Only in Lake Xochimilco, Mexico
In nature, the axolotl is found only in an aquatic or damp land environment in and around clean, cold snowfed lakes.
They have cylindrical bodies, short legs and a relatively long tail. An albino variety has been produced in captivity; the natural coloration is dark. They have movable eyelids (in the adult form); 4 fingers and 5 toes; vertical rib grooves along the side of the body.
The axolotl will stay in its larval form, retaining features such as gills, all of its life into adulthood. These larval form adults are termed paedomorphic. Should the axolotl undergo metamorphosis (triggered by the drying up of pools), it is transformed into the Mexican salamander. Somehow Lake Xochimilco environment favors paedomorphosis, perhaps due to an insufficient quantity of iodine in the water, which is necessary to produce the hormone thyroxine. (Thyroxine is produced in the animal's pituitary. The tissues are sensitive to this, thereby triggering metamorphosis). Or it may be due to cold lake temperatures in which thyroxine has little effect.
The axolotl is an extreme example of neoteny, meaning that it becomes sexually mature and is able to reproduce in its aquatic larval form. They become sexually mature at 1 1/2 years. The characteristic sperm packets produced by the male are caught by the female, who will produce 200-600 eggs. Fertilization is internal. Incubation takes 2-3 weeks.
The name "axolotl" stems from an Aztec word meaning water monster. They are sold as food in the markets of Mexico and resemble eel in taste.
Because they have the ability to regenerate lost body parts, axolotls are probably one of the most scientifically studied salamanders in the world.
Populations are in decline as the demands of nearby Mexico City have led to the draining and contamination of much of the waters of the Xochimilco Lake complex. They are also popular in the aquarium trade, and roasted axolotl is considered a delicacy in Mexico, further shrinking their numbers. They are considered a critically endangered species.
|Did YOU Know?|
|In the wild they are critically endangered due to habitat destruction.|
|Weight:||2.11 to 8 oz|
|Average Lifespan:||15 years|
|Wild Diet:||While still young they fed on plankton and algae. As adults they are carnivorous, feeding on aquatic insects|
|Predators:||Predatory birds such as herons|
|Where at the Zoo?||Small Animal Building|