Axolotls: A Different Kind of Pet
For people looking for a unique kind of pet to call their own, Axolotls have long been a favourite. They are relatively easy to care for, won’t leave fur all over your furniture, and are a sure-fire way to have people asking, “What is that?” whenever they stop by for tea. Whether in fascination or disgust, few people will fail to take notice of these little guys.
So what exactly are they?
A General Rundown
Axolotls (also known as the Mexican Walking Fish) are a neotenic salamander that are believed to have originated in Mexican lakes such as Lake Xochimilco. They are often mistaken for the larval stage of the Tiger Salamander (also known as Waterdogs), but where these will metamorphosis to grow into their adult state, the Axolotl will not. Instead, it lives out its entire life in its larval form.
When properly taken care of, an Axolotl can live up to fifteen years in captivity and grow to more than twelve inches in length. They are also masters of regenerating lost limbs!
Axolotls are thought to be extinct in the wild due to predators and a loss of habitat, but breeders have ensured they remain alive in captivity. They are often found available in local fish stores or directly from breeders, but it is advised you do your own research on care and housing before bringing one home. Never trust the word of a pet store sales person, as a majority of them will not know how to care for an Axolotl properly.
You should always have your tank set up before you bring your axolotl home – so once you decide you want one (or two, or three), you need to make sure you have the time, the space, and the money for everything you’re going to need.
The first thing you’ll need is a tank. When it comes to Axolotls, the length of the tank is generally considered to be more important than the volume, though both should be considered. There is a rule of thumb when it comes to choosing your tank: for your first Axolotl it should be two feet in length, and for every additional Axolotl you need to add another foot. So let’s say you’re getting three Axolotls – you’re going to need a four-foot tank. You’re going to need to make sure you have the space for it, and a stable surface for it to be in. These things get heavy once they’re filled!
The next thing to consider is what you’re putting in the tank. What’s going on the bottom? Gravel should be avoided at all costs, as Axolotls can sometimes swallow it – and this can lead to serious problems. Fine grained sand and bare-bottom tend to be the most common, and the safest. Axolotls dislike bright lights, so you’re going to want things in your tank for them to hide in or under. Generally, two hides per Axolotl is recommended. Plants are always a nice addition, but they’re not necessary if you’re not comfortable with them. Ornaments are fine so long as they aren’t sharp.
Once everything inside the tank is set up, add the water. Always remember to use a water conditioner – it removes the chemicals from the water that may harm your new pet!
Your filter should come next, and you’re going to want one that doesn’t cause a lot of water movement. Axolotls prefer still water, and a lot of movement will do nothing but stress them out. Sponge filters are a good option here. If you feel your filter is causing too much water movement, try moving an ornament in front of it to disperse the flow.
You should also have a thermometer for your tank, as you’re going to need to monitor it closely in warmer weather. Axolotls are cold water amphibians, and prefer temperatures between 16⁰C and 18⁰C (60⁰F and 64⁰F). Anything above 20⁰C (68⁰F) becomes stressful to an Axolotl. Upwards of 24⁰C (75⁰F) is fatal. To combat this, your tank should be in the coolest part of your house. Air conditioning can help to bring temperatures down, and in extreme cases the purchase of an Aquarium Cooler is advised.
You set up your tank, cycled your water, and brought your new babies home. Yay! So what comes next?
There are many things that you can feed your Axolotl, but the best thing for them is Earthworms. These can be bought at most local fish stores, and it might be worthwhile (and cheaper!) for you to start up your own worm farm. Bloodworms and Axolotl pellets can be fed as a treat. Despite popular opinion, raw meats should be avoided.
To keep your Axolotl’s water clean and toxin-free, you should change at least twenty-five per cent of it, at least once a week. Never forget that tap water must be treated with a water conditioner before being added to an existing tank!
You might think that your new pet is looking a little lonely, but resist the urge to add other fish to the tank – unless they are small enough for your Axolotl to eat. Other fish can often cause damage to your Axolotl, by nibbling at their gills or eating their slime coat, and Axolotls will try to eat anything that moves. If the fish is too big for them to swallow, it’s going to cause problems. The best tank mate for an Axolotl is another Axolotl!
Now that we’ve got all of that covered, there’s nothing left to do but enjoy your new pet!
If possible, it is always a good idea to have the number for a vet who specialises in exotic pets in your contacts – just in case. For less serious issues like gill fungus and floating problems, I have always found that the people over at Caudata.org Newt and Salamander Forums are super helpful.