Different kinds of animals have gone through different kinds of mythologies. From unicorns and dragons to animals guiding humans in the underworld, there sure are a handful of stories about the members of the animal kingdom. However, none as interesting as the one called the Axolotl.
During the 13th century when the Aztecs lived in the Valley of Mexico, they found a large salamander residing in the lake that surrounds their capital, Tenochtitlán. After seeing such a magnificent creature, the Aztecs decided to call the salamander “axolotl” after the god of fire and lightning, Xolotl (yup, not Zeus). Xolotl was assumed to have transformed into a salamander to avoid being sacrificed as a means for the sun and the moon to move in the sky. Eventually, the salamander was captured and killed.
Wouldn’t say that it’s the most fun of histories, but it is the most interesting! Nevertheless, here’s everything you need to know about the fascinating salamander, the Axolotl!
Description and Appearance
The Ambystoma mexicanum, or most commonly known as Axolotl (pronounced ax-oh-lot-ul), is an amphibian that belongs to the Ambystomatidae family. Currently, there are over 30 salamander species in the genus and are known as mole salamanders.
An Axolotl can reach up to 18 inches in length. Nowadays, they can only reach but half of that at 9 inches. If you have a can of soup at home, then you’re probably holding the same weight as an Axolotl. Usually, Axolotls are dark-colored with a dominantly green mottling––but some boast silver highlights on their skin. Its body is flat and broad, with a large head looming alongside feathery gills waving calmly underwater. Even under murky waters, Axolotls are guided by their dark eyes and yellow irises. Accompanied with a pretty cute, expressive face, this salamander is a truly fantastic creature.
Besides looking like a true-to-life mythological creature, the amphibian has quite the lineup of characteristics––even dumbfounding a couple of scientists. On one hand, the Axolotl has a rare physical characteristic called “neoteny” wherein they retain certain characteristics from the larval stage to the adult stage. Their gills, for example, are still present even though it already adapted to grow lungs to breathe air. On the other hand, Axolotls regenerate parts of their bodies. Though this is not uncommon between amphibians, what’s rare is the salamander’s ability to rebuild its brain, spine, and just about any body part you can think of right now.
You can just imagine having an Axolotl as a pet, but they’re exotic and endangered enough to risk being taken care of by regular citizens. However, Gage Beasley has the next best thing: an Axolotl Soft Stuffed Plush Toy! It isn’t much, but it does still showcase the inherent cuteness of the Axolotl––including its cute face and salamander body. Be careful, though, because this Axolotl doesn’t regenerate its limbs at all!
The Axolotl is a carnivore that loves small fish, worms, mollusks, crustaceans, larvae, and other small creatures the Axolotl deems worthy of digesting. As for Axolotl pets, their diets are more sophisticated––including bloodworms, blackworms, white worms, salmon pellets, and especially Daphnia. Talk about a luxurious diet, huh?
If we’re talking about which diet affects the Axolotl’s growth the most, an experiment was conducted to find out the result. It was between bloodworms, Daphnias, and a mix of both. The results stated that the salamander grew fastest on the bloodworm diet and slowest on the Daphnia diet, with the combination of both resulting in a standard rate of growth. For domesticated Axolotl pet owners, this could be a revelation for the welfare of your salamander friend.
Axolotls aren’t just fascinating because of their regenerative abilities and breathtaking looks, but the way they reproduce has not let us down. Axolotl reproduction starts with dancing, and that’s no joke. After the male and female counterparts stroke one another’s urogenital opening (cloaca), the Axolotls form a circle and do some form of the waltz. As the male steps away, it wiggles its body and tail like a hula dancer and lures the female to follow. As they both dance their way through the water, the male drops a small white capsule called the spermatophore. The female then picks it up with her cloaca. After the process, the female salamander would attach up to 300 jelly-coated eggs on plants and/or rocks. In two weeks’ time, the eggs would’ve hatched and the young would already be defending themselves. For the Axolotl, it would take about a year to become sexually mature.
Unlike other amphibians, Axolotls never metamorphose into terrestrial adults––opting to live the aquatic lifestyle instead.
Distribution and Conservation Status
Axolotls live in one of the largest cities in the world, Mexico City. Unfortunately, living around populated areas isn’t good for many animals––the Axolotl included. Freshwater is a valuable resource and is competed for with tons of pollution contributing to the decay of the water. As a result, the decline of the Axolotl.
Though there have been efforts to stop the drop in population such as creating shelters with rocks and reedy plants to filter the water, the Internation Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources considers Axolotls as critically endangered with a declining population. From 1998 to 2015, the numbers have dropped from 6,000 individuals per square kilometer to just 35 individuals per square kilometer.
As always, pollution has played a detrimental part in the creature’s decline. Poor waste regulations, tourism, and a handful more threats in Mexico City have threatened the lifestyle of Axolotls.
Axolotls are interesting creatures, and that’s an understatement. With their rare abilities and even appearances, these salamanders are truly fantastic creatures. The ability to regenerate almost every part of their body, including the brain and heart, is truly unheard of––most especially if you’re not really into exotic animals or amphibians.
While they do look fascinating, their day-to-day lives aren’t as exciting as you think it is. In fact, these unique salamanders can be a bit boring to watch as they are not very active animals. They enjoy hiding under rocks, in-between plants, and even as deep as the ocean can go. It moves slow and has an interesting reproduction cycle that involves dancing. Nevertheless, the Mexican Salamander is Earth’s way of telling us that unimaginable creatures exist. With that, we must be able to stop their population’s decreasing numbers by implementing and following waste reduction.
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