As the largest freshwater lake in South America, Lake Titicaca, which is thought to be 3 million years old, sits 12,500 feet above sea level. Located between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca's elevation, low temperature and high ultraviolet light creates an environment where there is limited animal populations. The ones who thrive have learned to adapt and morph over thousands of years.
Lake Titicaca Frog
Endemic to Lake Titicaca is the Lake Titicaca frog (often called the giant frog), whose skin is seemingly too large for its body. This extra skin is an adaptation of the frog that allows it to thrive in the harsh environment of the region. The enlarged skin allows the frog to take in enough oxygen from the water so that it can stay underwater for long period of times, allowing it longer periods of protection. Other morphologic changes include reduction in lung size and reproduction cycle changes. These frogs live under rocks, in marshy areas and in the depths of the lake, rarely coming to the surface. There are 18 species of amphibians in Lake Titicaca, but the giant frog is, by far, the most known and the one most people come to see.
Sponges, one of the first animal species to develop on earth, are also found in Lake Titicaca. Balliviaspongia wimmanni is a sponge that has been seen only a few times outside of aquariums and labs. It lives only in Lake Titicaca and is so different from other sponges that scientists have given it its own biological family. This rare sponge is believed to have been in the lake for 7,000 years.
Home to more than 60 species of birds, Lake Titicaca boasts strong resident bird populations as well as numerous migratory species and rare species. Some of the birds found are the zambullidor del Titicaca, yanauico, cormorant, totorero, Titicaca flightless grebe, Chilean flamingo, Puna ibis, Andean swallow, black night heron and the guarahuaru falcon. Other birds include ducks, chocas, cholos and playeros.
Because of the high altitude and extreme temperatures, there are only a few mammals in the Lake Titicaca region. Expect to see vizcacha (rodent in the chinchilla family), wild guinea pig, Andean wild wolf, llamas, alpaca, Andes skunk, and the Andean fox.