Meet America’s Second Most Popular Pet: the Axolotl
There is a new pet in town, and everyone is talking about it — so much so, that it bumped the house cat down to No. 3 in the vote for America’s most popular pet, according to research from All About Cats.
While the axolotl pet is not furry or cuddly or even really that cute — well, maybe it’s ugly cute — this amphibian is quite literally making waves in households across the U.S. If you’re looking for a pet axolotl to add to your family, check out these fun facts that will only make you love this popular animal more.
Axolotls Are Amphibians
The axolotl, sometimes called a Mexican Walking Fish, is an amphibian.
Though they rarely surface, they can gulp air above the water as well as breathe underwater with their gills.
In Fact, They’re a Type of Salamander
You may have thought they were a type of frog, understandably — or a weird, mutated fish with legs maybe?
But they are actually a type of salamander and are closely related to the tiger salamander.
Axolotls Originated in Mexico
In the wild, axolotls live in two lakes in Mexico: Lake Xochimiclo and Lake Chalco, both of which are located in Central Mexico.
These are the only two lakes in the world where you can find these creatures in their natural habitat.
Wild Axolotls Are Critically Endangered
While the pet axolotl is becoming more popular, their wild cousins are dwindling.
They are listed as critically endangered due to “pollution, habitat degradation and water diversion from an ever-growing human population,” according to the San Diego Zoo.
Their Name Translates to ‘Water Dogs’
The name axolotl is the common name for the Ambystoma mexicanum. The word comes from the Aztec language Nahuatl, and loosely translates to mean “water dogs.”
No wonder they are now second to man’s furry best friend!
You’re Pronouncing It Wrong
No surprise, this is a hard word to get right. Most people, even Google, will pronounce it ak-suh-laa-tl.
However, the correct pronunciation of the Nahuatl word is Ash-a-Lot.
Axolotls Are Pedomorphic
Pedomorphic animals retain some of their juvenile features as an adult. In fact, they are a rare type of amphibian that does not go through metamorphosis as it matures.
It’s this fact that allows this unusual amphibian to keep its gills and live underwater even as an adult.
Axolotls Have a Long Lifespan
Taken care of properly, the axolotl can live to be about 15 years old. This is their average lifespan in the wild, too, if they are not caught by predators.
The introduction of larger fish into their two lake habitats has further dwindled their numbers.
They Can Regenerate
Axolotls have amazing healing properties. They can grow back limbs, vertebrae, muscle and organ tissue!
That means they could regrow part of their brain if it was injured or even their heart.
Axolotl Come in a Range of Colors
Wild axolotls are mostly black or brown and can be mottled. These colors help them blend in with the lake bottoms.
They can also be white and albino, with these colors being more common in pet axolotls.
In the Wild, Axolotls Have a Varied Diet
Eating a bit like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up what they come across, axolotls eat worms, insect larvae, crustaceans, small fish and mollusks, according to National Geographic.
Like Birds, Axolotls Eat Rocks to Aid With Digestion
As if this creature couldn’t get any weirder, it shares a digestive habit with a bird! While hoovering its food into its mouth, axolotls will often gobble up small rocks or sand, too.
These rocks help them break down food, just like a bird eating grit.
In Aztec Legend, the Axolotl Is a God Transformed
Xolotl, twin brother to the god Quetzalcóatl, did not want to be sacrificed, so he ran, hiding in various places on Earth until he came to Lake Xochimiclo, where he transformed himself into an axolotl.
In some versions of the legend, he is captured and killed, while in others, he was made to live out his life as a “monster” (in other words, the Axolotl).
Pet Axolotls Do Best on a Simple Diet
While wild axolotls may have a varied diet, research done by the San Diego Zoo found that young axolotls did best on a diet of straight bloodworms.
They grew the fastest on that diet versus those fed just daphnia (common water fleas) or even a mix of daphnia and bloodworms.
Axolotl Hatch in Just 2 Weeks
Once fertile, the eggs are left on plants and rocks and, in just two weeks, the baby axolotls hatch and start fending for themselves.
There is no parenting from either the male or female axolotl.
Axolotls Get Quite Large as Adults
Before you think about sticking an Axolotl into a small “bowl,” be aware that they get quite big! Full-grown axolotls can be as large as 12 inches, though many are around 6 inches in length.
Still, even at that size, they need plenty of room to move around.
In Fact, They Need at Least a 2-Foot Tank
For one axolotl, you will need at least a 2-foot-long tank for them to be comfortable and happy.
If you want more than one, you will need a bigger tank.
Sand Is a Good Base for Your Pet Axolotl Tank
Sand is a good choice as it gives them traction to walk on and won’t cause impaction when they eat it.
You don’t want to use pea-size gravel, as that can cause impaction when digested.
Keep Their Water Cold
Although they come from Mexico, and you may think they would like warm water, the axolotl prefers water in the 57– to 65-degree Fahrenheit range.
Anything warmer can cause stress and disease.
Axolotls Prefer Still Water
While you need a filter to keep your tank clean, make sure the airflow is not so strong to create a current in your tank.
You do not want your axolotl pushed around by a current, as this can also lead to stress and disease.
Young Axolotls Should Be Fed Daily
Feed your young axolotl every day.
When they reach maturity (around six months), you can feed them as little as every two or three days.
Male Axolotls Will Have Larger Cloaca
You cannot tell the sex of a young axolotl. But when they mature, males will have a larger cloaca (vent).
Females tend to be fatter, while males may have a longer body and tail.
Axolotl Do Not Have Eyelids
You may have noticed they seem to always be staring at you.
Like fish, axolotls do not have eyelids.
They Are Not Blind
Contrary to popular belief, axolotls are not blind.
However, like many underwater, bottom-dwelling creatures, they cannot see well at all.
Axolotls Do Not Like Light
Since they can’t see well and live in the dark parts of a lake, axolotls do not want a lot of light around their tank.
Do not have any direct light on your tank and have places, like caves, for your pet axolotl to hide away from the light.
Axolotls Shouldn’t Be Housed With Other Animals
Since they are carnivores, Axolotls will try to eat anything that is small enough for them to consume. And bigger animals may attack the axolotls.
So, it’s best to only house them with other axolotls and no other animals.
Axolotls Lay Many Eggs
One female axolotl can lay anywhere between 300 and 1,000 eggs after mating.
Mating can happen up to three times a year.
The Fuzzy Side ‘Wings’ Are Their Gills
The axolotl, unlike other amphibians, retain their gills — which are the large, feathery-looking protrusions on both sides of their face — allowing them to live underwater.
They also have fully-functional lungs and can breathe air, too.
Axolotls Dance Together Before Mating
The mating ritual of the axolotl is a cute “dance” that a pair of axolotls will do before egg fertilization occurs.
They will dance in a circular fashion, rubbing against each other’s cloacas.
Axolotls Consist of Mostly Cartilage
Axolotls are more cartilage than bone, and they have a soft, easily permeable skin.
Because of this, it’s best to not handle your axolotls unless absolutely necessary.