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Axolotl Care Guide

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Ambystoma mexicanum
An adorable Melanoid Axanthic Copper axolotl
An adorable Melanoid Axanthic Copper axolotl
Basic Information
Lifespan: 10-20 years
Size: 8-12 inches (20-25cm)
Diet: Carnivore
Tank Size: 30 gallons (113L)
Shoaling/Schooling:
Minimum Group Size:
Water Parameters
Temperature: 55 68°F (13-20°C)
pH: 7-8
Hardness: 8°-20° gH, 5°+ kH
Behavior
Compatibility: species only
Temperament: peaceful with same size and sex
Swimming Level: bottom

Axolotl (Ambystoma Mexicanum)

The Axolotl is a fascinating neotenic mole salamander. They were once found in the cold waters of lakes Xochimilco and Chalco and are now extinct in the wild; however, they've become a popular exotic pet across the planet! Axolotls can be found in many different morph colorations. This silly creature is sure to capture the hearts of any aquarist who is prepared to give them a species-only tank!

Behavior

Generally unintelligent, this is a creature that thinks of nothing but food. They may interact with the source of food (owners) but generally are content to enjoy the bottom of the tank. They will consume substrate, fish, shrimp, snails, or other small axolotls. However, most of these things will impact an axolotl, meaning their habitat should be more 'sterile' than the average aquarium.

Food

Axolotls thrive on earthworms of all sorts. Pellets or boneless raw salmon can be substituted as an occasional treat; however, the protein values of earthworms and lack of wheat filters make them the best food for an axolotl. Juvenile axolotls should eat chopped earthworms, and hatchlings should eat blackworms and baby brine shrimp, depending on their size.

Housing

A 40-gallon aquarium is the ideal habitat for a single axolotl. Axolotls have an extremely large bioload, meaning that in a properly cycled tank, the nitrates they produce will be very high without the proper water changes or water volume. A 30-gallon tank is adequate for keeping a single axolotl; however, a minimum of two 50% water changes per week must be performed.

Natural Habitat

Axolotls hail from Lakes Xochimilco and Chalco, which have since become uninhabitable due to deforestation and drainage. The substrate of these lakes was fine, pebble-free silt, which allowed axolotls to adapt to a vacuum-style feeding without fear of ingesting small rocks. The water was slow-moving and cool, and it also housed some large fish, bladder snails, and other amphibians.

Health

Many health problems plague axolotls, usually related to genetics. Axolotls are incredibly inbred, due to their captive population being sourced from only 34 axolotls from the Paris colony in 1893. This caused many fatal recessive mutations to be passed down, such as twisted gills, London lethal, the morphing gene, and pinhead.

The other common issues seen in axolotls are ammonia burnt gills, nitrate rashes, anemia, and slime coat desiccation from low pH and gH, among other general parameter-based illnesses that ultimately result in death.

Diseases in axolotls are common when the axolotl is stressed or in dirty water.

A white, fluffy fungus can appear on gill stalks. This usually occurs when nitrates have built up in the tank, so several 50% water changes over several days are recommended, or tubbing the axolotl in extreme cases.

Bacterial infection may occur on dirty or large substrates or after injury. This generally presents with red rashes, toe darkening, or gill atrophy, and advanced cases often show the axolotl with a stuck-open mouth or fluid retention. Bacterial infections should be treated with antibiotics as prescribed by a vet and by removing the axolotl from the parameter stress that contributed to the infection.

Breeding

Axolotls reproduce easily, which once granted them the ability to maintain a steady population with few social interactions and offspring predation.

The same reproductive abilities that helped them survive in the wild often hinder them in captivity, where uneducated owners may attempt to cohabitate with a male and female axolotl. This generally results in massive amounts of eggs being laid, usually resulting in the exhaustion or death of the female.

Axolotls, as it is in their nature to bite anything that moves, often consume their offspring accidentally.

Hatchling axolotls should be fed baby brine shrimp and kept separate until the time of leg budding.

Around the time of leg budding, blackworms should be offered continuously until the larvae are old enough to consume chopped earthworms.

Typical clutch sizes vary from 200 - 1000 eggs, with even experienced breeders often only keeping as few as 20 eggs from any given clutch.

Due to the inbreeding coefficient of axolotls being high, it is a common standard to only breed axolotls with lineage tracked and verified back to the generations of their grandparents, and any unintentional axolotl clutches should be culled immediately.

Disposing of unwanted eggs is as simple as freezing them, while hatchlings should be culled with clove oil.

Tankmates

Very few tankmates are considered acceptable for axolotls, as they are vulnerable to predation. Even small guppies may attempt to feed on their gill filaments, mistaking them for worms. Snails and plecos often adhere to axolotls' slime coats, causing sores and infection. Even other axolotls pose a risk.

Larger, faster axolotls may not face as many dangers so far as becoming a meal; however, they may have the ability to catch small fish, only to be impacted by their bones. Snail shells and hard exoskeletons also pose a significant risk.

Axolotls may cohabitate with Neocaridina and ghost shrimp; however, they will almost certainly eat them.

Aquarium Setup

For an ideal axolotl aquarium setup, consider the following:

Tank Size

40 gallon breeder tanks are ideal for a single axolotl due to their large footprint.

Substrate

Grain size of 1mm or smaller, no substrate, tile.

Plants

Epiphytic plants such as java moss and anubias, large floaters, cold water plants.

Lighting

Minimal to none

Filtration

Heavy filtration is necessary. GPH 4x that of the aquarium gallonage recommended.

Water Parameters

0ppm Ammonia, 0ppm Nitrite, 5ppm-20ppm Nitrate, 7-8 pH, 8°-20° gH, 5°< kH, 55°F-65°F

Behavioral Traits

Unintelligent, slow, and food motivated. Enjoys lounging and hiding.

Varieties

Wild Leucistic Albino Melanoid Axanthic Copper Hypomelanistic GFP RFP

Conservation Status

Extinct in the wild

Notable Facts

Axolotls should only eat earthworms, but that doesn't stop them from trying!

Axolotls sometimes undergo metamorphosis, also known as 'morphing'. This generally occurs before a year old.

Most captive axolotls are hybridized with tiger salamanders.

Scientists once tested the regenerative abilities of axolotls, resulting in GDP (green fluorescent protein) axolotls that glow green under UV light.

Sources