A rare species of endangered frog nicknamed the “scrotum frog” because of its saggy skin has gone on display at a British zoo for the first time.
The Lake Titicaca frog is the world’s largest aquatic frog. It spends most its life at the bottom of the lake, absorbing oxygen using its saggy folds of excessive skin.
This trait that has seen it labelled the “scrotum frog.”
Twenty of the rare amphibians are now being cared for at Chester Zoo, where experts are studying their behaviour as part of a conservation efforts.
The zoo was the first in Europe to give a home to the species and it is hoped their conservation efforts will help prevent total extinction of the frog which is being wiped out by pollution, habitat loss and hunting.
Dr Gerardo Garcia, the zoo’s curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates, said: “We’re very happy that we can now share our efforts to protect these frogs with the wider public, who will most likely be seeing them for the very first time during their visit the zoo.
“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.
“We can then harness that valuable information for conservation action in the wild.”
He added that Lake Titicaca frogs are highly threatened with extinction, and that they have suffered at the hands of pollution and introduced fish species, among other things.
“It’s illegal to harvest these frogs but Peruvian and Bolivian locals are still known to do so – they use them in smoothies, which they believe enhances virility and energy,” he said.
Dr Garcia added: “We want to make sure the Lake Titicaca frog is around for generations to come.”
The frogs are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
It is estimated between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of the population has been lost from Lake Titicaca in the last 20 years alone.
Researchers set up a rescue centre and began attempts to breed the frogs, before seeking assistance from conservationists at Denver Zoo in America and now, Chester Zoo in the UK.
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Roberto Elias Piperis, co-ordinator of the wildlife laboratory at the Cayetano Heredia University in Peru, which has an alliance with Chester Zoo, added: “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.
“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, so they use them in rituals to call rain.”