Titicaca water frog (Telmatobius culeus)

Also known as: Andean frog, Crawford’s water frog, Lake Titicaca frog, white water frog
Synonyms: Cyclorhamphus coleus, T. a. albiventris, T. a. globulosus, T. a. parkeri, T. a. punensis, T. c. albiventris, T. c. crawfordi, T. c. crawfordi, T. c. culeus, T. c. dispar, T. c. escomeli, T. c. exsul, T. c. fluviatilis, T. c. globulosus, T. c. lacustris, T. c. parkeri, T. c. punensis, T. c. semipalmatus, T. culeus albiventris, T. e. crawfordi, T. e. escomeli, T. e. exsul, T. escomeli
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderAnura
FamilyLeptodactylidae
GenusTelmatobius (1)
SizeSnout-vent length: 7.5 - 13.8 cm (2)
Top facts

The Titicaca water frog is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Titicaca water frog (Telmatobius culeus) is the largest truly aquatic frog in the world (2) (3) (4). It has a broad, flattened head with a round snout and large eyes (2) (3). Colouration is highly variable between individuals and the back can be olive green, dark green or black, with the underside varying between pearl and white (3).

The most distinctive feature of the Titicaca water frog is the extremely loose skin which hangs from its neck, legs and stomach, giving it a rather ugly appearance (2) (3). It has well developed, long hind limbs and webbed digits on the hind feet (3) (5). 

The Titicaca water frog is endemic to Lake Titicaca, which lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia (1) (2) (4) (5).

Lake Titicaca is a cold, oxygen-saturated lake at an elevation of around 3,810 metres (1) (2). The surface temperature of the lake ranges between 11 and 17 degrees Celsius and the bottom temperature is a constant 10 degrees Celsius (6). The Titicaca water frog usually prefers the shallower areas of the lake (2) (3), where it shelters among the reed beds (3). It is also found in the small ponds and rivers in the vicinity of Lake Titicaca, as well as on the rock ledges on the edges of the water (2).

Very little is known about reproduction in the Titicaca water frog, although it is thought to take place in the summer (5).

The diet of the Titicaca water frog is mainly composed of amphipods, snails, insects, tadpoles and fish (2).

The multiple-folded, capillary-rich skin of the Titicaca water frog is a unique adaptation that enables it to remain underwater without needing to surface for air (2) (3) (5). It possesses greatly reduced lungs, which are rarely used except when there is too little oxygen in the water or on the rare occasions when the frog is on land (2) (5) (6). When in poorly oxygenated water this species performs a movement to pass more water over the folds in its skin, allowing more oxygen to diffuse into the blood (2) (3) (6). Another adaptation to its high-altitude habitat is its high red blood cell count and the small size of its red blood cells, which help the blood to deliver oxygen to the body tissues and remove carbon dioxide more efficiently (2) (3).

One of the biggest threats to the Titicaca water frog is overcollection for human consumption (1) (2) (7). The frog is collected and transported to nearby markets, where it is blended with other ingredients to create a juice which is thought by local people to cure many ailments (3) (4).

Invasive species have been introduced to the habitat of the Titicaca water frog, including a trout species which is thought to eat the frog’s larvae (1) (2). Habitat loss is another major factor in the decline of this species, with large amounts of water being extracted from the lake for agriculture (1) (2) (7), making areas appropriate for breeding unsuitable (2). In addition, domestic and agricultural waste have resulted in Lake Titicaca becoming polluted (1) (7).

Chytridiomycosis, an infectious fungal disease which has reduced many amphibian populations, could also potentially pose a threat to the Titicaca water frog in the future (1) (2). 

Find out more about the Titicaca water frog:

There are many captive breeding programmes for the Titicaca water frog, both around the lake and at various zoos in the United States, although these are not thought to have been successful (1) (2) (7). More biological information about this Critically Endangered amphibian is required to increase the success of the captive breeding programme (4) (7).

Public education is extremely important to raise awareness about the human-induced plight of this species (7). Part of the habitat of the Titicaca water frog is within the Lake Titicaca Reserve, offering it a certain level of protection, although more action must be taken to preserve the remaining suitable habitat and prevent further reductions in the frog’s population (1). This species would also benefit from the decontamination of its habitat (4).

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. AmphibiaWeb - Telmatobius culeus (July, 2012)
    http://amphibiaweb.org/cgi/amphib_query?where-genus=Telmatobius&where-species=culeus
  3. Piper, R. (2007) Extraordinary Animals. Greenwood Press, Connecticut.
  4. Reading, R.R., Weaver, T.J., Garcia, J.R., Elias Piperis, R., Herbert, M.T., Cortez, C., Muñoz, A., Rodríguez, J.E. and Matamoros, Y. (Eds.) (2011) Lake Titicaca’s Frog (Telmatobius culeus)Conservation Strategy Workshop. Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Peru. Available at:
    http://www.cbsg.org/cbsg/workshopreports/26/conservation_strategy_of_the_lake_titicaca_frog-english.pdf
  5. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  6. Navas, C.A. and Chauí-Berlinck, J.G. (2007) Respiratory physiology of high-altitude anurans: 55 years of research on altitude and oxygen. Respiratory Physiology and Neurobiology, 158: 307-313.
  7. Angulo, A. (2008) Conservation needs of Batrachophrynus and Telmatobius frogs of the Andes of Peru. Conservation and Society, 6: 324-333.