14 Fun Axolotl Facts

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Axolotl by scazon, cc2.0

14 Axolotl Facts You Need to Know!

Axolotl_main
Axolotl by scazon, cc2.0

1. Is the axolotl an amphibian or reptile?

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Axolotl (Ambystoma Mexicanum). Image credit: batra3x, cc2.0

The axolotl is a salamander and like other salamanders, it is an amphibian. This means that it is capable of living both on land and in water and that it has smooth skin and soft eggs. However, you will quickly discover that the axolotl is unlike other salamanders.




2. The axolotl is named after a god.

Xolotl
Xolotl. Originally published in the Codex Fejervary-Mayer, 15th century, author unknown. PDimage.

Where did the axolotl get its unusual name? Some say it comes from the name of Xolotl, the Aztec god of death. He was also the god of deformities and he would sometimes change into a dog or into a salamander. In fact, a myth goes that Xolotl changed into a salamander when the souls of the underworld rose up against him, and he stayed safely at the bottom of Lake Xochimilco, where he stayed so long, he could no longer walk on land, which is basically what the axolotl is.

Others say that axolotl comes from two words – atl meaning ‘water’ and xolotl meaning ‘dog’, so the axolotl is a water dog. It is not to be confused with its cousin, the tiger salamander, though, which is also called a waterdog when in its larval form.

The axolotl is also known as the Mexican salamander or the Mexican walking fish. Its scientific name is Ambystoma mexicanum. Ambystoma is a combination of the Greek words for ‘blunt’ and ‘mouth’ while mexicanum refers to its home, Mexico.

3. In the wild, axolotls can only be found in Mexico.

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Lake Xochimilco. Image credit: Serge Saint, cc2.0

Indeed, axolotls may be found in aquariums and laboratories all over the world, but their natural habitat is Lake Xochimilco, an ancient lake in southern Mexico City. This is their only home and most of them live on the bottom, where they are rarely seen.

4. Axolotls do not undergo metamorphosis.

Salamanders, like other amphibians and insects, are supposed to go through a process known as metamorphosis. What this means is that they change form, ending up looking completely different as adults from what they looked like when they were young or in their larval form. Just look at butterflies, for example, which started out as caterpillars, or the frogs which started out as tadpoles. What an incredible transformation, don’t you think?

Axolotls, however, do not go through this process naturally. They exhibit what is known as neoteny, which means they look young or retain their larval form for the rest of their lives. It’s almost like they’re babies for the rest of their lives.

If axolotls had undergone metamorphosis, they would have lost their fins and developed their feet, as well as their tail. They would have lost their gills and grown lungs. They would have teeth and eyelids. But this is not the case so axolotls have fins and gills, undeveloped feet, undeveloped teeth, a fish-like tail and no eyelids. Because of this, they also spend their lives in the water.

Axolotls, however, can be made to undergo metamorphosis. Just a shot of iodine and they completely transform, looking like tiger salamanders but with spots instead of stripes.

Tiger_salamander_cycle
Tiger salamander life cycle by Dakuhippo, GFDL.

5. But they can still grow and reproduce.

Axolotls can grow up to 18 inches long, although they average just half of that – 9 inches. Also, even though they are forever in their larval stage, they can still reproduce. In fact, they can even reproduce sooner than salamanders that have undergone metamorphosis.

Male salamanders can be identified by their long tails and narrow heads and females by their stout bodies. After mating, the female releases up to a thousand soft eggs which stick to rocks or the leaves of underwater plants. After the eggs hatch, which takes up to three weeks, some of the hatchlings may eat the others but as they grow, this habit stops and the survivors look for other food.

6. What does an axolotl eat?

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Axolotl’s diet. Image credit: AJC ajcann.wordpress.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

Axolotls may look gentle and all but they are predators. They eat worms, mollusks, crustaceans, insect larvae and also small fish. How do they hunt and eat with hardly any teeth? All they have to do is open their jaws wide and suck in their prey which goes straight into their stomachs. Yup, no need to chew.

7. Axolotls have gills on the outside.

Earlier, we said that axolotls retain their gills and these can be easily seen. In fact, these are the feathery like whiskers found on the sides of the axolotl’s head. Because of this, axolotls can absorb more oxygen. And their gills serve another purpose. Instead of excreting all of their wastes as urine, they get rid of some of them through their gills.

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Axolotl gills. Image credit: AJC ajcann.wordpress.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

8. But they also have lungs.

Axolotls also have a pair of lungs, though these are undeveloped. Still, if they are placed in shallow water, their lungs can develop and their gills can be absorbed, which can allow them to gulp air and survive on land.

9. The axolotl comes in four different colors.

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Leucistic female Axolotl by Henry Mühlpfordt, GFDL

Axolotls come in greenish brown, tan, grey and black. You may see some white or pale pink ones in captivity but these were bred to be that way. They are known as leucistic axolotls, not albinos, and have black eyes, not red. Axolotls can change colors to a certain extent, becoming darker or lighter by controlling the size of the pores on their skin in order to achieve better camouflage.

10. The axolotl has healing powers.

Changing color may be amazing but the true talent of the axolotl is its regeneration. Cut off one of its legs and it grows back. Even if its internal organs are damaged, these grow back. Even parts of its brain, in fact. And what’s more, if you transplant a damaged organ from another animal to the axolotl, the organ will heal and regain full functionality. Isn’t that amazing?

One thing, though – only natural axolotls in their larval form have this incredible regeneration ability. Those that have been given a shot and have metamorphosed into adults have decreased regeneration.

11. Axolotls are studied in many laboratories around the world.

It is because of their healing abilities that axolotls are currently being studied in laboratories, in hopes that they can help humans heal better, as well. In particular, axolotls are used in the studies of heart defects and the defects of neural tubes, since their neural tubes are easily visible.

12. Axolotls are edible.

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Aztec meal, Florentine Codex, Late 16th century. PD image.

It might be hard to believe but axolotls used to be one of the staples of the Aztec diet, made into tamales and served with cornmeal. Even today, fried axolotl is served in some exotic restaurants in Japan, the taste of which is described as similar to eel or chicken.

13. Axolotls can be kept as pets.

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Axolotl in an aquarium. Image credit: Fixed in Silver, CC BY-SA 2.0

A lot of people have axolotls as pets, which can be bought online. If you plan on having an axolotl for a pet, make sure you prepare a large aquarium, about ten gallons, since axolotls produce a lot of waste and the water in a small aquarium will get dirty pretty fast. A lid and a filter are needed but not lighting and sand is preferred over pebbles, or neither. As for food, pellets and worm cubes can be bought from the pet store. Several adult axolotls can be kept together but not those smaller than five inches since they might nip at each other.




14. Are axolotls endangered?

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Because many parts of Lake Xochimilco, the axolotl’s only freshwater habitat, have been drained and many species of freshwater fish have been introduced, the population of the axolotl has declined rapidly and it is now considered Critically Endangered. In fact, a search of the lake in 2013 did not come up with any axolotls, which means it is possibly extinct in the wild.

Axolotls are featured in the following books:
25 Endangered Animals
25 Weirdest Animals in the World!


The YouTube video playlist below contains videos about axolotls. Details of the videos featured are underneath.

  1. Superhero Science- Limb Regeneration by Science Channel
  2. Axolotl babies in a water tank by Mausebacke24
  3. A pet getting its dinner by mariaapoleika
  4. 3 young axoltls bumbling into each other and feeding on worms by jmacd08

Sources:

http://www.axolotl.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axolotl
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/1095/0
http://mentalfloss.com/article/63130/11-awesome-axolotl-facts

To view the complete list of sources, click here…

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