SPECIES SPOTLIGHT: THE AXOLOTL
If you are looking for a unique species around which to center your next tank, consider the axolotl.
If you are thinking about starting up a new aquarium, you have probably already considered a variety of options for stocking your tank. You could go with the large, brightly colored discus fish or, if you prefer something a little more low-maintenance, a community tank full of colorful platies and swordtails. But if you really want something unique and you are amenable to taking on a new challenge, you should consider something entirely different – the axolotl.
What is an Axolotl?
The Axolotl is not a type of aquarium fish but it is an aquatic animal. Technically, it is a type of neotenic salamander that goes by the scientific name, Ambystoma mexicanum. This beautiful creature is native to the Lakes Chalco and Xochimilco in Mexico where their natural habitat is rapidly shrinking due to urbanization. The good news is that these creatures reproduce easily in captivity and their unique regenerative abilities makes them scientifically valuable. The Axolotl has been the subject of a great deal of research and selective breeding has led to the development of a wide variety of color morphs. These creatures can reach a length of 12 inches or more and they have the typical salamander-like body with a dorsal crest that extends into the tail.
Things to Think About
While the Axolotl is an amazing and beautiful creature, it is not the best choice for all aquarium hobbyists. The captive care for these creatures is relatively simply, but there are certain considerations you need to make for their long-term wellness. For example, axolotls are cool-water animals so they can become stressed if the temperature in their tank gets too high. Being native to Mexico, you may think that axolotls are used to warm water but they actually live in lakes that can be found at higher altitudes which makes them cooler than low-altitude lakes.
The ideal temperature range for the axolotl is below 70°F – anything in the 70°F to 75°F can be mildly problematic and temperatures over 75°F can be extremely stressful and even deadly. The reason for this is that the higher the water temperature, the less oxygen it can hold – axolotls require a great deal of oxygenation in their water in order to thrive. Aeration is also very important for an axolotl tank, especially if the tank temperature is teetering on the edge of 70°F. If you have trouble controlling the temperature in your tank, at least install an air stone to help prevent the warmer temperature from robbing your tank water of vital oxygen.
Another important consideration to make when thinking about keeping axolotls is their need for special substrate. Axolotls walk along the bottom of the tank rather than swimming, so the size and texture of your substrate becomes very important. Sand is the best substrate for axolotls because it is gentle on their feet and it can pass through their systems if they accidentally ingest it, unlike gravel. A bare-bottomed tank is not recommended for these creatures because it will not give them anything to grip when they are walking about.
Tank Set-Up and Feeding
When it comes to setting up your axolotl tank, you have the freedom to choose whatever arrangement you like as long as you meet a few basic requirements. You have already learned that sand is the best substrate for an axolotl tank but you also need to consider the size of the tank and the decorations. A 10-gallon tank may be sufficient for very young and small axolotls but adults need to be kept in a 20-long for a single or a pair – add an extra 10 gallons for each additional axolotl. You will need to equip your tank with a high-quality filtration system to keep the oxygen levels in your tank water high but you need to be careful not to create too much flow. Axolotls prefer slow-moving water so a sponge filter might be your best option – they act as mechanical filters and biological filters while also increasing aeration without creating too much flow.
As for lighting, the axolotl is a nocturnal creature so you need to avoid bright lighting during the day. Lunar LED lighting is a good choice if you want to see your axolotl while he is active without stressing him with bright lighting. Axolotls also require plenty of hiding places in their tank, so use things like PVC pipes, shallow rock formations, pieces of driftwood and even ceramic pots in your tank. Just be sure to avoid any rough or pointed edges that could injure your axolotl. You can also choose to incorporate live plants (or synthetic) plants into your tank which could provide additional hiding places while also helping to keep the oxygen levels high. To keep the water quality in your tank high, plan to change about 20% of your tank water on a weekly basis.
In terms of feeding your axolotl, keep in mind that these are carnivorous animals so they need plenty of meat-rich foods. These animals are not picky eaters as long as the food is presented in bite-sized pieces. You can use high-quality carnivore pellets as your axolotl’s staple diet and supplement it with chopped earthworms, strips of fresh meat and fish, frozen foods, and other live foods. When feeding your axolotl, only offer as much as he can consume within 2 to 3 minutes. Similar to feeding aquarium fish, any uneaten food will simply break down and produce ammonia which could stress your axolotl. If you use sinking wafers or pellets, remove any uneaten portion of these foods after 1 hour in the tank.
Choosing an Axolotl
Once you are sure that your tank is set up properly and you are ready to care for an axolotl, you can start thinking about what kind you want. Because these animals are extensively bred in captivity there are a number of different color morphs to choose from. Wild axolotls typically exhibit a gray or olive-colored base with black or dark gray spots – they may also be solid gray or black in color. In contrast to these dark-colored morphs, there are two forms of albino axolotl available – white and gold. The white albino axolotl is white all over with pink eyes while the gold is similar in color but with gold or yellow blotches all over the body. There is also a leucistic morph which looks very similar to the albino white but has black eyes. If you want a more colorful axolotl, they come in a variety of fluorescent colors and there is also an attractive piebald form which has a white base covered with black blotches.
The axolotl is a unique and beautiful aquatic creature, but it is not the right choice for all aquarium hobbyists. These animals require a special tank set-up and a meat-rich diet in order to thrive. If you think that the axolotl might be the right choice for you, take the time to do some of your own research and make sure your tank is set up properly before you bring your new pet home.
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