Though known to many as the Mexican Walking Fish, Axolotls or Ambystoma mexicanum are actually not fish at all. While their unique, fish-like features make them understandably mistaken to be as such, they are, in fact, large salamanders. They live their entire lives underwater and never emerge onto land. Though they are most unusual looking, they make for a great, interactive pet. These rather large amphibians—which can grow up to 10 inches in length (12 in rare cases)—are tame creatures that need only minimal care aside from intensive temperature and water flow control.
Availability of Axolotls
Native to Mexico, axolotls can live up to 15 years (sometimes even 20!). However, they are on a steep decline as they are critically endangered. Though they are served as a delicacy in Mexico and are popular among private breeders, these amphibious creatures are not available in pet stores due to their endangered status and incompatibility with most reptile-friendly temperatures. Allan’s Pet center cannot help you acquire an axolotl (please, don’t ask), but they may be available through private breeders and online.
Size and Reproduction
As mentioned above, axolotls usually grow up to ten inches. From birth, it takes these amphibians around six months to grow eight inches, which is when they are mature enough to reproduce. Females can spawn up to 1000 eggs while fertilization can happen within a mere few hours of spawning. After attaching their eggs to a plant, it usually takes two to three weeks for a baby axolotl to hatch.
If you do get an axolotl as a pet, sheltering it within a standard 10-gallon reptile aquarium may be enough for one adult-sized creature. However, a 20-gallon aquarium may be a better and safer bet to reduce stress levels for the axolotl. Just as you would do with larger fish, make sure to enclose the tank with a breathable lid so that the axolotls do not accidentally jump out of the water.
Equipping your axolotl’s tank with a water filter is another great way to ensure that your amphibious friend is safe and healthy. However, be mindful of the filter’s water flow because direct flow induces stress-related diseases within your axolotl and cause them to not eat. You can gauge whether an axolotl is stressed when it is not eating and when its gills are forward-curled. The best way to avoid this is by fitting a spray bar or flow-spreading outlet.
Axolotl Lighting and Temperature
Like most amphibians, axolotls do not require lighting. Exposing them to direct light can also cause stress. But if there is any light-emitting near your axolotl’s tank, provide it with plenty of places to hide such as caves, wood, plants, etc, and at the very least, only use LED lighting to lessen the stressing impact.
As mentioned earlier, axolotls are only difficult to take care of because they are sensitive to mid-to-high temperature and temperature change. Exposing axolotl to anything above 74 degrees poses the risk of heat stress, loss of appetite and death. Buying an aquarium chiller for the warmer parts of the year can help lower these risks. Otherwise, if keeping temperatures below this level feels it is too difficult of a task, owning an axolotl may not be the best idea.
Because these little guys have a dangerous habit of ingesting gravel and mouth-sized objects which can cause impactions or even death, the preferred substrate for them is sand. Using larger pebbles (bigger than their head) can also be used as a good substrate.
Feeding these critters is a rather easy task, but something you should do with care nonetheless. Like most amphibians, feed your axolotl common reptile foods like nightcrawlers (giant earthworms), frozen bloodworms, or high-quality pellet fish foods. As with any pet, treat axolotl minimally. Treats for them include frozen pinky mice and supermarket shrimp, but make sure to cook the shrimp first because axolotls are vulnerable to many diseases and parasites that exist in live fish and shrimp. As is the case with most salamanders, there is no need to worry about vitamin and mineral supplementation with axolotls, especially if they are fed nightcrawlers, which provide them with all their necessary supplement needs.
If you ever owned a fish, treat an axolotl’s water quality as such. Tap water is ok, but make sure to treat it with an aquarium water conditioner to remove any chlorine and chloramines. Before placing an axolotl in its new tank/aquarium, allow the filter to cycle for several weeks to allow the water to settle and for filter bacteria to develop. And finally, always make sure you test the aquarium water with a water test kit.
Axolotl Handling and Treatment
Axolotls are delicate creatures to handle. They essentially have no real bones in their bodies, especially when young. Most of their skeleton is made up of cartilage. They also have permeable skin, which means one should not be handled unless necessary. If you use a net to move an axolotl, avoid ones with mesh that would get an axolotl’s fingers damaged. Rather, use a mesh net with very fine holes.
When keeping an axolotl as a pet, it is never advisable to keep them with fish and only rarely should you keep one with other axolotls due to their tendency to bite. Though axolotl larger than five inches are tamer tank mates, younger ones tend to bite off the legs or gills of others. So unless you feed them thoroughly and house them in large tanks, keep only one as a pet.