You know what’s a thousand times worse than your entire body looking like a pig’s butt? Your entire body looking like a scrotum. Your vaguely round, misshapen visage trimmed with soft, greyish flaps of skin that billow behind you as you go about your day. Meet, and feel sorry for, the Scrotum Frog (Telmatobius culeus). You know what that scientific name translates to? “Aquatic scrotum”.
Not that the Scrotum Frog really cares that it looks like a scrotum. It doesn’t even know what a scrotum is. It’s never even seen a testicle because its own are located internally, right up next to its kidneys. You should feel sorry for the Scrotum Frog because in Peru, it’s being thrown into a blender with some honey, carob, pollen, white bean broth, and a local root vegetable and turned into what Xavier Aaronson at Motherboard calls ‘Scrotum Frog Boner Juice’. And, you know, people should be free to have as much frog juice as they like, except when that frog happens to be critically endangered.
Also known as the Titicaca water frog, these guys can grow up to 50 centimetres long from snout to toe, and a whopping 1 kilogram in weight. They’re found high up in the South American Andes in Lake Titicaca – the highest lake in the world, at almost 4,000 metres above sea level. All the way up here, the air is super-thin, the sunshine unforgiving, and the nights cold as hell. To deal with all that, the Scrotum Frog has evolved to be entirely aquatic, living all of its days underwater, where oxygen is far easier to come by than in the surrounding air.
As a result, the species’ lungs have shrunk down to less than a third of what would be expected for a frog that size, and instead, the Scrotum Frog uses those unsightly skin flaps, which are teeming with blood vessels, to take in more oxygen from the water. This is a pretty common respiratory strategy for amphibians – some species of salamander have ditched their lungs altogether because their skin does all the breathing they need.
But back to that boner juice. In parts of Peru, it’s a local delicacy, and Aaronson reports at Motherboard that up to 70 Scrotum Frogs PER DAY are being liquefied as a result. It’s super-popular because, despite zero scientific evidence to support the claim, it’s believed to cure everything from bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis, and arthritis to – you guessed it – impotence. Because it looks like genitals, so naturally, a connection has been made. And what probably isn’t helping the Scrotum Frog’s case for not being great at curing non-existent boners is that it’s being blended up with a healthy dose of maca root (Lepidium meyenii), which actually could help treat fertility problems.
Over the past 15 years, the wild Scrotum Frog population has declined by 80 percent, because not only do they have to singlehandedly sustain the Peruvian boner juice industry, but their tadpoles are being hunted down by large trout that have been introduced to Lake Titicaca. Which, meanwhile, is taking up an increasing amount of pollution. The Peruvian government is working with conservationists and zoo staff to sure up the Scrotum Frog’s future by cracking down on illegal trade and educating the locals on how to get value out of the species without killing it off, but it’s not looking good. And that sucks. Because a world without Scrotum Frogs? No thanks, I’m done. How do you… can you get this bar off my lap? Nope, never mind, look, I can slide right under it. Keep the tokens, that whole situation looks terrible.
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew>