Endangered ‘scrotum frogs’ to go on display at Chester Zoo for the first time

An endangered amphibian nicknamed the ‘scrotum frog’ is on display at a the Chester Zoo in the UK as wildlife officials hope to save the species from extinction. 

Lake Titicaca frogs are officially named after the lake on the border between Peru and Bolivia where they can be found. These aquatic frogs spend most of their lives deep underwater using the saggy folds of skin that earn them their unfortunate nickname to absorb oxygen.

“This species is unique. It is only found in Lake Titicaca and the surrounding areas where it is adapted to the very adverse conditions there,” says Roberto Elias Piperis, coordinator of the wildlife laboratory at the Cayetano Heredia University in Peru.

“The lake is at extremely high altitude, nearly four times as high as the summit of Mount Snowdon in Wales and, in addition to its ecological importance, there is also a cultural one because the local inhabitants consider the frogs as a connection between them and the gods.”

A combination of pollution, habitat loss and hunting have devastated the frog’s wild population. scrotum frogs are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with between 50% – 80% estimated as having been lost from Lake Titicaca in the last 20 years alone.

“Lake Titicaca frogs are highly threatened with extinction,” says Dr Gerardo Garcia, curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates at Chester Zoo.

“The one, high montane lake that they live in is an extremely fragile environment and they have really suffered at the hands of pollution and introduced fish species.

An important alliance to save the frogs

Twenty of these rare amphibians are now being cared for at Chester Zoo where experts are studying them to gain conservation insights.

“What we need to do now is to build on our knowledge of the species and its biology – by learning all about their life cycle, mating behaviours, favoured habitat and ability to tolerate or resist a deadly fungus that is wiping out lots of amphibians, called chytrid,” explains Dr Garcia.

“We can then harness that valuable information for conservation action in the wild”

The mysterious amphibians are the world’s largest aquatic frogs and only found in Lake Titicaca shared between Bolivia and Peru.

The scrotum frog is the largest fully aquatic frog in the world, with a diameter similar to a dinner plate.

The frog’s many folds of skin help them breathe in their high-altitude habitat in the Andes mountains, more than 12,500 feet above sea level. 

It is also threatened by the introduction of exotic species such as trout, which feed on its tadpoles, and is even crushed into a drink as a supposed aphrodisiac for humans.