Welcome to this page dedicated to the extraordinary Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum). With their alien-like appearance, their baby face, and really amazing regenerative abilities, these special salamanders are nothing short of fascinating.
In this article, we will explore some of the most interesting facts about axolotls, their abilities, lifestyle, and much more. We will also see how you can see axolotls in Mexico, where they live, and what you can do to help with their conservation.
First, let’s start with some quick info about the axolotl.
Essential Information About The Axolotl
- Scientific name: Ambystoma mexicanum
- Size: 15-45 cm (6-18 in), often around 23 cm (9 in).
- Weight: 50-300g (1.8-10.5 oz)
- Distribution: Endemic to Xochimilco Lake complex in Mexico
- Habitat: Xochimilco Lake complex, still freshwater
- Diet: Insect larvae, worms, mollusks, tadpoles, small fish, crustaceans.
- Predators: Birds (herons, storks) and large fish (tilapia, carp).
- Reproduction: They reproduce sexually with internal fertilization. Females lay eggs on plants. The reproduction period is from March to June.
- Conservation status: Critically Endangered. Population is declining.
18 Amazing Facts About The Axolotl
- Regeneration champions: Axolotls possess astounding regenerative abilities. They are able to regrow lost limbs – which is already amazing in itself, but also their heart, spinal cord, and even parts of their brain! As you can imagine, this extraordinary capacity has made them a subject of scientific research, for potential applications in humans.
- Forever young: Unlike other salamanders, Axolotl never undergo a complete metamorphosis, which means that they remain in their larval state even in adulthood. This phenomenon of keeping juvenile features throughout their lives is called neoteny.
- A different kind of smile: Axolotls look like they are “smiling,” all the time, but that isn’t exactly true. It is their unique facial structure that creates this illusion of a perpetual smile. This physical feature makes them appear endearing and happy, and probably contributed to their popularity as pets.
- Colorful variety: Wild axolotls are typically dark greenish brown-colored with shiny spots. However, captive-bred axolotls come in a wide range of colors, including albino, golden albino, melanoid, and leucistic, each with its distinct appearance.
- Xolotl’s aquatic guardian: The axolotl’s name comes from the Nahuatl language. It is derived from “āxōlōtl,” which translates to “water monster” or “water dog.” In Aztec mythology, axolotls are associated with Xolotl, the god of fire, lightning, and death.
- Under threat: Axolotls are critically endangered in the wild, primarily due to habitat loss, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species in their native environment. The complex of lakes where it is found has largely been drained, and it can now be found only in Lake Xochimilco. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore their population.
- External gills: One of the axolotl’s most distinctive – and loved features is its feathery, external gills. Their role is to extract oxygen from the water, allowing them to breathe underwater. These gills are highly efficient and thanks to them, axolotls can stay submerged indefinitely.
- A big appetite: Axolotls are carnivorous and have a varied diet in the wild, consuming small fish, insects, crustaceans, and even other axolotls. In captivity, they can be fed a diet of worms, small fish, and specialized pellets.
- Unique teeth: Axolotls have specialized teeth called pedicellate teeth, which are unique to amphibians. These teeth are not really designed for tearing or chewing, but more for gripping and holding onto prey.
- A large genome: The axolotl has an incredibly large genome, estimated to be 32 billion base pairs long. That’s ten times larger than the human genome! Scientists believe that this vast genetic blueprint plays a role in their extraordinary regenerative capabilities.
- Cold water dwellers: Axolotls thrive in cold water, with their ideal temperature range being between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 18 degrees Celsius). Warm water above 24°C (75F) can cause stress, lower appetite, and even lead to illness.
- Slow metabolism: Axolotls have a relatively low metabolic rate. As a result, they don’t need as much food or oxygen as many other aquatic animals. This adaptation plus the fact that their gills are highly efficient allows them to survive in environments with low oxygen levels.
- Artificial metamorphosis: We have seen earlier that axolotls typically remain in their larval state all their lives. However, it is possible to make them undergo metamorphosis artificially through the administration of certain hormones.
- Cannibalistic tendencies: Axolotls can exhibit cannibalistic behavior. This is particularly the case during their juvenile stage. When several axolotls are housed together, they may nip at each other’s gills and limbs – which can lead to injury or even death.
- A keen sense of smell: Axolotls rely heavily on their sense of smell for hunting and locating food, as they have a well-developed olfactory system. It enables them to detect chemical cues in the water, allowing them to track down prey efficiently.
- Healing without scars: We have talked about axolotls’ amazing regeneration abilities. Unlike most animals, they can regenerate lost tissue without forming any scars. This ability to heal without scarring is actually shared with other amphibians, and once again, it has made them an essential model organism in regenerative medicine research.
- Fertilization process: Axolotls reproduce through internal fertilization, but there is no copulation: the male deposits spermatophores, which the female picks up and takes to her cloaca in order to fertilize her eggs. After that, the female lays the now-fertilized eggs, attaching them to aquatic plants or rocks.
- Longevity: Axolotls have a relatively long lifespan compared to other amphibians. In captivity, they can live for 10 to 15 years, provided they are given proper care and attention.
Where & How To See Axolotls in The Wild?
If you’re interested in seeing axolotls in the wild, you’ll first need to get to their native habitat in Mexico. Axolotls are endemic to the Xochimilco Lake complex. It is a series of canals and wetlands located in the southern part of Mexico City. The best way to explore this unique ecosystem is by taking a traditional boat called a “trajinera,” which will allow you to navigate the canals and observe the local wildlife.
If getting to Lake Xochimilco isn’t particularly difficult, keep in mind that axolotls are critically endangered. Honestly, spotting them in the wild is close to impossible. There are dedicated axolotl tours enabling you to see them, touch them, and feed them, by visiting conservation centers. It can be a good way to contribute to the conservation of these animals.
Additionally, you can visit the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, which opened a museum called Anfibium dedicated to the axolotl, on the 1st of February 2023. While not in their natural habitat, these captive-bred axolotls are an opportunity for you to see them up close, and they play a crucial role in conservation efforts to protect and restore the wild population.