Meet Telmatobius culeus, sometimes referred to as the Titicaca water frog or, more commonly, the scrotum frog. T. culeus is one of the largest species of aquatic frog in the world and one of the rarest. The scrotum frogs are native only to Lake Titicaca, and were once the subject of study of legendary naturalist Jacques Cousteau. Unfortunately for these endangered frogs, an unexplained phenomenon has caused the deaths of much of Lake Titicaca’s scrotum frog population and scientists are scrambling to make sense of it.
Earlier this month, the National Forest and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) of Peru has issued a statement on the mysterious disappearance, claiming that scores of scrotum frogs have washed up dead along the shoreline of Lake Titicaca. When initially only a few dead specimens were found, residents believed the carcasses showed signs of another regularly-occurring small-scale die off. However, reports now estimate that up to 100,000 of the frogs died seemingly all at once.
The frogs weigh up to 1 kilogram (~2 pounds) and can grow up to 50 cm (~20 inches). The frog’s nickname doesn’t stem from any particular part of their reproductive anatomy, but rather the frog’s loose sacs of excess skin that hang off of the frog in wrinkled folds. True story. These folds help the frog extract higher levels of oxygen from the oxygen-depleted waters of their native habitat. In far-too-common news nowadays, the frogs were placed on the IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species in 2004 due to the recurrent rapid die-offs that show no signs of stopping.
According to CNN, Peruvian newspaper La Republica reported that residents have held demonstrations to call authorities’ attention to the growing numbers of dead scrotum frogs which they claim are due to high levels of industrial pollution in the waters that flow into Lake Titicaca. La Republica reported earlier this year, however, that the decrease in frog population is due to human consumption. Whatever the cause is, the scrotum frog population of Lake Titicaca has declined up to 80% over the last decade. That’s one type of scrotum shrinkage the world simply can’t abide.