About Axolotls (Ax-o-lot-ul)
Axolotls come from the Ice Fed lakes of Mexico, specifically Lake Chalco. It was native to two lakes ~ Lake Xochimilco also, but sadly only remnants of Lake Xochimilco remain.
They are the larval form of the Mexican Mole Salamander, however they never (in their natural environment) perform the metamorphosis in to Salamanders, living their entire lives, throughout sexuality, breeding and adulthood in their larval form.
This is known as Neoteny. They can occasionally morph in to salamanders, but this is not something that should be encouraged, as the body change can be very stressful and will shorten the life expectancy considerably.
Axolotls are CITES listed as an endangered species. In their native area, they are hunted as a food source, and are known as a local delicacy ~ being used mostly in Axolotl Soup.
This, and the devastating and rapid loss of their natural habitat, caused their decline in the wild causing them to become almost extinct. There are however captive breeding programmes underway in Mexico to ensure their survival.
They are commonly studied in scientific laboratories due to their regenerative abilities. If a limb is lost, it can be completely regrown. This, and their rise in popularity as a home kept animal, ensures that the species should not die out completely.
The axolotls in the exotic pet trade, are all captive bred. They breed in such numbers, and are so easy to home rear, that there is no need for captive farming, and their conservation status prevents them from being taken from the wild.
They require cold temperatures, and thrive at temperatures between 16-18 °C (60-64 °F) lower temperatures can cause sluggishness. Higher temperatures can cause too much stress.
They like slow moving water, so an aquarium filter set to minimum is needed. It would also be beneficial if the water flow can be aimed towards the side of the tank. This can keep water movement to a minimum. Many filters have a directional outflow pipe, as well as sprinkler tubes. Ideally this would be above the water level, aimed at the tank glass. This reduces water flow to a minimum, but ensures adequate filtration.
They should be kept on sand as a substrate, or a bare bottomed tank. They feed by forming a vacuum in their mouth, and sucking up whatever is in front of them. If kept on gravel, they can take this in to their stomachs, and are not able to pass it. Eventually, it builds up to the stage where they can not digest their food, and they can die. This is the most common cause of axolotl death, and is a long slow process.
Sand can be passed through them, so does not cause this impaction.
They enjoy roaming about, and are fairly active at all times. They can grow up to 12”, and so should be kept in a tank of an appropriate size. 2ft minimum for one adult axolotl, with an extra foot, for every extra one kept with it. Ie 3ft for 2 axolotls.
They seem to enjoy climbing over plants, so a well planted tank with plenty of hides, and things to do would be ideal. Plastic tubes, weighted down make good hides, as well as clean terracotta flowerpots, Mopani wood or similar tank suitable decor.
The tank should be kept secure, with a lid on at all times. This is to prevent any other household pet (ie cats) from falling in to the tank. Axolotls are not dangerous to people in any way, but should not be handled. They are completely aquatic, and need to stay in the water, where they belong.
They eat a variety of meat based foods, including earth worms, beef heart, blood worm, daphnia, prawn and trout pellets. They become used to people fairly quickly, and soon get the hang of hand feeding!
Axolotls, if comfortable in their environment, breed readily.
Once ready to breed, and if a suitable partner is present, the male axolotl releases spermatophores (packets of sperm, attached to a cone of jelly) in to the water, and the female collects one. Between a few hours, and two days later, the female lays between 100 to over 1000 eggs. These are spawn like, and develop much like frogspawn.
They hatch after around 2-3 weeks.
Hatchling axolotls need a constant food supply, and only eat live food to start with. They eat mostly baby brine shrimp, and as they grow, move on to live daphinia, then live blood worm.
Once you have eggs, or even before, it is a good idea to start a culture of live daphnia. You are going to need a lot of them! Buy several packets of live daphnia, readily available from reptile stores or pet food shops where they sell live fish food. You can also buy culture kits on Ebay.
Once eating live bloodworm, it is easier to move them on to frozen blood worm, which is more readily available, and less costly.
They grow quickly, and are fascinating to watch develop. It is possible to purchase spawn, or young axolotls, so you can raise them yourself.
There are different colours available, including Leucistic (white with black eyes), Albino (white with red eyes), Golden Albino (golden with red eyes), Wild Type (brown mottled colouration ~ pictured right) and Melaniod (black). Other colours are being produced, in captive breeding projects.
Axolotls make very interesting and rewarding pets to keep. They are not commonly known, and are certainly a conversation piece. The captive breeding of these fascinating creatures should ensure that future generations can at least see axolotls in the flesh, rather than having to read about them on the internet, or in books.