Tails Blog

Keeping an Axolotl for a pet in NZ

Steve Coppell - Saturday, September 04, 2010


These creatures are found in the wild only in the canal system of the former lake Xochimilcho in Mexico. These strange amphibians are easy to keep, and make  attractive, if unusual, aquatic pets.
Although officially an endangered species, Axolotls have been available from captive breeding stock since the 1830s.
They will grow to 30cm and should live for 10-12 years in captivity. However, older species of some 20 years have been reported.
An unusual feature of Axolotls is that they do not go through a normal amphbian life cycle in which eggs are laid in water by the adult hatch into tadpole like larvae and then metamorphose into adults. At this stage the animal frequently leaves the water to take up a more terrestrial lifestyle. Axolotls have forgone the need to metamorphosis. They remain in the aquatic, larval stage and reproduce without the need to become adult. The ability to do this is called Neotony.


                       MEXICAN SALAMANDER

An Axolotl can only change into adult form when the hormone thyroxine is introduced into the diet or when there is an increase of iodine levels in the water. The Axolotl gradually loses its gills, the tail reduces, and upon leaving the water, becomes a  Salamander. Metamorphosis will not normally take place without this special treatment.

Amazing Fact
The Axolotl is studied in earnest because it has the ability to regenerate lost or damaged limbs. A lost limb will regrow over a period of about 8 weeks. The new limb will be just as good as the old one, and full flexibility will be retained.



Have a think about how you might best lay out your tank intended for your axolotl. Keep in mind these creatures can ruin a delicately planted environment. Large structures, rocks and the like create visual appeal and give your axolotl some platforms from which to rest.
An external filter is recommended to clean and aerate the water but is not essential. Weekly cleaning of the furnishings and partial changes of the water is an acceptable, although more time consuming alternative.
Lighting  the aquarium can help to add to the visual appeal.
Generally speaking, Axolotls are best housed separately, since they have a tendancy to eat each others limbs. Keeping these creatures seperate does not usually cause problems, since they seem totally unconcerned about the lack of company.
Keep the water in your tank about as deep as the axolaotl is long.

Handling
Handle your axolotl only when it is necessary to, for example when your maintaining its tank environment. Be gentle cradling them in your hands or with a net, and always transfer them between waters of similar age and temperature so as not to cause them to go into shock.

Foods and Feeding
Axolotls are predators and they will eat a large variety of foods. Worms, crickets, small fish, fish pellots that sink or float, cubes of heart or lean meat are all suitable foodstuffs. Keep food pieces small. Mouth size chunks because axolotls cannot chew.
Axolotls tend to suck their prey in literally.Their teeth are very fine and they will not hurt the more adventurous keeper willing to hold a piece of food between finger and thumb.
Feed every second day. Hungry Axolotls seem to patrol their environment more than their well fed companions inducating more feeding may be required. Remove uneaten food as soon as possible to minimize fouling of the water environment.



Breeding
Once your pet is 2 years old the sexes can be distinguished easily. Viewed from above, the male axolotls head is longer and narrower than the female's, his tail is longer, and the swelling by the cloaca is greater.
In captivity, the breeding season coincides with our winter and spring, when a change of temperature often triggers breeding behavior.
This can be done artificially by raising the water tempurature to 22 degrees celsius for about a week or so, then allowing it to drop quickly. With luck and a good diet, breeding behavior should follow. The female becomes attracted to the males sweet excretetions produced from his cloaca. She follows him around the aquarium, and they dance and swim around each other for some time. Eventually the male releases triangular jelly masses, called spermatophores, that sink to the bottom of the aquarium.
The female is led over these masses until she takes some up into her cloacal opening. Some hours later she will start to spawn, and some 300-600 fertilized eggs are laid.
The egg masses are best reared seperately from the parents to prevent them from being damaged or eaten. The eggs need good but not too strong aeration from a pump. After about two weeks at 20 degrees celsius, the larvae will hatch and can then be fed on brine shrimp, tubiflex, powdered fish food, or other microscopic foods. As they grow, daphnia, glassworms, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae can also be consumed. Ample space is required to ensure a good survival rate for the hundreds of young, otherwise they will constantly snap and bite each other.

Did you know?
The name Axolotl comes from the Aztec god Xolotl, who, legend says would throw himself into water and become one of these creatures to escape his enemies. It has a number of translations including water beast, water dog and water doll.
Axolotls are frequently born as albinos.
Females have a wider head than males, while males have two large swellings between their legs.
Axolotls are native to Mexico where sadly due to predators, they are now a critically endangered species. However captive bred stock is plentiful and continues to be sold in pet shops around the world.
Light coloured axolotls develop darkened toe tips when they become sexually mature.
Axolotls get most their oxygen through their gills and skin, but they also have lungs meaning they can breath above water as well.
Axolotls don't have ears.