Last updated February 22, 1999
These are the questions that I hear the most often from
people who've never seen or heard of axolotls before. There's a lot
more information on the care and feeding
page about keeping an axolotl for a pet. Although these pages are pretty
text-heavy, I have spiced things up with some goodies that you'll find in
What the heck is that thing?
- An axolotl, of course! More specifically, it's Ambystoma mexicanum,
a salamander unique to some areas of Mexico. My axolotl is white, with
fluffy, red gills. Most axolotls are a darkish gray, though, and some have
brown and white splotches.
What kind of name is axolotl?
- Nahuatl, the language of the ancient Aztecs. Literally, it means "water
dog," although it can apparently be translated a number of ways. "Water
sprite" and "water player" are just a couple. The axolotl
takes its name from Xolotl, the rather diverse Aztec god of games, monstrosities,
and the dead and resurrected.
What are those things on his head?
- His gills. Unlike most salamanders, the axolotl never leaves the water...
as long as he has gills, at least (more on that later). Axolotls are said
to be neotenous; they can live and breed in what is really a larval,
more or less undeveloped form. Many salamanders have gills when they are
very young, but as they mature and develop lungs, their gills shrink and
eventually disappear. Axolotls are thought to have evolved from Ambystoma
tigrinum, the tiger salamander- pretty convincing when you consider that
larval tiger salamanders look so much like baby axolotls that it's nearly
impossible to tell them apart!
is a picture of a larval tiger salamander. Just pretend it's a baby axolotl;
they're virtually the same thing.
Another creature that retains its gills throughout
its life is the mudpuppy. For some reason, people often mistake young tiger
salamanders for mudpuppies. In fact I could not convince the people at
my local pet store that the fully developed tiger salamanders I was buying
from them were NOT mudpuppies!
How long do they live?
- The average lifespan seems to be ten to fifteen years, although there
was at least one that reportedly lived twenty-five years in a French laboratory.
If the latter is true, I'd tend to think that the average age is a bit
higher- I mean, how many people live to be a hundred forty?
Continue to Care and Feeding
All About Axolotls: Table of Contents
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