Axolotl - Everything about this special amphibian as a pet | (2024)

The Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), there are few aquatic animals with a more unusual appearance. With its special appearance, the animal resembles few other animals. Because, what kind of animal is it actually? Is it a fish? Or a lizard? In this article you can read all about this striking animal and its unique properties, both in the wild and as an aquarium animal.

What is an axolotl?

An axolotl is a (rare in the wild) animal species that belongs to the salamanders. However, it differs greatly in appearance from other salamander species. An Axolotl remains in the larvae stage for its entire life. The external gills, the blue-purple branches that are located on the sides of the head, are striking. All salamander larvae have this characteristic, but in axolotls it remains present throughout their lives, while in salamander larvae it disappears during development.


Axolotls are extremely inactive animals. They spend most of the day resting quietly on underwater plants or the bottom. Occasionally they come to the surface of the water to take in some air and then resume their resting position. They also get some exercise to eat something. They will snap at almost anything that moves, whether it is food or something else. They move quite slowly.

Living environment

In the wild, the axolotl is only found in certain waters in Mexico; Furthermore, the animal is not found in nature anywhere in the world. The habitat is also limited in Mexico: they are currently only found in Lake Chalco in central Mexico. The population in Lake Xochimilco, which was also previously a habitat, has become "extinct" due to the declining quality of the lake.
Despite the declining population in the wild, there are still plenty of Axolotls alive. The species is intensively bred for research purposes and as an aquarium animal.
This species of salamander always lives in the water and depends on it for survival. The animal needs water to breathe through its external gills. Just like fish, they can regularly come to the surface for air.


In appearance, the Axolotl is a special salamander species. The amphibian spends its entire life in the larval stage. This means that the animal's gills are located externally; 3 on each side of its head. The external gills are immediately noticeable and form the animal's exceptional appearance. A normal salamander larva also has these external gills, but in other salamander species these disappear and form lungs as the larva develops. This transformation from gill breathing to lung breathing does not take place in the axolotl. At least, usually not, because when the water in which the animal lives dries up, in some cases they can develop further and switch to lung breathing.

Furthermore, a flattened, broad head with small eyes, a fin-like tail and weak legs characterize the appearance. Due to these exceptional characteristics, the axolotl is sometimes called the “Mexican walking fish”.
The body color varies: axolotls that live wild in Mexican waters usually have a grayish or brown color. Animals that have been bred specifically for keeping in aquariums usually have a white color, although other colors also occur.
An adult axolotl grows to an average of about 24 centimeters, with peaks of up to 30 centimeters. Axolotls in the wild usually do not live longer than about 12 years. In captivity, however, the animals can live a lot longer, with a maximum age of around 25 years.

  • Life expectancy (wild): 12 years
  • Life expectancy (captivity): 25 years
  • Dimensions: 24 centimeters (average) to 30 centimeters

Scientific research into regeneration capacity

Another unique property is the ability to regrow lost body parts. Because axolotls bite at almost anything that moves, they sometimes bite off the gills around the legs of their peers. The animals' ability to regenerate is unique, which means that these lost body parts grow back automatically. This makes the axolotl a very interesting research object for scientists. If this ability to regenerate is fully understood and applied to humans, it could mean that lost limbs could regrow.

Axolotl as a pet

Axolotls are great to keep as pets in an aquarium. Axolotls are even bred specifically for this. However, do not expect an active animal: they are very lazy and only occasionally move to gasp for air. Because they naturally snap at anything that moves, it is wise not to place fish or other animals in the same aquarium.

It is important that the animal can be completely submerged under water, but can also always breathe above the water. A layer of water of 30 centimeters is therefore sufficient, more water is not a problem. Choose an aquarium with a capacity of approximately 250 liters to house two adult axolotls (dimensions: 1 meter x 50 centimeters x 50 centimeters or 1m x 40cm x 60cm). Change the water regularly or place a water filter in the aquarium to maintain the water quality. It is ideal to use a filter and change part of the water every week. This way the water quality does not fluctuate too much. It is also important that the filter does not cause any current. Axolotls cannot tolerate this and can become ill when currents are present.

Ideally, the water has the following quality values:

  • pH value (acidity): 6.5 – 8
  • water hardness: 8 – 12 DH
  • temperature: 16 – 18 degrees Celsius

Do not use ground cover or choose gravel with a diameter of more than 2 centimeters. Small pebbles or sand can be eaten and cause health problems. Shelter is also important: water plants or a cave are indispensable! Regular aquarium lighting is sufficient.

Multiple axoltls together

Multiple axolotls can be kept together. Keep in mind that young axolotls can be eaten by their adult counterparts. In addition, other animals such as fish can also be eaten. So keep axolotls without other species and separate different generations until they are all adults and fully grown.

Axolotl - Everything about this special amphibian as a pet | (2024)


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