Creating new habitat (and some unexpected results) for fantastic fire-bellied toads!

In the fall of 2014, the Zoo’s fire-bellied toads were getting a new home located in the Oak classroom in the Z.O.T Zone. The idea was to give them a more natural habitat through a BOCES distance learning program.


Photo by Ceci Menchetti

The class would research the needs of the fire-bellied toads (Bombina orientalis), sketch out a design for an exhibit, and then build the exhibit to the specs that the team came up with. The kids learned about the natural behaviors of the toads and made sure that parts of the design to encourage these behaviors were included in the exhibit. Soon after, the toads moved into their new home.

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Photo by John Adamski

The exhibit was a little over five times bigger than the previous one with new, improved habitat features. It incorporated a land area with moss, live plants, and plenty of hiding spots, including a coconut shell. There was a small waterfall which gently spilled flowing water back into a larger water area than they have ever had before.

There were plenty of vines tangled around the exhibit, too. The frogs were often hiding, but could be seen from time to time going from one side of the exhibit to the other. At feedings, they would always come out in the open.

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Photo by John Adamski

The new exhibit, with all of the great features, created some unexpected results: it made it harder for educators to locate the toads to take on education programs. The waterfall was sometimes getting taken apart to gain access to them. So in an effort to simplify, we decided to buy a one piece waterfall with the pump housed inside. In order for the pump to run, we had to raise the water level a couple of inches higher than normal. Once the waterfall was in place and working, it made it much easier for educators to access the toads.

The water level rise also had another unforeseen consequence. The toads started to breed! They were often seen in amplexus, a type of mating behavior exhibited by some externally fertilizing species. Soon after, they laid their first clutch of eggs on May 13, 2015.

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Photo by John Adamski

The tadpoles in the eggs quickly developed, and within a few days they were moving inside the eggs. A few days later they would all hatch and were about one centimeter in length. The tadpoles grew quickly!

I’ve read that fire-bellied toads take from one to five months to make the transformation into froglets. Ours have taken a little less than a month! The change in water level must have triggered the toads to start breeding. Who knew that such a subtle change in their life could make such a big difference!


John Adamski, Assistant Curator