Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) care guide


May 9, 2023
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Perth, Australia
About the axolotl
The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is a critically endangered paedomorphic relative of the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). They have large, feathery gills, finned tails and wide heads. Axolotls come in a variety of different colours known as morphs. As neotenic salamanders axolotls never undergo metamorphosis, retaining these characteristics throughout their entire lives and never emerging from the water. Under extremely rare circumstances, they will metamorph into ordinary salamanders and adopt a more traditional amphibian lifestyle. The axolotl has the ability to regenerate complete limbs regardless the site of injury along the limb axis. The axolotl is only native to Lake Xochimilco and the now extinct Lake Chalco in the Valley of Mexico. They are popular pets nowadays because of their unique looks. There are less than 1000 axolotls left in the wild as of now.
Limb regeneration
The feature of the axolotl that attracts most attention is its healing ability: the axolotl does not heal by scarring and is capable of the regeneration of entire lost appendages in a period of months, and, in certain cases, more vital structures, such as tail, limb, central nervous system, and tissues of the eye and heart. This unique ability has inspired scientists on how it actually works and how it could apply with people with injuries.

Axolotl care
For a single axolotl, a 30 gallon tank is required, for a pair you need to double the size of the tank into 60 gallons and so on. This is because axolotls need a lot of room to move and can get large. Make sure the tank has a secure lid, as it's not uncommon for these animals to try to jump out of their enclosure. A land area is unnecessary in the tank for these fully aquatic animals. At a minimum, the water depth should be slightly more than the length of your axolotl. But adding extra depth will help with water quality and give your animal more room to move. The water temperature tolerated by axolotls is between 59 – 73 F. The ideal water temperature is between 60 – 64 F. In their natural environment the water temperature may fall to 42 F. (perhaps even lower), and rarely exceeds 68 F. Axolotls will tolerate water with a pH in the 6.5 to 8.0 range, however the ideal pH level for them is around 7.4 – 7.6.
Remove 25% of the aquarium water every 1-2 weeks to keep your axolotl healthy and to make sure there is no bacteria buildup to your tank. In the wild, axolotls feed on snails, worms, crustaceans, small fish and small amphibians. In captivity, they can be fed a variety of brine shrimp, small strips of beef or liver, earthworms, bloodworms, tubifex worms, other frozen foods and commercial fish pellets. Do not feed any worms or fish you caught yourself, as they can carry parasites. In general, no vitamin or mineral supplements are necessary.
Unsanitary tank conditions can lead to viral or bacterial infections, the signs of which include lethargy and a lack of appetite. Ammonia buildup from waste in the tank can be toxic. If this occurs, it can interfere with the respiratory process causing damage to the gills as well as result in neurological damage. Some common health issues for axolotls include:

Fungal infections: As axolotls are not protected by scales, they can easily cut themselves on abrasive surfaces within the tank. If uneaten or regurgitated food (especially meat products) are left in the tank and your axolotl comes into contact with it this can lead to a fungal infection which affects your axolotl.

Heat stress: any water temperature above 20 ̊C can cause heat stress.

"Ammonia burn": Ammonia is toxic to all fish, however axolotls are more sensitive to ammonia as they have no scales.

Contact your vet if your axolotl have any of these issues.

How to build your axolotl's tank
We usually see axolotls in 'candy' aquaria, meaning aquariums that are not suited to them visually. A biotope aquarium is best suited for this species. For an axolotl tank, you will need some river sand or gravel, some plants native to the axolotl's range and some hardscape. Pour in the substrate you want into the bottom of a 30 gallon aquarium. Put some river pebbles to imitate a lake bed and some sunken driftwood for fallen trees. Axolotls might like leaf litter, so put some botanicals in your tank. You must boil them for an hour before use first. Plants that might be used for the build include Fissidens sp., Fontinalis sp., Bacopa monnieri, Eleocharis parvula and Riccia fluitans. Fill the tank and let it cycle. After the tank is cycled for 1-2 weeks, put the axolotl in the tank.
A recap of the article:
  1. There are less than 1000 axolotls left in the wild
  2. Axolotls can regenerate their own limbs
  3. They live in Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco
  4. Care is intermediate to difficult
Axolotls are popular and unique pets to keep. Their threats include capture for the pet trade and habitat loss. Other threats include human development, waste water disposal and loss of habitat due to droughts. According to a study carried out by Mexican biologist Luis Zambrano, there were 6,000 axolotls per square kilometre in the Xochimilco lake complex in 1998; today, there are just 35. Some zoos, including the San Diego Zoo, keep them and help save the species from extinction. Conservation of this species is very important because they are critically endangered. If you're going to own an axolotl, this care guide is for you.

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