|AXOLOTL (Ambystoma mexicanum)
Most amphibians spend part of their lives in the water, usually when young, but then climb onto land when their lungs are fully formed, continuing their adulthoods solely or partly on dry soil. Not so for the axolotl. This neotenic mole salamander fails to undergo metamorphosis when it is a larva, so it never produces the lungs it would need to exist out of the water. For this reason, it is restricted to spend its whole life underwater.
Unfortunately for all of us – mostly them – they are only found naturally in one lake in Mexico, Lake Xochimilco (pronounced So-chee-mil-co), a high altitude, fresh water lake. As this lake is used for drinking, industrial and other residential uses, it is shrinking and soon may dry up completely, as did nearby Lake Chalco (the only other lake that is known to have supported Axolotls). There have also been a lot of new predatory fish that have been introduced into this lake that eat axolotls. This means that axolotls are on the brink of extinction in the wild and may be gone before any conservation practice can save them.
The good news is they will probably not go extinct in captivity. Axolotls have been studied for many years and are widespread in the scientific community (although their genetic variation remains low since many of the existing animals were bred from limited specimens). Axolotls have long enthralled scientists because they can regrow almost all of their limbs completely and regenerate parts of their brains if they are damaged. They have played an important role in stem cell research and are being used in medical research for limb and brain regeneration and heart defect studies.
Description: Axolotls can grow to be 10 inches long. They are usually dark brown with black spots, but are often seen as albino (white) mutants or in other color combinations. They have small legs and feet, but long tails, with a fin running down their back from their head to the tip of their tail. They have another fin underneath their tail. Their feathery gills are easy to see near their neck areas.
Life Cycle: Females take in a male’s spermatophore. Hours to days later, she lays 400 – 1000 eggs. They hatch after 2 – 3 weeks. Tiny larvae grow until they reach maturity at about 10 inches.
Prey: Axolotls are carnivorous. They were the top predator in their food chain, eating molluscs, worms, small fish and arthropods, until larger fish were introduced into their lake. Axolotls use electro-sensing ability to find prey, as well as good vision and the ability to detect chemicals.
Predators: They are preyed upon by large fish and birds such as herons.Due to their precarious future, axolotls are Critically Endangered in the Wild.
The word “axolotl” comes from an Aztec word, “nahuatl” which translates to “water sprite” or “water dog”. Xolotl was an Aztec god, the patron of the dead, games, and twins. He, himself, was resurrected into the form of a dog.