Axolotls live in water.
They breathe through gills that look like feathers.
They have four legs and a tail.
They come in many colours.
They are covered in skin, not scales.
They are not fish.
The unusual features of axolotls
The axolotl is the young, or larva, of a type of salamander and is found in Lake Xochimilco in central Mexico. Amazingly, it can stay as a larva, living its whole life in the water without changing into a grown up salamander. Axolotls can breed while remaining in the larva stage - this unusual ability is called 'neotony'.
Axolotls are often called 'Mexican walking fish', but they are not fish. They belong to a group of amphibians called salamanders.
Salamanders are amphibians that look a bit like lizards except that they are covered with a soft moist skin, not scales.
What is an amphibian?
Frogs are the best-known amphibians.
Another unusual thing about axolotls is that it can grow back body parts that are lost or bitten off by a predator. They can grow back legs or tail, and even parts of the brain or heart.
This is called regeneration (say ree-jen-a-ray-shun).
Axolotls come in many colors, including white, but in the wild black is the most common colour.
An axolotl has three pairs of feather-like gills at the back of its head. As water passes through the gills, the axolotl takes in the oxygen from it. From time to time an axolotl will come to the water surface to gulp a breath of air.
Axolotls can breed when they are about 6 months old. The male axolotl deposits packets of his sperm and then leads the female over them. She takes some of the sperm into her body through an opening called a cloaca. Inside her body the sperm mixes with her eggs. In the next day or two the female lays her eggs on leaves of plants or on rocks. When they hatch, in about two weeks time, the the young axolotls are about a centimetre long and look like frog tadpoles with legs.
Axolotls can live for more than 10 years in captivity.
Housing a pet axolotl
Axolotls are popular pets and can be housed in an aquarium. One or two axolotls of about the same size can be kept in the same tank but make sure there is plenty of room for the animals to move about. Put in plants, and place a rock, plastic pipe or even a flower pot on its side in the tank so they have a place where they can hide. The water should be filtered and changed from time to time.
Aquarium fish may bite at the axolotl's gills so it is best to not put fish and axolotls together.
Axolotls are carnivores, which means they eat meat. They find their food by sight and by scent.
A pet axolotl should be fed earthworms, crickets or tiny pieces of meat. Some axolotls will eat fish food pellets. Any uneaten food should be removed from the water or it will go bad and make the axolols sick.
Although they are popular pets and are bred for sale as pets, axolotls have become very rare in the wild.
They are critically endangered for several reasons, including pollution and the introduction of non-native fish into their habitat. In the past they were also caught by people for use as food and medicine.
Conservationists and scientists are working with the Mexican government to save the axolotl in the wild.
Find out more about axolotls here:
Pet axolotls depend on their owners for food, protection and shelter. Before becoming a pet owner think carefully about all the things you will have to do to care for your pet responsibly.
If you use any part of this in your own work, acknowledge this source in your bibliography like this:
Sydenham, S. & Thomas, R. Axolotls [Online] www.kidcyber.com.au (2002).
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