AXOLOTL / MEXICAN WALKING FISH
Scientific name: Ambystoma mexicanum
(From an Aztec language.) Originally native to several high altitude lakes in Mexico, today the lakes no longer exist and the Axolotl’s native habitat is reduced to a few canals. The few remaining wild populations have been CITES listed and are considered threatened, because of the threats posed by the continued expansion of nearby Mexico City. The Axolotl is quite fascinating for a number of reasons besides its lovably grotesque appearance. It has an amazing healing capability and can quickly regenerate a lost limb or damaged gill. It also displays a characteristic known as neotony: unlike related salamander species, it does not normally metamorphose into a salamander, instead remaining (and breeding) in the “juvenile” aquatic form. (Occasionally an Axolotl may metamorphose into an air breathing salamander, but this is considered a very rare event.) Colours normally available include varying shades of olive, as well as black, white and golden forms. Piebald specimens also occur, but are considered extremely rare. Adult Axolotls usually grow to 20-30cm.
Axolotls are generally quite easy to keep in an unheated aquarium. Single specimens can be kept in a moderate sized aquarium, adult specimens should be kept in an aquarium at least 60cm long. Provide a few hiding places, when keeping several specimens together. Being messy feeders, it is much easier to keep Axolotls healthy if the aquarium has a good quality filter.
A small weekly or fortnightly water change (10- 20%) is also important in preventing a build-up of organic waste material. Water chemistry is important, neutral to slightly alkaline water (pH 7.0-7.6), with a moderate general hardness is fine. Use standard water conditioner to prepare tap water ready for use. Being cool water animals, a temperature range of 10 to 22C is preferable with an optimum range of 14-20C. (Below 14oC the Axolotl’s metabolism slows down and its appetite reduces.)
Axolotls have poorly developed eyesight and mainly feed by sense of smell, they are carnivorous and prefer chunky foods: earthworms are ideal.
Place the worms near the Axolotl and don’t feed too many at once, to prevent the worms from disappearing into the sand. Live black-worms are also suitable, as long as they don’t have the chance to immediately burrow into the sand (place in a shallow terracotta dish), or have a bare bottomed or thinly substrated area at one end of the aquarium. Other foods can include lean red meat (leads to health problems if fed too often) and sinking pellet foods.
Feed once a day or every second day, feed less often in cold winter months. Ensure any uneaten food is promptly removed. If kept with fish, ensure the fish do not nip the Axolotl’s gills, and in turn, not be small enough to be eaten by the Axolotl.
Axolotls breed in early spring, fully grown females can lay up to 1000 eggs usually on aquatic plants or on other submerged objects. The eggs hatch after 2-3 weeks, the larvae initially accept small foods such as Artemia nauplii, small Daphnia and Micro worms, eventually graduating to live black worm. The growth rate is usually irregular, quicker growing specimens need to be regularly sorted out to prevent cannibalism.
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