There are many different pets to choose from, but none as amazing as the axolotl.
Nicknamed the Mexican walking fish, axolotls are so different from other sea life—standing out both in and out of the water.
Listed as critically endangered in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), it is time to learn all we can talk about the axolotl and their incredible qualities.
Axolotls Can Only be Found in One Location
Unless you find one of them in an aquarium or laboratory, you will have to travel to Xochimilco, Mexico, to find an axolotl in the wild.
The rivers and canals throughout that city are their only wild habitat.
Regardless of how much effort conservationists have put into saving them, their numbers continue to drop.
The Axolotl is an Amphibian
Just like fish—and unlike most amphibians—an axolotl spends its life in the water. As a result, many people have the misconception that it is a fish.
The axolotl is a close relative of the tiger salamander, and they are often referred to as salamanders themselves. More specifically, the Perennibranchiate Salamander because it never loses its gills.
The axolotl is not your average amphibian. Most amphibians will go through metamorphosis and change drastically from what they looked like early in life to their new form as an adult.
Many move from water to land, too.
The axolotl does not go through metamorphosis, meaning that it stays in the water for life. While they do develop lungs, they will continue to use their gills.
As they reach maturity, they still have a youth-like or larvae appearance. This condition is known as neoteny.
Axolotls Have No Eyelids
Amphibians get their eyelids when they go through metamorphosis. They come out of the water and onto land and develop them.
However, since axolotls never went through this change and never left the water, they never grew eyelids.
The Axolotl Lives Longer Than You May Think
Axolotls have a relatively long lifespan for an amphibian. In both captivity and the wild, they live to be, on average, 15 years old. Perhaps this is because of their shortlist of predators.
Though, as more invasive species of large fish enter their wild waters, they are beginning to lose their grip on life.
Watch Out! Axolotls Bite
They are so cute that it might be hard to remember that axolotls bite. You can rest easy, though, as they don’t have any teeth.
While they may latch on, they won’t break the skin or cause too much damage at all.
When they bite, axolotls just want to warn you that you have entered their territorial space.
Axolotls May Need Help Eating
If you wonder what they eat, it is often worms, crustaceans, mollusks, insect larvae, and small fish in the wild. Well, really anything that will fit in its mouth.
And, yes, the axolotl is a carnivorous species. They may look sweet and harmless, but they are considered predators.
Axolotls don’t see very well at all, so they use their sense of smell to find food. And because they don’t have teeth, their gills slice and dice for them.
In an interlocking rake method, it then gets sucked straight into the stomach.
Here’s another fun food fact: When axolotls are young, they are cannibals. Depending on how hungry they are, they will either eat parts of other axolotls or eat the whole thing.
Axolotls Are Nocturnal Creatures
Axolotls will show activity during daylight hours, but mostly you will find them dormant until nightfall.
They prefer to live by a predictable light cycle and, if in captivity, one that mimics a natural light cycle.
Most axolotls will show stress when facing too much light, and they will start to show little energy and sedentary behavior.
However, without light, the energy picks up, and they seem healthy and thriving again.
Axolotls Have a Preference For Cold Water
You may imagine that since they are found in the wild in Mexico, they would not live in cold water.
But it is in cold-water environments where they live most optimally.
Their preferred water temperature is between 60 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike aquarium fish, axolotls do not require a heater in the tank to stay alive.
In the summer months, as temperatures rise, axolotls kept as pets may require the water to be chilled to maintain the proper water temperature.
If left in warm water too long, axolotls become stressed and experience a decrease in their immune response.
As a result, they are susceptible to infection and disease that may be life-threatening.
They Have Meaning in Their Name
These little creatures come with many nicknames and some that are even true definitions of the name axolotl.
A few of these names that seem to most popular, especially in the area of Mexico where they are found in the wild, are:
- Water dog
- Water doll
- Servant of the water
- Water slave
The “Feathers” Serve a Purpose
One physical feature that stands out in the axolotl’s appearance is the feathers that encircle their head.
While they are a beautiful addition, they aren’t just for show but rather a crucial part of the anatomy.
These feather-like branches are gills. And the tiny threads that are attached to them help with the exchange of gas.
Axolotls Can Breathe Through Their Skin
Cutaneous Respiration is the proper term for those who can breathe through their skin.
It means that axolotls can breathe directly through the soft skin that has stayed soft and thin because they are still in that larvae stage.
Gases can find their way straight through the skin with ease.
The Axolotl’s Typical Size and Weight
The skeleton of the axolotl is made up solely of cartilage—no bone. Because of this, they don’t have much to give them a heavy body weight.
Fully grown, axolotls weigh about 8 ounces (or half of a pound).
As far as their size goes, axolotl’s reach about 6 inches at about one year of age. When they are fully grown, they are generally 12 inches in length.
Though, some have been known to grow as large as 18 inches long.
Chemical Communication, Anyone?
Axolotls can communicate visually despite their limited vision, but they turn to chemical communication when they are in the mating or breeding season.
They send chemical cues that help others understand the immediate environment—especially when it comes to finding prey.
However, one should note that axolotls are rather solitary creatures, so they don’t communicate a whole lot.
Axolotl Regeneration Has Caught the Eye of Scientists
In general, most amphibians regenerate. Axolotls, however, can regenerate their limbs, jaws, spines, and brains with perfection.
There is no scarring because every single tissue fiber is replaced.
This regeneration can happen dozens of times.
Scientists are paying close attention to how axolotls regenerate with hopes that they can one day recreate the same scenario with a human.
The fact that they show resistance to cancer cells because they can regenerate cells is even more captivating.
Though the more they study these creatures, the more scientists are beginning to doubt that humans can do so.
Axolotls Come in Different Colors
While shades may vary, there are four very distinct colors that you will find axolotls to be. They are:
Some cross-breeding does occur, leaving you with an axolotl in a shade of pink. Many assume this to be an albino, but that is not the case.
They are called leucistic axolotls because they have black eyes, not the typical albinos’ red eyes.
Skin Color Changes
Much like chameleons that can change their skin color to camouflage themselves, axolotls can do the same. Their skin shade gets lighter or darker depending on the surroundings.
Axolotl’s Breeding Habits
If you can imagine it, there is a ritual-like dance that occurs between male and female axolotls during mating season.
They brush up against each other, rubbing the other’s cloaca as if in a dance. Then the male shakes his tail for a short time until a mass of sperm is released.
Following, the female then shakes her tail after depositing the sperm in an attempt to fertilize the eggs.
Axolotls can lay many more eggs than your average amphibian. Sure, it is rather common to see an amphibian lay a couple of hundred eggs.
Axolotls, though, have the capacity for laying 1,000 eggs for fertilization. And, just to clarify, it is 1,000 eggs in one breeding attempt.
You are not alone if your first thought is, why are they on the endangered list if they lay so many eggs? The truth is, for those axolotls in the wild, their eggs are not safe.
Not only are they often eaten by tilapia and carp – both invasive species, but the level of pollution found in the waterways of Xochimilco, Mexico, is not conducive to lifelong growth.
An Axolotl’s Predator
Believe it or not, the axolotl does not have any real predators in the wild. However, they are naturally bottom-feeders which give them an extra layer of protection just in case.
Herons and storks were always their top predators – hence why they stick close to the bottom.
As previously mentioned, new larger invasive fish are now creating a more threatening environment for the axolotl.
A Life of Solitude
Except during times of mating and breeding, axolotls do not require much company. They are known to enjoy their lives in solitude.
In the wild, these creatures do cohabitate with other fish. But, when it comes to aquarium life, you are best to keep them alone. Here’s why –
Remember that axolotls are carnivores, so smaller fish are likely to be eaten by their roommates. Slightly larger fish will potentially choke your axolotl as it tries to eat it and can’t.
And, if you add in a larger fish, well, the axolotls may just become lunch.
Either way, the axolotl’s gills are rather enticing to other fish and can be severely damaged by fish kept in an aquarium at the same time.
If it doesn’t come down to a fight for life, one or both may end up suffering.
While it may be hard to fathom, the residents of Xochimilco used to eat these amphibians regularly. According to those who have indulged themselves, axolotls taste similar to an eel.
One of the local favorites was axolotl tamales in cornmeal.
Only one place is currently known to serve the axolotl as a deep-fried delicacy, and that is in Osaka, Japan.
Axolotls are a Critically Endangered Species
According to Scientific American, urban growth is causing the axolotl to move closer to extinction.
The metropolis has expanded, and the water quality has been declining, leading to the damage of the 10 square kilometers of habitat that axolotls populate.
Most of the breeding and growth comes from private aquariums and pets.
Many groups are working hard to save this population of axolotls by holding fundraisers and charities.
Conservationists have been working hard to clean up the issues surrounding the pollution of Lake Xochimilco to give them a chance of survival.
There is a Rich Mythological and Aztecan History with Axolotls
In ancient Aztec Mythology, there was a god of the underworld named Xolotl who was afraid he was going to be killed. To save himself, he transformed into an axolotl.
The Aztecs used to regularly consume axolotls as part of their diet and illness and health remedies. It is believed that these salamanders work to cure certain respiratory issues.
When possible, the people of Mexico still use these axolotls today as remedies.
Axolotls Make Great Pets
These creatures make easy pets to enjoy and maintain.
They have a long life and require very little work. Just be sure to provide a darker space with cool water and a solitary place to chill.
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