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Denver zoo successfully hatches ‘scrotum frog’ tadpoles

The Lake Titicaca water frog, Telmatobius culeus, is a very large and critically endangered species of frog in the family Telmatobiidae. The frog is entirely aquatic and is only found in Lake Titicaca and the rivers flowing into the lake in the high Andean highlands of South America.

Lake Titicaca  which is the highest in the world  at an altitude of 3 800 meters (12 470 feet) above...

Lake Titicaca, which is the highest in the world, at an altitude of 3,800 meters (12,470 feet) above sea level, provides a habitat for a number of frogs, birds and fish, including two species that have almost been wiped out
Aizar Raldes, AFP/File

The Titicaca water frog has been jokingly called the Titicaca “scrotum frog” because of its excessive amount of skin. However, the frog’s baggy skin plays an important role in how the frog utilizes oxygen. The Titicaca water frog has very small lungs, so the large folds of skin help it to respire in the cold water where it lives.

As long as the water is well-oxygenated, the frog will stay near the bottom of the lake, doing “push-ups” to circulate the water through its skin folds, absorbing oxygen. But Lake Titicaca has become polluted by humans, making the water unsuitable for the frogs to thrive, and adding to their reduction in numbers.

In November 2014, Digital Journal reported on another serious problem that has added to the frog’s declining numbers – People have been using the frogs as a health elixir, commonly called Jugo de Rana, or frog juice, which is rumored to increase vitality and virility (there’s no evidence that it does).

Titicaca water frogs awaiting their turn in the blender.

Titicaca water frogs awaiting their turn in the blender.
Screen grab

Denver Zoo’s mission to save the endangered water frog
The zoo began its mission to save the scrotum frog from extinction back in 2007, and eventually, through on-site research and with the help of wildlife veterinarian Roberto Elias, a professor at Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, in November 2015, the first Titicaca water frogs landed in Denver.

In February this year, the zoo was successful in seeing the first hatchlings being born – a real step forward in their attempt at saving an important species. According to Tom Weaver, assistant curator of reptiles and fish, amphibians are like the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.”

All the Titicaca water frog tadpoles born on Valentine s Day at the Denver Zoo  are sleek  plump and...

All the Titicaca water frog tadpoles born on Valentine’s Day at the Denver Zoo, are sleek, plump and healthy.
Denver Zoo

“They are pretty much sponges,” Weaver said, meaning they absorb everything in the water, good and bad. This makes them crucial indicators for water and habitat quality. It also makes them vulnerable to what we are doing to the environment.

“Our work is raising much-needed awareness for the plight of this frog for our guests, children, and adults, and will soon do the same for those who visit the other institutions which will soon be a home for the species,” Matt Herbert, the zoo’s director of conservation education, said in the statement.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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