[Frequently Axed Questions]
Last updated March 18, 2000
Here are the questions that most people have when they write me. I am normally only able to reply to my email a couple of times a week, so hopefully this will answer any burning questions you may have in the meantime. Click on a question below to find its answer and any related information.
There are many possible reasons for this. Most often it means that your pet is sick, but sometimes its normal. Here are the most common reasons:
Lack of oxygen in the water
This is the second most-asked question that I hear, and unfortunately I don't have a single, concise answer. If you know of any breeders or suppliers who sell and ship live axolotls to private citizens, please notify me. But for now, here are some avenues you might try:
You shouldn't. Other animals may nibble the axolotl's gills or injure it in other ways. I have seen little snails attacking axolotls in pet stores (they crawl onto the axolotl while it's resting and suck its skin). There are other reasons to avoid mixing animals as well. Please see the Integration section of the Care and Feeding page for more information.
4. How can I get my pet to stop eating gravel? What should I do about the stuff it's already swallowed?
There are two main reasons that your axolotl might be swallowing the aquarium gravel. First, axolotls eat by opening their mouths quickly and sucking food in. If their food is lying on the bottom of the tank, they can't help but suck in some gravel. It's also very difficult for them to spit out the tiny rocks- they'll try, but they inevitably end up swallowing some. You can keep this from happening by feeding your pet by hand or with forceps. See the Substrate section of the Care and Feeding page for more info.
Another reason your pet might be eating the gravel might be that it's simply hungry, and it's trying to fill its stomach with something. Try feeding your pet more often or vary its diet a little. See the Food and Feeding section of the Care and Feeding page for more info.
If your pet has a belly full of gravel, it's probably not feeling too well. This happened to Puckles when I first got him. See the Substrate section of the Care and Feeding page to see what I did to help him.
If your pet's losing its gills, it's probably preparing for metamorphosis. If you suspect that your pet is beginning to metamorphose, you should be sure exactly what kind of animal it is. While metamorphosis is perfectly normal for tiger salamanders, axolotls usually only do it when there's something wrong with their environment. Please see the page on how to tell the difference between the two kinds of animals before you start making room for the change- you may be able to stop the process by fixing the problem, if there is one.
After a salamander loses its gills, the only way it can get oxygen is by breathing through its nostrils or mouth. Your pet will want a nice flat surface where he can rest and eat. There should still be enough water for your pet to jump in for a swim. You have a number of options. You can put a few large, flat rocks in on one side of the tank. You can also achieve this effect by putting in a lot of extra gravel so that it slopes up an out of the water at one end, like a beach.
Pet stores also have these cool river tank systems, which are inserts that make one half of the tank like a little clearing with a waterfall that trickles down a little stream and back into the water. While these setups are very cool, they are expensive (about $50 U.S. for a 10 gallon tank insert).
Tiger salamanders are accomplished escape artists. I have had one escape on me, and I've heard from a number of other people who had it happen to them. While the top of your tank should be ventilated, there should not be any holes large enough for a salamander to escape through. Even though they're not really designed to climb sheer surfaces like glass, tiger salamanders (and possibly metamorphosed axolotls) are capable of scrambling out of that tank when you're not looking. If you end up blocking large holes on your tank top, don't just cover it with a piece of paper; use something heavy. The salamander might have spent hours trying to get the top, and he/she's not going to let a stinking piece of paper block the path to sweet freedom.
The salamander's diet usually changes once it comes out of the water. Normally only food that wiggles will attract your pet's attention. Worms are readily accepted. You may have to cut large worms in half to facilitate digestion. I recommend dusting the worms with a vitamin powder to ensure proper nourishment.
Tiger salamanders might be quick enough to catch crickets. Most metamorphosed axolotls I've heard of and seen are probably too slow- the crickets would probably end up accidentally drowning themselves in the deep-end (they're not that bright) long before the axolotl got around to stalking them.
Mealworms are a controversial food. Very large mealworms might have pincers that could be dangerous to your pet. Some people remove the mealworm's head before offering it as food- but this cuts down on the wiggle factor, making the thing less attractive to the salamander. If your pet is a somewhat voracious eater who tends to chew before he/she swallows, small to medium-sized mealworms might be a good choice. I feed mealworms to my geckos, and I mix some reptile vitamin powder into the oat mixture that the mealworms are packed in. The dust sticks to their bodies, and they inevitably eat some, making them a more nutritious snack. (Some say that mealworms alone do not provide proper nourishment.)
There are many reasons for loss of appetite. Occasionally an axolotl will voluntarily go for a few days without eating for no apparent reason, and then resume eating as if nothing had happened. If your pet goes for more than three days without expressing any interest in eating, though, something's probably wrong. Here are some things that can cause your pet to stop eating.
An axolotl's metabolism is proportional to the temperature of the water it lives in. If the water is too cold, the axolotl might not be able to digest the food quickly enough before it spoils. See the Temperature section of the Care and Feeding page for more info.
Water contamination caused by uneaten food, waste, or chemicals (like ammonia) can cause your pet to lose its appetite. Proper filtration and aeration of your tank will help keep the water clean and safe. See the following sections of the Care and Feeding page for more info: Chemistry, Housekeeping, Filtration and Aeration
Like people, axolotls lose their appetites when they're stressed out. Excessive activity or noise in the room where the tank is can cause stress. Moving the tank or providing some kind of hiding place for you axolotl may alleviate problems like this. See the Lighting and Scenery sections of the Care and Feeding page for more info.
Other animals in the tank- even other axolotls, if they are aggressive- can be a problem. Try moving your pet into its own tank if it's currently sharing an aquarium with others. See the Integration section of the Care and Feeding page for more info.
Also, make sure your water filter is not too powerful for your tank. Filters that are too large can cause a strong current which makes it very difficult for the axolotl to rest. See the Filtration and Aeration section of the Care and Feeding page for more info.
Axolotls spend a lot of time near the water's surface when their gills aren't able to take in enough oxygen from the water. This lack of oxygen can be due to gill shrinkage, and it can also be due to inadequate aeration or water contamination.
See the answer to Question 1 to find out why your pet's gills may be shrinking.
Maybe! Axolotls look a whole lot like baby tiger salamanders, especially when they're young. See Axolotl or Salamander? for tips on how to tell the two apart.
There is also another similar-looking amphibian called a mud puppy, which can be found in the wild in some areas of the United States. See the Salamanders and Newts section of the Herp Hyper-Gallery for photographs of all of these creatures, and more.
11. My axolotl got sick and started to lose its gills, but it's better now. Will the gills grow back?
Maybe. The axolotl will prefer to stay in the water if it can. If conditions change and the water is safe, the metamorphosis will reverse as long as it's not beyond a certain point.
When axolotls metamorphose, it's usually an emergency, and it can happen very quickly. A few years ago, I had someone take care of my pets while I was away on vacation. The water in my axolotl tank was severely contaminated and my three axolotls had just begun to transform. I fixed the water situation immediately (I actually had to perform two complete water replacements) and two of my axolotls stopped changing and got better. It was too late for the third one. He did a complete transformation in about four days.
Also do what you can to reduce stress on your pet to ensure a quick recovery.
Use a net and a gravel siphon to remove any uneaten food and waste to keep the water clean. A good filter will also go a long way in keeping the water clean and healthy. Finally, remember to always remove chlorine from the water before adding it to the tank. This will help preserve your tank's biological filter (good bacteria that live in the gravel and filter media).
Sometimes when the water is toxic, pieces of the outer layers of the axolotl's skin will begin to flake off. You may also notice blisters on the axolotl, especially around the mouth, when the water conditions get this bad. Test for ammonia and nitrate/nitrite and replace water as necessary. Also make sure the pH of the water is neutral (7.0 to 7.4).
If you have a site that has anything to do with axolotls, I'd be glad to add a link to the Axolotl Links page. Just let me know. Please understand that I very rarely have time to make updates to my site, so I may not add the link right away. I will reply to your email to confirm that I received your request.
Tail shrinkage is usually an indication that metamorphosis is taking place. It should be accompanied by other symptoms, like shrinking gills, bulging eyes, and frequent trips to the surface. See Oddities for a description of metamorphosis, and see Question 5 for tips on what to do if your pet changes.
I don't recommend it, but I hear that some people have great success using feeder fish. See Food and Feeding for things to consider and some other dietary recommendations. I once experimented with feeder guppies with no success. Here's an excerpt from an email I recently sent a friend where I related the story:
No, I haven't, but I've heard it's very good. I keep asking for one of Cortazar's books every Christmas, but still haven't found it in my stocking. The Axolotl Links page has information about the story and a link to an excerpt from it that is available online.
Pretty long if you take care of them. See Age for details.
There is no perfect answer. It depends on your pet's natural appetite, the temperature of the water, the kind and amount of food you administer, and so on. Feed your pet as often as it will eat, but without contaminating the water with excess food. See Food and Feeding for more.
Pretty durn smart. They have unique personalities, they can be taught (or "conditioned") to behave certain ways, and they seem to be able to recognize their owners. (At least they can tell a human from a cat. Earthy's always trying to get my attention, but he's indifferent to my cat and my other pets.)
Some bumps are bad, while others are no big deal. The main thing to look out for is whether it keeps growing after you first notice it. If it does, there may be a problem. See Bumps and lumps on the skin under Sickness for more info.
I have never heard of one living more than 4 or 5 years after metamorphosis, although I don't think I've ever read average life expectancies, so it could be longer. If you have any information about this, please tell me.
If your pet's really an axolotl and you take good care of it, probably not. If you're not sure whether that creature in your aquarium is indeed an axolotl, see the answer to Question 10.
Generally, yes. You should know that only the pictures of my own pets are my personal photographs, so I don't own copyrights on the other images, which is something you should be aware of if you're going to be publishing anything.
I would like for you to contact me and let me know what images you're interested in, just to satisfy my own curiosity. Also, I'd like to add a link to your site on the Axolotl Links page if you use my images on your site.
A couple of years ago, a regular visitor of mine informed me that someone else had hijacked photos of my pets and was passing them off as his own. Sure enough, I followed the link my informant sent me, and there was a whole web site, constructed entirely of images taken from my pages- and the author was claiming they were pictures of his pets! This is an example of someone who violated the principle of "reasonable use."
As long as your axolotl is healthy and is still neotenous (it hasn't transformed into a salamander) it will probably grow its limb back. The new limb may be sized and colored slightly differently, but it will work and your axolotl will be happy. If the injury was the result of interaction with other tank mates, consider giving your recovering pet an aquarium of its own.
This typically only applies to tiger salamanders and axolotls that have gone through metamorphosis. I have heard from people whose axolotls jumped out of the tank while they were still neotenous, but they didn't get very far. (They all survived though.)
Look under piles of clothing and in closets. Salamanders (and newts) look for cool, dark, and preferably damp places. Don't limit your search to the room where the tank is. A determined salamander can travel farther than you might expect when it's on the run.
Also, if you have any plants on or near to the ground, check the soil. I have heard from a couple of people whose salamanders buried themselves in the dirt of their indoor flower pots!
Please see the answer to Question 5.
Behaviorally, it will probably become less energetic and fun. Your pet will also have different housing and dietary needs. See Question 5 for details.
If your pet does this often, it's probably not getting enough oxygen from the water. All axolotls gulp down some air every once in a while, but their might be a problem if they do it all the time. Go to Question 7 for more.
I've typically paid around 12 dollars for axolotls I've bought. I recently got an email from someone who said they're normally between $12 and $17 (U.S.A.). Also see Question 2 and the New Pet Owner Checklist.
Expect to spend around $100 (U.S.A.) for a complete tank setup. Also, see the New Pet Owner Checklist.