Symbiotic is a new Motherboard series that delves into the beautiful and twisted interactions between man and animal and the interdependent tussle between the two species in the name of mutual survival.
How far would you go to get hard? Would you potentially wipe out an entire species if it meant a stronger love life?
In parts of Peru, there's an old culinary delicacy that consists of liquefying a rare frog. Drinking the concoction is said to cure a wide range of ailments, include bronchitis, tuberculosis, asthma, arthritis, and yes, even impotence.
The amphibian garnish in question is not just any frog, but the critically endangered Telmatobius culeus, or more commonly known as the scrotum water frog, which is endemic to the Lake Titicaca region. As unflattering as it sounds, the nickname is rather apt considering the croaker's many blanket-like skin folds that cover its body; think of it as amphibious version of a blubbery bulldog, with skin that helps it breathe.
Frog Juice, or Jugo de Rana, as it's referred to in Spanish, has been dubbed the Peruvian Viagra. It's a concoction that's believed to have strong medicinal powers with purported benefits including increased blood flow, lung function, and more poignantly, sexual stimulation.
Motherboard correspondent Mariano Carranza traveled to Lima and discovered some frog juice at an open-air, mom 'n' pop shop in the streets of Puente Nuevo. Although the recipe varies from shop to shop, there's no secret to the formula. The main ingredients consist of some energy-boosting foods, such as honey, carob, pollen, and white bean broth, but most pertinently, a healthy dose of maca root and an entire scrotum frog.
As it stands, we were unable to find any scientific literature that indicates the scrotum frog holds all the elixir-like benefits it's claimed to possess. However ,there is some evidence that maca root—a plant that's native to the Central Andean Region of Peru—may improve fertility.
To find out more, we spoke with Dr. Gustavo F. Gonzales, a professor of endocrinology at the University of Cayetano Heredia in Lima, whose work focuses on how the libido-boosting maca can increase sperm production and motility. The more we learned about maca, the more the scrotum frog sounded like a ancestral novelty, rather than a funky panacea.
The over-harvesting of scrotum frogs for human consumption has spurred the efforts by the scientific, governmental, and zoological community around the world. While in Lima, we met with wildlife veterinarian Roberto Elías who, with the help of the Denver Zoo, is leading the charge against frog juice.
Through conservation campaigns around the Lake Titicaca region, Elías and his team are educating villagers how to use the frog to their economic advantage without contributing to its disappearance and inevitable ecological imbalance. The Peruvian government is also taking a stand against illegal wildlife trafficking by raiding some of these frog juice vendors and confiscating their critically endangered products.
However, the consumption of frog juice shows no signs of letting up. The frog juice vendor that we met told us that between 50 to 70 frogs continue to be served in liquid form on a daily basis. It's a similar plight faced by other endangered animals like tigers and rhinos, whose parts are also falsely believed by many to harbor medicinal properties—no matter how articulately science is able to dispel the mystery of the scrotum frog's alleged benefits, humans will continue to be heavily influenced by the long-lasting traditions, indelible folklore and appetite for anything scarce. Even if it puts their symbiotic relationship with nature at stake.