Axolotls are named after the fire and lightning Aztec god, Xolotl, who could shift into a salamander. “Axolotls” is commonly translated as “water dog” because “atl” is the old Aztec word for “water.”
Shrouded in mystery and breaking common biological rules such as metamorphosis, axolotls don’t stop making scientists surprised by their abilities. Here are 11 axolotl facts that could blow your mind.
1. Axolotls are real
Look like the Toothless character on “How to train your dragon”, axolotls (pronounced AX-oh-lot-ul) are real. It is an animal. Although being called Mexican walking fish, axolotl is not fish. It is a member of the mole salamander family. Its close and distant cousins respectively are the tiger salamander Ambystoma tigrinum and the spotted salamander Ambystoma maculatum.
Axolotls make good pets, that’s the reason why so many people keep them. They are friendly, harmless, and interactive. On the other hand, they are prone to be stressed. Water temperature, pH level, light, and flow can also make them stressed. As a result, it is critical to ensure that the housing is properly set up.
2. Axolotls have a baby look for their entire lives
Axolotls in the wild, unlike other salamanders, rarely reach adulthood. They are neotenic organisms, which means they reach sexual maturity without going through metamorphosis, as other amphibians do. They keep their larval characteristic.
While many amphibians, such as the salamander, eventually develop lungs and live on land, axolotls spend their entire life underwater. Although they grow functional lungs, it breathes underwater with their elegant, feathery gills. They, like juveniles, have external gills, webbed feet, a body fin, and a tail, but no moveable eyelids.
These features help axolotls adapt to live underwater. They need a cool temperature, a consistent pH water level, water flow and avoiding sunlight. Even though they may occasionally surface to take some air, axolotls cannot go on land, live on land, or be out of water for more than a minute.
An axolotl can grow to be 18 inches long, but their size now only is approximately 9 inches. They will stop growing when reaching adult size between 18 – 24 months. They can weigh up to 10.5 ounces. Axolotls have unique appearances. Some may have dark skin with green mottling, the others can have silver highlights.
The males have a wide and flat body with a huge head and distinctive feathery gills. They have a bulging cloaca bordered with papillae and a longer tail than the females. On the other hand, the females have a smaller cloaca and a rounder, plump body.
Their round eyes have a dark color with golden, iridescent irises. Axolotl seems to be happy all the time because the mouth is frequently curved into a faint grin (smiling)or otherwise expressive. These features make axolotls look cute. Its lizard-like limbs allow it to move over the lake’s bottom. And these limbs can reach speeds of up to 10 miles per hour (15km/h).
Some axolotls are blind. Gene e in those animals is a homozygous recessive that prevents optic vesicles from developing, resulting in an Anxolotl without eyes.
3. Only exist in one place
According to some researchers, axolotls were discovered in Mexico 10,000 years ago. They were formerly found in two high-altitude lakes: Lake Chalco and Lake Xochimilco. These aquatic species, however, can now only be found in the wild in one place: Lake Xochimilco in southern Mexico City.
The Xochimilco-Chalco basin used to include 77 square miles (200 km2) of swamps, bogs, and lagoons. When drainage projects were finished 85 years ago, this area was reduced dramatically. Axolotls are becoming scarce as a result of this, as well as the invasion of predatory carp and tilapia (those fish were brought by the Mexican government to alleviate food insecurity among low-income families).
4. Axolotls also have teeth
If you look inside axolotls’ mouths, you will think they don’t have teeth. But they actually have teeth inside their gooey jaws. Their teeth are placed in their upper and lower jaws. This salamander doesn’t use teeth to chew and certainly doesn’t use them for defense. Their teeth are only used for grabbing food. Although having teeth, axolotls rarely bite you. And their teeth are not sharp enough to cause damage.
5. Have various colors
Axolotl color pigments and patterning are the results of four distinct genes. Axolotls in the wild are mostly in a dark color (brown or black) with gold or olive spots. As a salamander, they can change their coloration a few shades lighter or darker to blend in with their surroundings.
On the other hand, lighter-colored axolotls, such as pink, leucistic (with less melanin), and albino, are more common in axolotls that are bred in captivity. There are about 15 color types of axolotls created by artificial selection, from common to rare. Axolotl’s price can be from $40 to more than $1000, depending on their colors.
– White albino Axolotl is one of the most prevalent artificial hues. It has a white body, red gill filaments, and pink or white eyes. And it is extremely sensitive to intense light. When the albino gets older, the red color of the gill stalks will deepen, but the body remains totally white.
– Leucistic: Though it appears to be a regular albino at first glance, the leucistic axolotl has more translucent see-through skin with red gill filaments, and dark eyes (brown or black).
– Enigma axolotls have a dark grey body with white toes and belly, golden eyes and bright red gills. It has warm golden areas that seem green from certain angles.
– Copper: This species has a light gray-green body with copper-colored specks dispersed quite uniformly over the skin’s surface. It also has gray-red gills and eyes.
– Piebald axolotl is the rarest in real life. It is caused by a partial leucistic morph where deep green or black dots or patches cover areas of white/translucent skin. With time, the piebald spots will darken until the skin is totally covered in black and white marks.
– Chimera axolotl has half-white and half-black skin that is split horizontally down the length of the body. It is the outcome of two eggs morphing together before hatching (one is the wild type and one is albino).
– Golden Albino axolotl has dazzling gold skin with white, pink, or yellow eyes and reflecting areas on the body. This color will gradually transform from white to yellow to orange-gold throughout the lifespan.
– Firefly axolotl is a wild-type axolotl with dark color and an albino tail that glows in the dark when exposed to a black light. This is created by a green fluorescent protein.
– Black Melanoid comes in a variety of colors ranging from dark green to nearly black, with dark purple gills and a pale gray or purple belly.
– Mosaic aolotl is combined from two eggs (one is albino/leucistic and one is dark or wild type). Instead of the chimera’s colors being split down the middle, the outcome is a randomly spotted salamander with white, black, and golden dots.
– Lavender variant has a light silvery and purple coloration, along with gray-red gills and black eyes. These colors can turn gray or green when axolotls become older.
– Speckled Leucistic is a mutation of leucistic. The heads, tails, and backs of this species are speckled with dark green, brown, or black. Their basic color is white, like in typical leucistic morphs, and the degree of speckling is not as intense as in mosaic morph.
– Wild Type version comes with deep gray-green with black and olive markings. They also have gold iridophores dots and a light belly.
6. They Are Carnivorous
Axolotls are efficient predators despite their adorable infant looks and immature fangs. They burrow beneath the watery plants and muck during the day to avoid being eaten. At night, they become energetic and hungry. As we mentioned before, axolotls don’t eat food in a normal way, they suck food, instead of chewing.
Axolotl’s diet is varied. They consume almost anything from worms (earthworms, not mealworms because they’re too tough to digest), mollusks, snails, crabs, to small fish, and insect larvae! They aren’t choosy and will eat both dead and alive meat. In general, they will eat anything which can fit their mouths.
Young axolotls and those who don’t have enough food can be cannibalistic. They will eat off a part of the body of a nearby family member. That’s the reason why Axolots cannot live or be kept together.
In captivity, they commonly consume brine shrimp, slices of animal liver, earthworms, fish food, and other foods. However, a varied diet may not be suitable for the growth of axolotls when compared to a normal, high-quality, and consistent diet.
A recent study evaluated three diets for axolotls: bloodworm (invariant), Daphnia (a small aquatic crustacean) (invariant), and a combination of these two prey items. The juvenile axolotls developed the fastest on the bloodworm diet and the slowest on the Daphnia one. While axolotls with the mixed diet just develop with medium rates.
To eat, axolotls use a suction method. Axolotls consume via a suction mechanism. Gravel may also be ingested, which aids in the grinding of food in its stomach (In the same way that birds utilize grit to break down food for digestion.)
7. Can regenerate body parts
There are many fish and amphibians which can regenerate their tails and limbs. But axolotls bring this ability beyond this by rebuilding limbs, skin, jaws, ovary, spinal cords, lung cells, and even parts of their hearts and brains. More than that, an axolotl can regenerate during its lifespan.
” There is nothing missing, there’s no scarring on the skin at the site of amputation, every tissue is replaced. They can regenerate the same limb 50, 60, or 100 times. And every time: perfect.”
Bone, muscle, stem cells, cartilage and skin can all be replaced. Other organs can regenerate indefinitely and remain fully functional. Scientists discovered that axolotls can regrow a new limb 5 times perfectly within a few weeks, and there is no scar. But at the fifth time, few limbs could recover to their previous capability, and scar tissue began to form instead.
Researchers who hope to apply this ability to humans are very interested in the regenerative capabilities of this animal’s cells. Another superpower worth examining is that axolotls are approximately 1,000 times more resistant to cancer than mammals.
These powerful abilities don’t mean that the Mexican walking fish is immortal. Axolotls will die when the time comes. An axolotl has a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years. In captivity, they live longer than in the wild.
8. Reproduce by dancing
Axolotls begin to find a mate when they reach the age of six months (males normally mature sooner than females). In the wild, their breeding season will begin in the spring (between March and June), when the water conditions (temperatures and levels) are moderate. However, in captivity, these salamanders can reproduce twice or more per year.
Axolotls have a distinct mating behavior. The reproduction begins when two adult axolotls stroke each other’s cloacal region and continue in a circular motion. It’s similar to a waltz. The male axolotl then releases a “cone-shaped mass with a sperm cap” after approximately 30 seconds of continuous tail waving. The female axolotl gathers the cone with her cloaca, resulting in internal fertilization. During spawning, female axolotls can lay from 300 to 1000 eggs.
To avoid predators, the female deposits her eggs separately on bushes or rocks. The newborn axolotls will be on their own once the eggs hatch after 10 to 14 days. There will be no parental supervision. Larger, earlier-hatching larvae may consume smaller, younger larvae.
9. Have a big genome
This amphibian species has 32 billion DNA bases and a genome ten times larger than that of a human. This makes scientists have a difficult task in decoding their DNA. However, it is significant because it will aid researchers in discovering how the axolotl uses stem cells to rebuild tissue.
10. Sleep with eyes open
Axolotls sleep at two separate times: during the deepest hours of the night and throughout the day (mid-day). Around other times, they are active and will most likely be roaming, especially at twilight. Some scientists think it is a natural defense system to keep them secure and unseen by predators.
Storks, herons, and huge fish are the greatest threats to an axolotl in the wild. During the day, the majority of them are active and looking for food. That’s why axolotls sleep at these times.
Axolotls sleep with their eyes open. Because they lack eyelids, they never close their eyes. They nap while seeing you in the eyes.
11. They are endangered species
Despite having a few predators, the axolotls are critically endangered in the wild. Axolotls live in one small region of Mexico and inhabit less than four square miles of habitat. And they play an important role in Mexico’s lifestyle as a treat in cuisine for centuries.
Human development, pollution, lack of freshwater resources, predation by invasive fish and huge birds, as well as over-collection for food and medicine; all contribute to making axolotls endangered.
In 2009, experts predicted that their number had shrunk by 90%. They were declared extinct in the wild in 2015, but one was discovered a week later.
The number of remaining axolotls in the wild is unknown. According to some sources, there are approximately 700 to 1,200 axolotls left in the wild. If we don’t do anything, axolotls will go extinct soon.
Conservation efforts have focused on raising the water level of Lake Xochimilco, repairing the axolotls’ environment, and decreasing the population of intrusive fish species such as tilapia and carp in their habitat. They also create “shelters” at Xochimilico lake with rocks and reedy plants to help filter pure water that is carried in.
Because of the extinction risk, keeping axolotls as pets is illegal in some states of the US (D.C., Maine, California, New Jersey), California, and most countries. While in the UK, New Mexico, and Hawaii, permission is necessary.
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