An Axolotl is a hardy salamander native to Mexico. Their ear to ear grin, pink headdress (gill fins) and charismatic underwater dance has made them a popular attraction. They are easy to manage, making the keeping of an Axolotl as a pet ideal for most.
The Axolotl has a rich historical and cultural significance as it was revered as an Aztec god. In the scientific world, it has been used due to its ability to cheat age and regenerate some of its damaged body parts.
The Axolotl population in the pet world continues to thrive although in the wild it is on the verge of extinction. One may be tempted to wonder if the captive population is the hope for this charismatic creature.
We have created this article to guide you on how to take care of an Axolotl as a pet.
Axolotl species profile
The Axolotl is a neotenic salamander commonly known as the Mexican walking fish. It is classified scientifically as Ambystoma mexicanum and is related to the tiger salamander.
The Axolotl is an unusual amphibian with a rare ability to reach maturity without undergoing metamorphosis. Meaning, Axolotls maintain their tadpole fins and external gills and remain aquatic throughout their lives.
Axolotls have a wide range of colors with black to mottled brown variety being common in the wild. The albino and white colored varieties are the most common Axolotls kept as pets. The size of a mature adult Axolotl ranges from 6 – 18 inches and have a life expectancy of between 10 and 20 years.
|Common name||Axolotl, the Mexican walking fish|
|Scientific name||Ambystoma mexicanum|
|Adult size||6 – 18 inches|
|Life expectancy||10 – 20 years|
|Color||WiLd species; Commonly black to mottled brown|
Captive species; Albino and white variety
The Axolotl is native to Mexico being found only in Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco (drained).
Keeping of an Axolotl as a pet
Axolotls are hardy salamanders that are easy to keep and care for. This makes them ideal pets for new exotic pet enthusiasts. In this section we will look at the basics of keeping Axolotls as pets.
Handling of an Axolotl
Axolotls are hardy salamanders and can adjust to slight environmental variations. They however have very delicate bodies which makes unnecessary handling not recommended.
The Axolotls have the rare ability to develop sexual maturity without undergoing metamorphosis. They have features resembling salamander larvae. Axolotls have large flat heads with lidless eyes and their limbs are underdeveloped with thin long digits. They have external gills and a large caudal fin extending from behind the head to the vent.
Most of their body is made of cartilage instead of bone. Their limbs are liable to being easily injured or broken. It is not recommended to handle them unless it is really necessary. If you have to move them, you can use a fine mesh net. Be careful that the net does not entangle any part of the Axolotls body.
Housing of an Axolotl
The Axolotl is a neotenic salamander native to Mexico being found only in Lake Xochimilco. They are amphibians that do not undergo metamorphosis into adulthood keeping their tadpole state thus spend all their lives in water. To keep an Axolotl as a pet there are several factors that you will need to consider.
An adult Axolotl can grow to as big as 18 inches in size. They require an ample space to move about in the tank. An adult Axolotl typically requires at least a water tank with a capacity of between 10 and 20 gallons. The bigger the better.
The Axolotl is famous for his underwater dance. They spend most of their time underwater and thus require a water tank with a depth of at least 6 inches. Ensure the tank has a lid as Axolotls may try to jump out of the water tank.
The Axolotl will eat anything that will fit in their mouths. They feed by sucking and may accidentally feed on particles in the substrate such as gravel. This may cause digestive problems such as impaction.
Is substrate important?
Axolotls love to walk on the surface of their enclosure. Having no substrate may make your Axolotl slide as they walk which may cause them to be distressed. Additionally, it makes Axolotls happy to dig on the substrate. It is therefore paramount to have the right substrate for your Axolotls water tank.
Sand is a good substrate. Sand particles are small hence and can pass through the digestive system if ingested. Alternatively you can use large pebbles. It also makes it easy for you to add plants and other decorations such as caves to provide hiding spots for your Axolotl.
1. Water temperatures
To ensure the health and well being of your Axolotl, it is important to maintain proper water conditions. Axolotls are poikilotherms.
Low temperatures slow down their metabolism while high temperatures increase metabolism. Both may lead to stress and eventually death. Keep water temperatures between 61°F and 64°F to encourage food intake.
Keep the tank in a cool room away from direct sunlight. Additional special lighting is not required for Axolotls.
2. Water acidity
It is important to maintain the pH level of the water at around 6.5 – 7.5. You can adjust the pH using pH test kits such as the API pH test kit sold on amazon.
Chlorine and other additives used to treat water are toxic to Axolotls. Chlorine combines with ammonia to form chloramines which are also toxic. It is essential to use dechlorinators to treat your Axolotls’ water.
We recommend tap water treated with a good dechlorinator. Do not use distilled water.
Axolotls are adapted to still waters. Filtration may interfere with the stillness of the water. Adding plants helps block some of the currents.
We recommend a 20% change of the water once every week for water tanks with filters. If you are not using a filter you may have to change the water by 20% daily. Do not do a full water change as these may change the water chemistry drastically stressing your Axolotl.
Read our article on best filters for axolotls
Axolotls are not social animals and do not require aquarium mates. When put together with other smaller fish pets, Axolotls may consume the fish. Bigger fish on the other hand may nib on the Axolotls’ delicate body causing a lot of damage in the process.
Do not house Axolotls together. Juvenile axolotls have been reported to be cannibalistic. House them in separate enclosures.
Feeding an Axolotl
The Axolotl is carnivorous. Therefore, they rely on a diet that is entirely meat based. In the wild they feed on a wide variety of small prey including small
fish, worms and insects. They will eat anything that fits in their mouths including other small Axolotls.
Axolotls locate their food through the sense of smell and will grab anything they perceive as food. They feed by sucking food into their stomachs by creating a sucking force.
As pets, Axolotls can be fed on a wide variety of readily available food (Sold in pet stores). They can be fed on the following foods;
- Commercial fish pellets such as salmon or trout pellets
- Frozen or live worms such as earthworms, blood worms, wax worms or black worms
- Frozen meals such as shrimps prawn, tuna and lean chicken or beef can be given as treats.
- Breeder fish – Axolotls can be fed on breeder fish although care should be taken as these may contain internal or external parasites that could affect the Axolotl.
Generally, Axolotls require no mineral or vitamin supplementation.
How often should they be fed?
Axolotl generally eat only when necessary. That is they will eat until they are full. An adult Axolotl can eat about 2 earthworms every 3 days. Juvenile and growing Axolotls may require a meal every day.
To feed your Axolotl, drop the food near him / her. You can also hang the food in the water using a string or a round- nosed forceps near the Axolotl. You can feed them during the day but if you notice they eat in the evening feed them in the evening.
It is not uncommon to find Axolotls skipping meals especially if they are still full from a previous meal. With time, you will get to know the preferences of your Axolotl. What they like to eat, how frequent and when they like it.
Remove any uneaten food every 24 hours to keep the water clean. If unsure consult your veterinarian on what and how much to feed your Axolotl as these may vary depending on their size and age.
Common Health problems of Axolotls
Axolotls are popular exotic pets because they are easy to manage. This grinning salamander is famous for his charismatic dancing and regenerative capabilities. This however does not protect them from health problems.
Common health problems that affect Axolotls include;
- Impaction – Axolotls eating by suctioning food into their stomach. In the process they may eat gravel in their substrate which can lead to impaction.
- Injuries – Axolotls have the ability to regenerate injured/ broken limbs or gills with time. This may however become infected which may be fatal. Keep injured Axolotls in cool clean waters.
- Stress – Inappropriate water conditions may cause stress on your Axolotls. Stress reduces food intake which may lead to diseases and eventually death. Maintain the recommended water conditions always.
- Infections – Unsanitary conditions can predispose your Axolotl to bacterial, viral or fungal infections which are potentially fatal to your Axolotl. Ensure you keep your Axolotls water clean at all times.
- Poisoning – unsanitary conditions may lead to ammonia build up which is toxic to your Axolotl. Clean the water tank regularly as recommended.
Consult your veterinarian if you suspect your Axolotl is not feeling well.
Legal aspects of keeping an Axolotl as a pet
Axolotls are classified as exotic pets. Keeping an Axolotl as a pet is regulated. Different states have different regulations concerning the keeping of Axolotls as pets.
In some states the keeping of Axolotls as pets is illegal. These states include; New Jersey, California, Mane, and Virginia. In some states you can keep Axolotls but you cannot import them from other states.
Axolotls are native to Mexico. The wild species are on the verge of extinction due to several factors including;
- Habitat loss due to urbanization
- Invasion into their habitat by predatory species such as African Tilapia.
- Water pollution
Axolotls are classified as critically endangered species. Do not take wild Axolotls for use as pets. Note that the species used as pets are bred from captive species used for research.
Confirm with the exotic pet laws of your state if you want to keep an Axolotl as a pet.