Axolotl: The Unusual “Mexican Walking Fish”
Among the wonderful Mexican fauna, one of the most famous and appreciated species in Mexico is the Axolotl, due to its unusual physical appearance, which is striking and really adorable.
Many people have been captivated by this species, which they have called “Mexican walking fish” and have wanted to have it in their home aquariums.
The Axolotl is one of the rarest animals in the world and unfortunately is in danger of extinction.
Its scientific name is Ambystoma mexicanum. The Axolotls name comes from the Nahuatl word Xolotl, which was the name of the Aztec god of death and resurrection, which according to Aztec mythology, he became an Axolotl to escape from his enemies.
This fish is also known as “Mexican walking fish” although it is actually an amphibian.
Origin and Habitat
This creature is native to the lakes of Xochimilco, near Mexico City, its evolutionary origin dates back more than 400 years.
Currently, due to factors such as urbanization of the area and water pollution, it is impossible to find them in their natural habitat. It is considered an endangered species by the Mexican government since they estimate that only 700 to 1,200 specimens exist.
Axolotl Physical Characteristics
Size: they can reach a size between 25 and 30 cm depending on their habitat, they have a long and thin body and weigh around 60 to 227g.
Appearance: physically they are described as “tadpoles one step away from becoming salamanders”. This aspect is because, although they become adults, they never stop being a tadpole completely.
The Axolotl’s skin is smooth and covered by a kind of protective “mucus”; its head is wide, its eyes are round, small and black that do not have eyelids.
Its legs are short and its tail is shaped like a fin that helps it swim. It has six external gills behind its head, with which it breathes; it can also breathe through its lungs by its skin and through its mouth.
They have a cartilaginous skeleton and muscles like fish. In addition, they have teeth and a jaw powerful enough to hold their prey tightly.
Color: Usually, sand colored or browns with darker spots and dark purple gills, rarely white or albino.
Lifespan: It is between 10 and 12 years, but in captivity can live up to 15 years.
Axolotls can go out and walk on the land, but they prefer to lurk at the bottom of lakes or rivers, even though they have lungs, they do not use them to breathe.
They have a quiet personality most of the time. They remain almost inactive during the day and sporadically come to the surface of the water to breathe. Except at lunchtime where they become a little more aggressive with their prey.
The Axolotls communicate with each other through chemical and visual signals, this happens much more frequently in the mating period where they also communicate through pheromones.
Axolotls have an excellent capacity for regeneration. They can regenerate their legs, tail and even organs such as the kidney, heart or lungs, achieving complete functionality in approximately 2 months.
Some scientists are researching the DNA of the axolotls to get clues about their regeneration to help the studies of human tissue regeneration.
They are carnivorous animals, usually eating mollusks, small fish, worms, mosquito larvae, and even in some cases can eat some axolotls that are smaller than them, even if it is an adult.
Inside the aquarium, you can give them high-quality granules that provide the nutrients they need in addition to small strips of meat and fish.
Their food must be of an adequate size so that they can digest it whole, bear in mind that these animals have very small teeth, which make chewing a little difficult in some cases.
This is the only animal that has the ability to reproduce in its larval state. They are sexually mature after 6 months, most reaching puberty in the first year of life.
Their reproduction period starts from January to March, it only happens once a year and the water temperature level has a great influence on this process.
Courtship begins when the male and female get close together, then they begin to move in a circular way and at one point the male moves away a little and is chased by the female.
Then, the male will deposit a protein capsule containing a mass of spermatozoa, transferred during mating, (this process is called Spermatophore) on some stone or aquatic vegetation and the female will collect them to be fertilized afterwards.
Once the female has fertilized, she will be able to lay eggs by group in the next 24 to 48, the Axolotl females can lay between 300 and 1000 eggs. The hatchlings are born between 10 and 14 days later.
There are some aspects to take into account in order to have a quality aquarium for an Axolotl so that it can live in optimal conditions, they are cold-water animals, therefore they can get stressed with high temperatures.
The aquarium should be large; as the Axolotl is about 12 inches though some have gotten as big as 18 inches and can way as much as 12 ounces, they need an aquarium of about 10-15 gallons, so that they can swim comfortably. Also, be sure to place a lid on the tank. Axolotls have been know jump out of their aquariums from time to time.
The temperature should be between 60-65ºF (15 -18 ºC), with multiple hiding places and preferably with live silver. And never let the temperature go over 71 ºF (21 ºC)
For newborn babies the appropriate water temperature should be between 64and 68ºF (18and 20ºC) and it is recommended that it does not exceed 77 ºF (25ºC).
Try to keep the water temperature at a steady and stable range. Fluctuating temps can cause stress on the Axolotl and make them prone to stress and infections.
Lighting should be dim and cold since they are nocturnal animals, bright light could stress them, and it is necessary to keep the water at the right temperature.
A good filter is essential to preserve the quality of the water and an air pump to maintain the right amount of oxygen so that the axolotls can breathe comfortably with their gills.
Axolotl Tank Mate
It is difficult to find an aquarium partner for an axolotl. In order to put them in an aquarium with other fish, some requirements must be met, such as not putting small axolotls with adult axolotls, since the large ones could eat the small ones.
Larger fish can also nibble at their gills and injure them by mistaking them for food.
For this reason, you can have several Axolotls as long as you have a space proportional to the amount you want in your aquarium, for example, if to have an Axolotl I recommend a minimum of 15 gallons of water, for 2 you will need about a 29 gallon tank.
This will ensure that each one will have ample space to move around.
Fun Facts about Axolotls
- Its name comes from the Nahuatl word axolotl, which means “water monster”.
- This amphibian has been the inspiration for pre-Hispanic legends, also for a story by the famous novelist Julio Cortazar and works by Roger Barta.
- The creators of Pokemon were inspired by this animal to create an aquatic creature called “Wooper”.
- The axolotl is guided by smell to find food.
- Their ability to renounce is so incredible that they can repair your spinal cord when it is injured and make it function as if it was not damaged.
- In the time of the Aztecs, they were considered the reincarnation of the god Xolotl.
- There is a music group called “Axolotes Mexicanos” thanks to this fish that the band liked very much.
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