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"Fire-bellied" is derived from the brightly coloured red- or yellow-and-black patterns on the toads' ventral regions, which act as aposematic coloration, a warning to predators of the toads' reputedly foul taste. The other parts of the toads' skins are green or dark brown. When confronted with a potential predator, these toads commonly engage in an Unkenreflex, "Unken-" being the combining form of "Unke", German for fire-bellied toad. In the Unkenreflex, the toad arches its back, raising its front and back legs to display the aposematic coloration of its ventral side.
The currently recognized species are:
- B. bombina (Linnaeus, 1761) – European fire-bellied toad
- B. lichuanensis Ye and Fei, 1993 – Lichuan bell toad
- B. fortinuptialis Tian & Wu, 1978 – large-spined bell toad or Guangxi firebelly toad
- B. microdeladigitora Liu, Hu & Yang, 1960 – Hubei firebelly toad, considered a synonym of B. maxima
- B. maxima (Boulenger, 1905) – Yunnan firebelly toad
- B. orientalis (Boulenger, 1890) – Oriental fire-bellied toad
- B. pachypus (Bonaparte, 1838) – Apennine yellow-bellied toad
- B. variegata (Linnaeus, 1758) – yellow-bellied toad
The female of the species typically lays 80–300 eggs that can be found hanging off plant stems. The offspring develop in pools or puddles. Their metamorphosis is complete within a few weeks, peaking in July–August. The toadlets attain a length of 12–15 mm. The eggs, laid in August, metamorphose only after the winter, with the toadlets attaining a length of 3–5 cm. These toadlets still have white bellies.
Tadpoles eat mainly algae and higher plants. The young toads and the adult toads consume insects, such as flies and beetles, shrimp and larvae; but also annelid worms and terrestrial arthropods. Fire-bellied toads are sometimes active during the day, but are more so during the night. The mating call of the male sounds like a dog's bark, rather than the typical drawn out croaking groan.
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Several species in the genus Bombina, particularly B. orientalis, B bombina, and B. variegata, are commonly kept as exotic pets and are readily available in many pet stores. In captivity, they are easily maintained in vivaria, and when provided with proper food and environmental conditions, often prove to be robust, flamboyant, and long-lived amphibians. Captive fire-bellied toads usually live around 12 years, and several cases of fire-bellied toads attaining ages up to 30 years have been reported.
In captivity, they eat a wide variety of food, including crickets, moths, minnows, blood worms and pinkie mice, although some frogs cannot handle certain foods, due to their size. They can sometimes act very aggressively against each other, particularly males.