The Titicaca Water Frog, Telmatobius culeus, is the largest aquatic frog found in Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia. Individuals have been known to weigh almost a kilogram, and are unmistakable with their folds of skin. Those excessive skin folds have lent the species their nickname, Titicaca Scrotum Frog. Unfortunately it is also considered to be an aphrodisiac when mixed with honey, the roots of a local plant, and several other products, and consumed as a “thick shake”.
The Titicaca Water Frog is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM, due to the main threats of over-harvesting for human consumption and the introduction of exotic species such as trout which feed on the tadpoles. They are also affected by habitat destruction and climate change, and their population is estimated to have decreased considerably over the past 20 years.
Captive breeding programs for the Lake Titicaca Frog have been established at the Huachipa Zoo in Lima, Peru, where they were first bred in 2010, and at Alcide d’Orbigny’s Museum of Natural History in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where the species was bred for the first time in 2012. Both of these institutions are also involved in further field research. Denver Zoo in the US plays a large role in supporting work on the species in Peru and has established the Telmatobius Captive Breeding Program and Laboratory at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, and supports the breeding population at the Huachipa Zoo. In collaboration with the Lake Titicaca National Reserve they are continuing an in situ study for the presence of chytrid fungus along with a population and a DNA survey. The Bolivian Amphibian Initiative from Alcide d’Orbigny’s Museum is also monitoring different wild populations in the lake, working with local communities, raising awareness and training young biologists and local communities in amphibian work. It is also working with captive amphibians for reintroduction of the species if needed.