Have you ever heard of an axolotl? An axolotl is an amphibian with both a tadpole-like tail and legs. In short, this amphibian has an appearance that is hard to forget. Discover more about this remarkable salamander and why it’s on the list of critically endangered animals today.
How Did This Amphibian Get Its Name?
In the 13th century, the Aztecs gave this salamander the name Xolotol, which means water dog. They believed that this creature, or water monster as they called it, transformed itself into a salamander to avoid being sacrificed. The name axolotl grew out of the Aztec word Xolotol.
Where Do They Live?
One of the most notable things about this salamander is it’s found only in Mexico. Specifically, they live in the canals of Xochimilco. Unlike many salamanders, axolotls live in the water all of their life, staying at the bottom of canals.
The Eating Habits of an Axolotl
Axolotls are carnivores. They eat small fish, worms, mollusks, and insects that find their way into the Xochimilco canals. Sometimes, they eat other types of salamanders.
Axolotls swallow their prey whole. Because they don’t see very well, they use their sense of smell to hunt their prey underwater.
How Big Are Axolotls?
An axolotl can grow to be a foot long! However, most axolotls are around 6 inches long. Also, this salamander can weigh up to 8 ounces.
What Do Axolotls Look Like?
Axolotls have smooth black or brown, spotted skin. Some are albinos, so they have bright white skin. They have a tail or a dorsal fin like a tadpole. Axolotls also have gills that look like feathers sticking out of their heads. They have four short legs with four toes on each one.
Do They Have Any Predators?
Yes, they do. Birds are their main predators, including storks and herons. These big birds dip their beaks into the canals to scoop up axolotls. Bigger fishes that live in their habitat also eat them.
Axolotls breed in the springtime. The males release spermatophores. The females then pick them up and fertilize them. Shortly after, the females release 400 to 1000 eggs that cling to plants and other aquatic vegetation in the canals. It takes about two to three weeks for axolotl eggs to hatch.
The young are so small many of them fall prey to fish and birds right away. In fact, some of the young axolotls are eaten by other axolotls that are growing more quickly. That’s why this salamander lays so many eggs. It increases the chances that at least some of the young will be able to grow into adults.
Axolotls can live to be about 15 years old.
A Critically Endangered Amphibian
Axolotls are critically endangered. Their habitat has been destroyed by water pollution of the canals. Also, humans hunt them because they are a popular dish in Mexico. In addition, axolotls are hunted and kept as pets.
Fun Facts About Axolotls
- This salamander can regrow its limbs and even its organs when it’s injured
- It is sometimes called the ‘Mexican Walking Fish’
- It can swim at a speed of 10 mph
- This salamander is 1000 times more resistant to cancer than other animals
Saving the Axolotl
Lastly, there are breeding programs and other conservation efforts to increase the population of Axolotl. Scientists are also looking for new ways to restore their natural habitat.