An Animal You Should Know: Axolotls

Axolotls

The next internet pet sensation.

If there is one thing the internet likes, it is cats. The reason people like cats is because they are usually pretty adorable. Following this same logic, you would think that something as cute as the header picture would be internet famous by now. Unfortunately, you have most likely never heard of an Axolotl, and it is a shame because not only are they cute, they are also amazingly interesting. They are so interesting in fact, that I happen to own one as a pet, and I hope by the end of the article you see why I got one, and that you learn something about such an adorable creature.

The Axolotl, or Mexican Salamander, is an aquatic salamander, meaning it lives completely under the water its entire life. It lives in the canals and rivers of Xochimilco, Mexico, and nowhere else in the world. Axolotls grow to be around 10 inches in the wild and up to a foot in captivity. That is large when it comes to salamanders, and they look unique compared to other salamanders as well. They have the characteristic smile that many salamanders share, but unlike other salamanders, they have external gills that spread out like peacock feathers on their heads. These external gills work better than normal gills. They increase the gill’s surface area, which increases gas exchange.  This is good for the axolotl because it allows it to breathe better in murky rivers. Their body also acts as one big tail, and is very unlike most salamanders. It has a very long flexible body with fin-like structures lining its top and bottom. This turns the Axolotl into one big, underwater projectile, and allows it to glide effortlessly through the water. All of the unusual features that the Axolotl has are actually evolutionary adaptations that it developed to help it in its underwater environment.

Unlike the picture, and most pictures you will see on the internet, axolotls aren’t actually white in the wild. They are usually a brown or greenish color. The white ones you see on the internet are “leucistic” and will be white with black eyes. The reason they are usually white on the internet, is because they are more common in captivity than the wild.  In the wild, they are critically endangered. This is partly because they only live in one canal system out of the entire world. This leaves them especially vulnerable to a sudden environmental change. This environmental change would wipe out the axolotl because it only lives in one place. The entire species would be wiped out, rather than just one population, like in other organisms that live in more than one place.  This unfortunately has happened to the axolotl, and the environmental change came in the form of two invasive species, the carp and tilapia. These fish invaded the rivers and canals where the axolotls live, and they could not handle this change. The carp and tilapia ate their eggs and their young, and they competed for space and food in the river. The carp and tilapia obviously won this competition, and the axolotl was nearly wiped out, and is still fighting to stay alive. In 2014, it was thought for a brief time that they were extinct in the wild, but luckily, some were found later in the year.

Despite their low numbers, it is quite the opposite in captivity. Axolotls are everywhere on the market exotic pet market if you look hard enough, and they come in all sorts of colors. My axolotl happens to be albino. The coolest thing about him is he will shine green under a blue light if he is in the dark. It is amazing! Part of the reason they are thriving so well in captivity is because of their short reproductive rates. This short reproductive rate is the result of a fancy word called Neoteny. If an animal exhibits Neoteny, it means it doesn’t mature with metamorphosis, like many other amphibians do. This makes it so they don’t have to wait so long to reproduce, because metamorphosis takes time. They are already a step ahead.  They also thrive in captivity because of how easy they are to take care of. I am not the best pet owner, but my axolotl is doing well because all you really have to do is drop food into it every day and change its water ounce a week. They are extremely durable and can even regrow limbs if you are that horrible of a pet owner. They will regrow anything that is cut off, may it be their arm, tail, or even parts of their head if they are still alive. To add to their heartiness they live for 15-20 years in captivity. It’s a perfect pet for someone who doesn’t want something too difficult to take care of, but wants something that won’t die on them immediately. Not to mention all of their cool colors and their adorable smiles. All things considered, it isn’t a marvel that they are thriving in captivity, I just wish they had better numbers in the wild.

So what do you think? I personally think that the axolotl is one of the coolest little known creatures in the world. I find it really interesting how they can regenerate limbs and I find them adorable. They should definitely be the next internet sensation in my eyes. I hope you learned something about an animal you might never have heard of, and I hope I might have peaked your interest. I hope that I persuaded you to consider buying an Axolotl instead of your 12###sup/sup### Nemo as well. And who knows, maybe you will be the first to buy one before their cute little faces become the next internet sensation.

-Karter Witmer

I am a Wellsboro Area High School student. I enjoy playing sports and I am a member of the Football, Basketball, and Track teams. I love reptiles and love to write about them. I also love learning about them and I aspire to be a Herpetologist (Reptile Scientist) when I am older. 

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