The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is a common name for the tadpole form of the yellow-spotted, brown salamander (Mole salamanders) found in Mexico and the western United States. It is unusual in that it attains maturity and reproduces in the tadpole stage of life. It does not have the hormone that helps other amphibians change from larvae into adults. Instead, the axolotl stays in the water and keeps its gills, undeveloped legs, and finned tails for its entire life. The tadpoles grow eventually to reach 30 cm in length in a process called neotony.
Axolotls should be housed in a tank with either no gravel or with gravel large enough that it cannot be swallowed. The water within the enclosure should be filtered. The turnover rate for the water should be approximately 4 to 5 times an hour. Axolotls should only be housed with other Axolotls of equal size.
Axolotls are sensitive to sunlight, so it is preferable to transport them in a darkened container using its own tank water. Do not place heavy rocks or decorations in the tank as they could move and injure the amphibian.
Axolotls are carnivores. An axolotl diet should consist of a combination of small fish (for example, frozen whitebait that has been defrosted and soaked to remove the high salt content), worms, insects, lean beef heart strips, commercially produced pellets or commercially produced frozen axolotl dinners, once defrosted.
In captivity, axolotls can live 5 – 6 years (some 10 – 15 years). They can be aggressive towards one another and will bite off each other’s gills, feet, and tails (body parts will regenerate).
Sexual maturity is reached at 1 year of age, in the next breeding season. In the wild, they breed from March through June. There are 100 – 300 eggs deposited in the water and attached to substrates (rocks and floating vegetation). Eggs hatch 10 – 14 days later and are immediately independent.
Axolotls are being threatened toward extinction in their native habitat by pollution, exploitation, agricultural development, draining and filling of lakes, and introduction of predators. Wild axolotls are becoming so scarce that permits are required for the possession and taking of a wild specimen.