The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is an amazing animal.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not a fish – it is a cold-blooded amphibian.
Besides being famous for its ability to regrow gills, tail, limbs and even parts of their brain, heart and head, this animal remains in a perpetual juvenile state its entire lives.
Unlike most salamander species which eventually morph (which means they lose their gills and go on land), axolotls are fully aquatic species that remain so their entire lives (very rarely will they morph).
They never grow up into their technical “adult” stage, yet they can breed! Pretty incredible, right?
Here’s why axolotls make fantastic pets:
- Easy to care for
- Comes in many varieties
- They don’t bite or scratch
- Very interesting to watch
- Unusual appearance
- Will eat from your hand or tweezers
Size & Lifespan
When well cared for, axolotls can live for 15 years.
The good news is they are very easy to care for.
Generally they grow around 8 inches, though some can reach as large as 12 inches long.
And some don’t grow past 6.
Axolotls are often referred to as derpy, sweet, lazy yet playful water dragons that capture your attention due to their unique (and we may say absolutely adorable) appearance.
They aren’t super fond of light and often can be found hiding in caves.
They often spend much of their time as adults holding still and waiting for some creature to swim by to eat.
Younger ones may be quite active.
While they might seem like simple creatures, owners will attest that their axolotls will recognize them and come over to beg for food.
Some water dragons seem to be especially fond of bubble stones in the tank and will play and swim in them for hours (axolotl Jacuzzi).
Axolotls are surprisingly simple to care for, especially compared to aquarium fish.
They don’t require heaters or expensive equipment.
As long as they have clean and cool water, food and a place to hide, their basic needs are met.
Learn more about how to care for an axolotl by reading our care guide.
Natural Habitat Environmental Issues
Sadly, much of the natural habitat (glacial lakes and water bodies such as Xochimilco in Mexico) of the native Axolotl population has been destroyed by pollution of the glacial waters through the dumping of human waste in canals for years.
They are believed to be on the verge of extinction if not totally extinct in the wild. :'(
The good news is they can do very well in captivity.
By purchasing axolotls as pets, you are supporting breeders who are keeping the species in existence.
The axolotl continues to be much studied in labs by scientists for its ability to regrow limbs, genetics and disease research.
This animal is more prevalent in labs than anywhere else.
It is from the scientists that the GFP axolotl has been made, which enables them to glow bright green under certain light.
The GFP axolotl (GFP stands for green fluorescent protein) was injected into their DNA originally from jellyfish (source).
When bred naturally, a percentage of the resulting offspring retain the ability to glow in the dark.
Grafting is also another studied aspect of axolotls.
The chimera is an axolotl variety that is created when two embryos fuse together during the early development stages.
The results can be an axolotl that appears to be split down the middle, or displays parts of its body that look like a different axolotl.
Chimeras can be a natural anomaly that are unpredictable and cannot be selectively bred for. But they can also be lab created using microsurgical techniques.
Ever heard of the firefly axolotl?
This axolotl is man-made by switching the tails of axolotls while they are still very small, resulting in an axolotl that has a tail that looks totally different from the rest of its body.
Limb Growth & Regeneration
Axolotls have the incredible ability to regenerate parts of their body when they get injured.
The process of regeneration generally takes 5-7 weeks for a juvenile.
If the limb is cut off at the wrist, a fully formed hand can be created.
If the entire leg is cut off, a new leg can regrow – including all the muscles, cartilages and other tissues.
The axolotl is the only animal that can do this to the amazing extent that it does.
Other amphibians can do this to some extent, such as frogs and salamanders, but the axolotl outdoes them by far, especially because other animals lose that ability as they grow. And as we learned earlier, axolotls never truly grow up.
Adult regeneration in people is limited largely to skin and liver cells (source).
Wrapping it Up
Axolotls truly are incredibly fascinating creatures that make great pets.
Young children and adults alike find themselves mesmerized watching and interacting with them.
So, are you thinking about getting an axolotl?
If so, I hope this post has helped you learn a little more about them. Thanks for reading!