Why are these endangered frogs dying mysteriously in Peru?

October 19, 2016, 1:41 p.m.
Lake Titicaca frog or scrotum frog
Photo: Denver Zoo

Wildlife officials in Peru are trying to determine why as many as 10,000 critically endangered frogs living near Lake Titicaca have suddenly died. The frogs have been found in the shallows and washed up along the shoreline, as well as the shores of the adjoining Coata River. The frogs only live in Lake Titicaca and the surrounding area. No cause of death has been confirmed, but Lake Titicaca has become increasingly polluted over the past several years, according to the UPI.

The Titicaca water frog, or Telmatobius culeus, is known informally by locals as the "scrotum frog" because of its wrinkly, baggy skin. The giant, wholly aquatic amphibians can weigh more than two pounds. Their saggy, seemingly unending skin absorbs oxygen, allowing the species to breath while they remain submerged.

"Based on local residents' statements and samples taken in the days after the incident, it is believed that more than 10,000 frogs were affected over about 30 miles," officials with the Peruvian National Forestry and Wildlife Service said in a statement.

Human waste and raw sewage were found in the same places were large groups of dead frogs were seen floating in the water.

Titicaca water frogs are collected for food by locals. Authorities say overconsumption, as well as loss of habitat and trout preying on the frogs' eggs, has led to a big drop in numbers. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Lake Titicaca frog’s population has declined 80 percent over the last 15 years.

According to CNN, authorities in Peru are studying water samples and are planning to work with Denver Zoo specialists to investigate the cause of death. The Denver Zoo is the only institution in the Northern Hemisphere to currently house the critically endangered species. The zoo has 20 of the frogs (and that's one of the Denver frogs, above), in hopes of increasing conservation efforts for the species worldwide.