As pets stopped being a symbol of wealth and prestige, the variety and accessibility to welcome a pet into the family is greater than ever before. Not everyone is a cat or dog person. A fluffy purring mammal may have its charms, but so do scaly, slithering, and swimming amphibians and reptiles. Axolotls swim under the radar, without cause.
Salamander Of Many Names -
These alien amphibians have acquired many names. Water dragon, undoubtably inspired by their mystical wing-like gills. The Mexican walking fish is not a fish but it does walk using its four legs and is native to Mexico.
Water Dog and Water Monster comes from from the ancient Aztec dialect, atl meaning “water”, and “xolotl” meaning dog or monster. Other translations include “Water Doll, “Water slave,” and “Servant Of The Water.” The classification Ambystoma Mexicanum describes the animal, as Ambystoma means “cup-mouth.”
Forever Teenagers -
The Mexican Walking Fish doesn’t progress past the larval stage but still becomes sexually mature. This means it keeps it’s fluffy external gills and tadpole-like physique. It skips the metamorphosis most salamanders go through which allows them to move on land. This feature is an adaption, but it renders the axolotl trapped in a dying ecosystem It may be an advantage as herons that prey on axolotls cannot get to them if they stay in the water rather than venture on land.
Earthly Evolved –
The axolotl are one of the most primitive types of salamanders, coming from the Early Cretaceous period about 140 million years ago. If put under extreme stress like the environment becoming unsuitable or being injected with the hormone thyroxine, axolotls can metamorphose. It can absorb their gills and wide tail, and the eyes will become bulgy. It is extremely rare for this to occur naturally as the stress alone will usually kill the axolotl.
Very Variable -
Due to the axolotls popularity as a pet and being easily bred in captivity, breeders specialize in beautiful variants. Wildtypes are those found in the wild with a combination of green, brown, and black with some gold. Melanoids appear similar to wildtypes, but they are much darker and do not have any gold or speckles of pigments. Leucistics are primarily pink or white with black eyes. White albinos are white with red eyes. Their gills are pink as they are translucent and show flowing blood. Golden albinos' come in shades of yellow with yellow or red eyes.
Big Beauties -
These amphibians can range from six inches up to a whopping eighteen inches! Growing over a foot in length is quite rare, but it does happen. This is a huge growth from their fresh-out-the-egg size of about half an inch. The larvae appear similar to tadpoles without any legs but with their signature gills.
Research Weirdos –
Their ability to regrow eyes, tails, spinal cords, kidneys, livers, lungs, limbs and in some cases, half their brain has astounded scientists. They can de-differentiate their cells in order to regrow bone, blood rather than scar tissue on the wound. It can regrow a leg in eight to ten weeks. If the secret to regeneration is found, this will lead to huge advances in stem-cell technology. This is why they are one of the most studied animals in the world.
If an axolotl is 6inches or less, it is in it’s cannibalistic stage. Cannibalism is a natural tendency in many amphibians. Newly hatched larvae start will to snap at anything that moves, which means missing gills and limbs from some of their siblings. Cannibalism is a learned and remembered behaviour, which means the young must be separated during this stage. If the young axolotls are allowed to eat at their brethren, their bodies will develop in a different shape and appearance. The cannibals teeth will be larger and recurved.
One True Home -
Lake Xochimilcho and surrounding canals near Mexico City is the axolotl’s only native home. Invasive species such as carp and tilapia can eat an axolotl’s yearly laying of eggs in one sitting. Agro-chemicals, waste vegetation, and treated sewage water run off into the water. This is a closed lake system, meaning that there is no where for polluted water to escape from. In the 16th Century, axolotls were an abundant food source that fed the Spanish army. This is stark and jarring contrast to their critically endangered status today. In 1998, it was estimated that there were six-thousand axolotls in a kilometre square. In 2004, this number was down to a thousand. After five hundred and fifty net casts into the lake, only one wild axolotl was found in 2008.
Deformed Diety -
The Aztecs saw axolotls as the embodiment of Xolotl the God of deformities, misfortune, sickness, lightning, games and death. The legend goes that, dog-headed God Xalotl was in a quarrel with the other Gods and feared being killed for a sacrifice, so He shapeshifted several times before He turned into an axolotl and dove into Lake Xochimilcho. He hid from his godly duties as a water monster forever. The modern axolotl is similar to their diety's origins: they have the misforune of living in a sickeningly polluted area with their species approaching death.
Inspiring Pokemon -
Mudkip from the Pokemon series is essentially a stylized axolot with vivid colours. Pokemon credits this creatures design to both mudskippers and axolotls, as the name resembles mudskippers with the physical design resembling a blue axolotl with shorter gills. Mudkips live in swamps and hatch from eggs, as do the real mudkips.
Shannon King is a poet, writer and artist residing outside the Toronto area. Holding both American and Canadian passports, she considers the general area of North-America as home after moving countless times. A lover of both the abstract and analytical, always searching for answers in both other’s and her own written work. Photography, pastels, graphite, digital media, and the written word are just some forms of media she enjoys (so far). https://shannonkingexists.wixsite.com/shannonking