The Axolotl, scientific name being Ambystoma Mexicanum, is a neotenic salamander, and in the wild, can only be found in a few lakes in central regions of Mexico. The word neotenic means the reaching of sexual maturity while still in larval state. The word axolotl is from the Aztec language and carries the meaning water dog, or even god of deformation and death. The axolotl is named after the Aztec God Xolotl.
Since the times of the Aztecs, it has formed a part of the diet of the people. However, today, the Axolotl habitat is under threat, due to pollution and drainage, so much so that they are actually considered to be rare.
A similar species is the Tiger Salamander.
They are usually a dark grey-brown or black colour, and have large heads with wide mouths, small eyes and no eyelids. Sometimes you can find a pure white albino axolotl. They have low crests along their backs and tails which are excellent to help them steer when they are swimming. Mostly though they prefer to walk around on substrate when captive-bred.
Well, first of all, in the wild they prefer to eat at night and they are quite aggressive when they are hungry. If they become very hungry they will even attack and bite off the limbs and gills of other Axolotls.
However, in captivity, they feed well on earthworms, small fish and thin strips of raw meat. A large adult will sometimes eat pinkie mice.
Axolotls have no teeth to speak of and tend to swallow their food whole. They have big wide mouths that look like they are always smiling.
They can go for up to three weeks without food if they have been well-fed. Axolotls can become cannibalistic however if they are hungry and can take huge chunks out of each other if they are kept with others. Best to keep larger ones together and smaller ones separately in a different aquarium or the smaller ones could end up being eaten.
Keeping as pets: They make good pets as they are very interesting. They are very popular! Did you know that it can live out its entire life cycle while remaining in water in a larval stage?. There is a special term for this - becoming an adult and able to reproduce whilst still looking like a larva - and it is called neoteny
They can also grow back limbs that have been bitten off or lost in some way - and this is similar to other salamanders. They can grow back fingers and toes and even whole limbs within a matter of weeks. For more information on axolotls just click here!
If you want to keep one as a pet, they are available to buy from reptile and amphibian dealers; you can also get them from tropical fish shops.
They are fairly easy to keep and are best housed in a quite simple, large aquarium. If you are keeping more than one, then have your aquarium measuring 76 x 46 x 38 cm. Any smaller than this and they might fight.
Tap water is okay to use, though let it stand for 24 hours to lose its chlorine. The depth of the water should be about 30-46 cm. Make sure you have a basic aerator and a good under-gravel filter.
Keeping the water quality good is extremely important, and any large particles of waste or uneaten food should be removed quickly.
They are tolerant of quite a wide range of temperatures and room temperature of 10-25 degrees centigrade will be fine.
Normal room lighting is sufficient. As they have no eyelids they are not very tolerant of bright light. Therefore, they are much more active in dim surroundings.
If you use lighting of any kind in the aquarium, keep an area that has no light so that they can shelter there. Large aquarium gravel should be used as a substrate - as well as a few large rocks for hiding places. Plastic plants are preferable over real plants if you want to use any - real ones can be uprooted easily.
Only handle when necessary - for example when cleaning the aquarium. Catch them in a net and then grasp firmly but gently with both hands. Place one hand around the neck and shoulders and the other around the legs and tail. Their bones are soft and can be hurt and damaged fairly easily - so be careful when handling them.
The axolotl is classified as an amphibian as it does like to leave the water and live on land, even though some axolotls never reach maturity and leave the water.
The Axolotl has gills on each side of its head that extend outwards and these are covered in fine hairs, and these help the Axolotl to swim beautifully.