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]
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Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds

Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.

There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]


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