Scrotum Frogs Near Lake Titicaca Die Off in Alarming Numbers

Telmatobius culeus, Lake Titicaca Water Frog (captive), IUCN Redlist: Critically Endangered, Balsa de los Sapos, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador

An odd-looking frog with a funny name is currently facing a very serious threat. As National Geographic reports, Titicaca water frogs (Telmatobius coleus), also known as scrotum frogs, are turning up dead by the thousands in South America, and scientists are still unsure why.

The species, which can be found around Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia, was in a dire situation to begin with. Populations have plummeted by 80 percent in recent years, and this latest mass death has placed added stress on the critically endangered amphibian.

Roughly 10,000 of the frogs were found dead along a 30-mile stretch of the Coata River branching out from Lake Titicaca. Water tests and necropsies will hopefully shed more light on the cause, but scientists are already pointing fingers at pollution. Human sewage and heavy metal runoff from mining are both possible factors at play.

The scrotum frog is aptly named for its wrinkly, baggy skin. In addition to creating a distinct look, the extra skin folds allow the frogs to absorb more oxygen underwater in the high altitudes of the Andes. The name has also led to an unfortunate (and false) association with virility: Those seeking health benefits will sometimes harvest frogs from the lake and turn them into medicinal broths known locally as "frog juice" or jugo de rana.

Scientists say it’s possible that these human-made stresses are compounding threats from nature. Chytrid, a disease responsible for the deaths of millions of amphibians around the globe, is another potential menace experts are considering.

[h/t National Geographic]
Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at

John Phillips, Getty Images for Tourism Australia
New Plankton Species Named After Sir David Attenborough Series Blue Planet
John Phillips, Getty Images for Tourism Australia
John Phillips, Getty Images for Tourism Australia

At least 19 creatures, both living and extinct, have been named after iconic British naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Now, for the first time, one of his documentary series will receive the same honor. As the BBC reports, a newly discovered phytoplankton shares its name with the award-winning BBC series Blue Planet.

The second half of the species' name, Syracosphaera azureaplaneta, is Latin for "blue planet," likely making it the first creature to derive its name from a television program. The single-cell organisms are just thousandths of a millimeter wide, thinner than a human hair, but their massive blooms on the ocean's surface can be seen from space. Called coccolithophores, the plankton serve as a food source for various marine life and are a vital marker scientists use to gauge the effects of climate change on the sea. The plankton's discovery, by researchers at University College London (UCL) and institutions in Spain and Japan, is detailed in a paper [PDF] published in the Journal of Nannoplankton Research.

"They are an essential element in the whole cycle of oxygen production and carbon dioxide and all the rest of it, and you mess about with this sort of thing, and the echoes and the reverberations and the consequences extend throughout the atmosphere," Attenborough said while accepting the honor at UCL.

The Blue Planet premiered in 2001 with eight episodes, each dedicated to a different part of the world's oceans. The series' success inspired a sequel series, Blue Planet II, that debuted on the BBC last year.

[h/t BBC]

'Angry Badger' Terrorizes Scottish Castle, Forcing Closures 

Portions of the 16th-century Craignethan Castle in Scotland were shut down last week after a less-than-friendly badger holed up there and refused to leave. Historic Environment Scotland, which manages the site in South Lanarkshire, sent out a tweet last Friday notifying visitors that the property's cellar tunnel would remain closed over the weekend “due to the presence of a very angry badger.” Staff tried to coax it out with cat food and honey, but the badger did what it wanted, and they were unable to move the mammal.

A spokesman for HES told the BBC, "The castle is surrounded by woodland and we believe the badger may have become lost. Staff first spotted some dug-out earth on Wednesday evening, and later spotted the badger on closer inspection."

On Saturday, staff used a GoPro camera to check out the tunnel from a safe distance and learned that the badger had left voluntarily, but not before making a mess. The critter dug through both soil and stonework, according to The Scotsman. The castle, an artillery fortification erected around 1530, is already partly in ruins.

Craignethan Castle in Scotland
Sandy Stevenson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Badgers are not typically dangerous, but they can become aggressive if they feel cornered or threatened. They can be seen year-round in Scotland, especially during spring and summer. Earthworms, bird eggs, small mammals, fruit, and roots are among their favorite meals, and they can even be “tempted into your garden by leaving peanuts out—a tasty snack for our striped friends,” the Scottish Wildlife Trust says.


More from mental floss studios