "unken reflex", a defensive posture in which this mischievous animal presents its stunningly-coloured underbelly: with an arched back, it raises its head and lower body parts, and stretches out its limbs to the side. It remains in this strange and stiff posture for a few seconds before darting off quickly. It has also been documented that toads throw themselves on their backs in order to present their bellies to attackers, but this, like so many amphibian stories, is a legend. Red-black and yellow-black colour combinations are utilized as warning signals by many poisonous animals (wasps, Fire Salamanders etc.), and the normally inconspicuous toads are no exception: they have skin glands which secrete poison. This secretion is only harmful to humans if it gets into the eyes or other mucous membranes.