Species of the week #116 – European fire-bellied toad

With their orange-red underside and heart-shaped pupils, the males of the fire-bellied toad are hard to miss all year round, but they are at their best during the mating season in spring. During courtship, they resemble bodybuilders: they grow particularly strong, dark “rutting calluses” on their lower legs and first two toes. They are also conspicuous acoustically: on their way to the spawning grounds they let out their melancholy-sounding “owl calls”. They march off with great determination and do not shy away from obstacles. They do not avoid roads either, so cars are often their undoing.

Distribution status in Rhineland-Palatinate extinct
Remaining occurance Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein
Last sighting unknown
Habitat Vegetated, sunny floodplains, ditches and temporary floodplains
Threat Destruction of small water bodies, motor traffic

The underside of the fire-bellied toad is dark grey to black in colour and bears a conspicuous orange-red spot pattern. At 4.5 to 5 centimetres in size, it is a smaller frog, mainly found in Central and Eastern Europe. The animals prefer to live in lowlands, while their relatives, the yellow-bellied toads, tend to live in hilly and mountainous areas. Besides mosquito larvae, they prey on beetles, bugs, ants, springtails, water isopods, arachnids, millipedes and snails.

In Germany, the fire-bellied toad is highly endangered, but at European level it is still classified as non-endangered, thanks to stable populations in Hungary and Romania.The destruction or impairment of small water bodies through drainage or the introduction of rubbish, fertilisers and environmental toxins endanger the fire-bellied toad.
Especially during their migrations, for example from their wintering grounds to spawning grounds, fire-bellied toads and other amphibians are often run over. Yet the distances that fire-bellied toads cover are not particularly long. They do not move far from their home waters throughout the year and usually hibernate no more than 100 m away in burrows or under accumulations of deadwood.
Many occurrences are remnant populations with less than 10-20 calling males per spawning water. Increasing fragmentation into individual occurrences can also be observed within individual distribution islands. Natural recolonisation of habitats can hardly take place. Due to the drastic population declines, special species protection measures have been developed in some federal states. Due to its very strong attachment to water bodies, the species is endangered by the loss of suitable spawning and feeding waters as a result of the progressive intensification of agricultural use.
Political necessity:
  • Conservation and renaturation of floodplains
  • Connect existing habitats
  • Protection of habitats from angling and agricultural inputs

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