Name: Ambystoma mexicanum
Origin: Lakes Xochimilco & Chalco (Mexico)
Editor's note: species listed as critically endangered of extinction according to IUCN 2006.
Axolotls, also known as the Mexican walking fish, are aquatic amphibians which fail to complete metamorphosis into a proper land salamander. (Although in rare occasions they do metamorphoses into its land form). They are known for their weird ability to reach maturity in their larval form, the ability to regenerate damaged body parts, as well as their unusual looks. They are not a common find in aquatic retail stores as they are not yet as popular and sought-after in many parts of the world. However if you ever come across one you will be most likely to get attracted to it for its cute and unusual looks. Most axolotls available in the aquarium trade today are bred in captivity as they are close to extinction in their native habitat, Mexico City, due to habitat loss.
Many color variations of axolotls exist, including the albino, leucistic (white but not albino), melanic (black), xanthic (yellow) and many more. Axolotls should only be housed with other similar sized axolotls. Most aquarium fish are not good mixers with axolotls since either the fish would be hunted down or the fish would pick on the axolotl’s external gills. Axolotls take most live and frozen foods, especially bloodworms, with enthusiasm. Some can be fed sinking pellets of appropriate size and of high protein content. Flake foods should really be the very last option to feed the axolotls if there is really nothing else available, but using them as a staple diet isn’t good in the long-term. You should avoid strong water currents when housing axolotls as that would stress them. They appreciate calm waters so a sponge filter may be a good idea.
Spawning is possible by lowering the water temperature by a few degrees (about 3°C) and conditioning the pair in advance with nutritious foods (a mix of live, frozen, and prepared is a good idea). Males deposit sperm packets around the tank and the female picks them up with her cloaca (vent). The eggs are fertilized internally and the female should start laying the eggs within a few days. The eggs are laid all around the tank, especially on plants and rocks. Hatching takes about 2 to 3 weeks depending on the water temperature. Feed the newly hatched young with live brine shrimp.
I personally keep two axolotl juveniles which are about 6 months old. One of them is the wild variety and the other is leucistic, which lead me to name them Salt and Pepper. Currently they are living in a 20 liter aquarium since they are still small. Salt (the leucistic one) got his front legs bitten off by Pepper a few times, but it always managed to get it grown back within a few weeks.
If you are able to provide proper care, an axolotl tank is surely an exotic and unique addition to your home aquariums. I would recommend them to any experienced aquarists who would like to try out something different!
Along with being hard to find, unique, and easy to take care of, they are also easy to breed. Though it takes about 2 years before they are big enough to easily distingiush gender, breeding is relatively easy (and profitable). As long as your pair is happy (well fed and in proper water conditions), all you need to do is raise the water temperature to around 25-27°C, then remove the heater and let the temperature drop fairly rapidly. The male will then drop little triangles and the female will take them. Then bring the tank back to normal and wait for fry.
Axolotls are fairly easy to take care of, but there are a couple things that are important to know. They absolutely CANNOT be kept on gravel. When axolotls eat, they open their mouth and create a vacuum, which sucks in everything within reach. So if they are on gravel, they'll eat it. They can't pass gravel, so it becomes lodged in their stomach and causes illness and death. Sand is the best option because no substrate freaks them out. Make sure that you keep them cold enough. The highest possible temp is 21°C. Earthworms are the best food option for them, but mine eat carnivore pellets and bloodworms as well. Axolotls are from the bottoms of lakes in Mexico, so they are also intolerant of light and water current. Besides these basic needs, axolotls make wonderful pets, and mine are incredibly owner responsive :) My leucistic Hooper eats from my hand.
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