Scientific Name: Ambystoma mexicanum
Axolotls are salamanders, a type of amphibian. But unlike other amphibians such as frogs, they never develop lungs or eyelids. Instead they retain their gills and fins as adults and so must stay underwater permanently. This condition is referred to as “perennibranchiate.”
STATUS: The axolotl is critically endangered because their natural habitat is less than seven miles in size and shrinking, as is the quality of their environment. In recent years, scientists have only found about 100 mature individuals. Their native lakes are being polluted as more people move into the area of Mexico where they reside, and this has introduced disease-carrying bacteria to the axolotls.
HABITAT: These animals are only found in freshwater wetlands near Xochimilco, a city in Mexico. Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco are their main habitats, although you used to be able to find them in lakes Texcoco and Zumpango as well. Within this restricted area, they seem to like to congregate only in certain spots, near one another. They require deep water levels and plant growth so they can lay their eggs. Axolotls live their entire lives underwater.
DIET: Axolotls are carnivorous, meaning they only eat meat, although everything they eat has to be small enough to fit in their mouth because their teeth aren’t developed for biting. They eat worms, including earthworms, blackworms, and the larvae known as bloodworms. They will also eat insects, tadpoles, or any other invertebrates that end up within their reach.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Axolotls are “paedomorphic,” which means they stay in their larval stage their entire life. Adults are usually 7 to 11 inches long, although some have been reported over 17 inches in length. Their body and tail is very fish-like, except they have legs with webbed toes somewhat like a frog. They have a ring of bushy gills framing their head. In captivity, axolotls can be a variety of bright colors, but in the wild they are most commonly albino.
Axolotls are fantastic at regeneration, meaning that they can regrow new body parts if the originals are damaged or destroyed completely. They are so good at regrowing limbs that they are often raised captive and then used by scientists to study just how regeneration works, with an eye toward regenerating injured human tissue.