Unique in the animal world, amphibians have been around longer than mammals, reptiles, or birds, and are suited to life both on land and in the water.
Introducing the Amphibians to You
Amphibians are not reptiles
Like reptiles, amphibians are ectothermic, meaning their body temperature is dictated by the surrounding environment.
Two stage life-cycle
Amphibians have a unique life cycle where they exhibit a larval and adult form. Adults lay jelly-like eggs, usually in a body of water, but in some cases on leaves or even more bizarrely carried under the skin of adults.
Much of this process is dictated by chemicals in the environment – sometimes a lack of specific chemical triggers can produce unusual effects such as giant tadpoles which continue to grow rather than change into adults.
The skin of amphibians is far more permeable than other animals, meaning that a certain amount of water can pass through the skin membrane.
Two side effects of this are that amphibians have to remain moist to prevent drying out, and they are far more sensitive to chemicals in their surroundings which can be easily absorbed into the body.
To help create a barrier, amphibians produce a protective layer of mucus which covers their skin and is regularly replaced.
Whilst mucus is used as a barrier against disease drying, it does little to stop water being absorbed through the skin.Because of this water absorption it is essential that any water in a captive environment is kept as clean as possible, or pollutants will enter the body and cause health problems.
As well as water, amphibian skin can also take in oxygen, and amphibians actually ‘drink’ and ‘breathe’ partly through their skin membranes.
Because of the various qualities of amphibian skin, and also the toxicity of some species, it is essential that any captive specimens are handled very carefully and with the needs of the species in mind, both for the protection of the animal and handler.
Colors and poisons
Whilst amphibians are not the quickest, loudest, scariest, or strongest creatures in the animal world, they do have some unique tricks to stop themselves being eaten by bigger predators.
The most obvious of these is a warning system of strong colours and markings which in some frogs rivals the colors of tropical reef fish.A brightly colored animal is a warning to others which says ‘don’t eat me, I am poisonous’. As well as bright colors, many amphibians produce skin secretions which are noxious and also indicate a poisonous nature.
Of course, fakery (as opposed to imitation) never works on its own and most amphibians which say they are poisonous, are really poisonous.
It is said that the arrow frog is the most poisonous frog in the world and one frog has enough toxin to kill up to twenty people.
Frogs, toads and…
Most people are aware of frogs and toads, but what other common amphibians are there? Depending on where you live, you may have also seen newts, which are common in many ponds, pools, and waterways around the world.
Whilst most popular captive species of frogs and toads tend to either live in or out of water, salamanders will prefer an environment with both habitats, which makes for some interesting vivarium design challenges.
These unusual creatures are quite easy to care for and certainly generate some interest in those who have never seen one before.Caecilians are another type of amphibian, but are rarely seen in the pet trade.
Caecilians look like small, slimy snakes, or giant earthworms and can range from a few inches to 2-3 feet.
As these creatures are burrowers they tend to try and hide whenever kept in captivity and whilst interesting, they do not make great pets.
Whether you go for one of the many frog and toad species, salamanders, newts, or axolotl’s, or even a combination, amphibians are interesting creatures and creating a fully planted vivarium habitat is a worthwhile and rewarding challenge