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Amusing Axolotls: A Comprehensive Guide to Care and Keeping in Home Aquariums

Minimalist Axolotl

Dive into the enchanting world of axolotls, remarkable aquatic creatures that have captured the hearts of enthusiasts and researchers alike. Native to the high-altitude lakes and caves of Mexico, axolotls are unique salamanders renowned for their neotenic traits – the ability to retain their juvenile features throughout their entire lives. This guide to care and keeping axolotls will provide you with an in-depth look at these captivating creatures, where they come from, their housing requirements, and expert tips on how to care for them in a home aquarium.

Origin and Habitat

Originating in the Xochimilco lakes and surrounding waterways of central Mexico, axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) have an ancient heritage that spans thousands of years. These aquatic wonders have evolved to thrive in a distinctive environment characterized by freshwater lakes, tranquil ponds, slow-moving canals, and caves. In this serene setting, with water temperatures ranging from 57°F to 68°F (14°C to 20°C), axolotls have found their niche, adapting to the gentle currents and embracing a lifestyle intricately intertwined with their surroundings. Their sensitivity to environmental changes serves as a reminder of the delicate balance of their ecosystem. Preserving their native habitat isn't just about safeguarding a single species; it's a testament to conserving an entire interconnected web of life that relies on the harmonious coexistence of its inhabitants.

Xochimilco Lake (Photo Credit: Canva)

Exploring the captivating realm of axolotls unveils a stunning tapestry of colors that spans the spectrum of nature's palette. These aquatic marvels exhibit an array of hues that add to their allure and individuality, turning them into living works of art. From the classic earthy tones of the wild-type axolotl and the ethereal charm of the leucistic variety to the radiant warmth of the golden albino and the enigmatic allure of the melanoid, each color variation tells a unique story. The piebald axolotl showcases a charming mosaic of irregular patches against a muted background, while the axanthic variety challenges conventional colors with its smoky grayscale appearance. The copper axolotl resembles molten metal cooled by water, fusing organic and industrial aesthetics, and the Lucy axolotl enchants with its subtle pink hues akin to the gentle blush of dawn. These various color variations within the axolotl realm not only celebrate the wonders of nature's creativity but also invite us to appreciate the richness and intricacy of the natural world beneath the water's surface.

Albino Axolotl

The transition from the juvenile phase to adulthood in axolotls involves intricate developmental processes influenced by thyroid hormone levels. Axolotls, renowned for neoteny, retain juvenile traits even as they reach sexual maturity. Yet, specific environmental cues, such as changes in temperature, water quality, and food availability, can elevate thyroid hormone concentrations, triggering metamorphosis. During this phase, axolotls may undergo changes like the loss of gills, more robust limb development, and acquisition of more terrestrial traits. However, it's important to note that while this transition is possible, the majority of axolotls in their natural habitat remain in their aquatic, neotenic form, making them an exceptional case among amphibians.

Metamorphosed Axolotl (Phot Credit: Canva)

Housing Requirements

a. Tank Size: Crafting a suitable habitat for your axolotl necessitates careful consideration of tank size, a pivotal factor in their well-being. For a solitary axolotl, a 20-gallon (long) aquarium stands as the recommended minimum, allowing ample room for their activities. Should you have the privilege of hosting two or more axolotls, a 40-gallon tank or even larger is deemed essential. Opting for a larger tank reaps manifold benefits, primarily by affording your axolotls generous space for unhindered swimming and exploration, which are integral to their contentment. Larger tanks not only cater to their physical needs but also facilitate the maintenance of optimal water quality. The increased water volume serves as a buffer against sudden fluctuations in parameters, contributing to the overall stability of their environment. It also mitigates the accumulation of waste, underscoring your commitment to ensuring a clean and hospitable living space for your axolotl companions.

b. Water Quality: Sustaining a pristine aquatic environment stands as a paramount responsibility for axolotl caregivers. The vitality of your axolotls hinges on proper water conditions, making it an essential cornerstone of their care. Employing a robust filtration system and adhering to a routine of regular water changes play indispensable roles in this endeavor. These measures work in tandem to regulate and curtail the levels of Ammonia and Nitrite, ensuring that these potentially harmful substances remain at safe and manageable levels.

Cool Water

c. Water Temperature: Maintaining a consistent temperature range is a crucial aspect of axolotl care that directly influences their well-being. Aim to uphold a temperature between 60°F to 68°F (15.5°C to 20°C) consistently, as this somewhat cooler range effectively curbs stress and fosters optimal health for these remarkable aquatic creatures. By ensuring that their aquatic environment remains within this specified temperature range, you're creating a haven where your axolotls can thrive. Commitment to temperature regulation reflects your dedication to providing them with the best possible living conditions and, ultimately, contributes to the longevity and vitality of your axolotl companions.

d. Substrate: Selecting an appropriate substrate is a necessary consideration to safeguard the well-being of your axolotls. Opt for a substrate that prioritizes their delicate skin, choosing options that are soft and smooth to prevent any potential injuries. Both fine sand and rounded gravel serve as suitable choices that align with these requirements. However, for optimal practicality and the overall health of your axolotls, it's worth considering a bare-bottom tank, devoid of substrate. This option not only eases the cleaning process but also reduces the risk of accidental ingestion by axolotls during feeding, which could potentially lead to complications like fecal compaction. Striking this balance between providing a comfortable environment and prioritizing their health by minimizing ingestion risks ensures a harmonious and secure living space for your axolotl companions.


e. Hideouts: In their natural essence as nocturnal and reclusive beings, axolotls thrive when they have ample hiding places to retreat to. It's advisable to furnish their environment with an array of hiding spots that cater to their need for security and seclusion. Consider providing options like caves, PVC pipes, and terracotta pots that they can comfortably climb into. These well-chosen decorations offer your axolotls a sense of protection and respite, enabling them to navigate their aquarium with the reassurance of having safe havens to call their own. By thoughtfully crafting an environment abundant in these sheltered retreats, you're catering to their innate behaviors and contributing to their overall well-being, allowing these captivating creatures to exhibit their natural tendencies.


f. Plants: When incorporating plants into an axolotl tank, a cautious approach is warranted due to these salamanders' sensitivity to the bright lights necessary for plant growth. It's essential to strike a balance between the aesthetic benefits of plants and the well-being of your axolotls. Ensuring ample hiding spots is pivotal when the lights are on, as this mitigates stress on these creatures. By offering a variety of hiding places, such as caves and sheltered nooks, you're creating a safe haven where your axolotls can retreat and find solace when the aquarium is illuminated. This thoughtful consideration not only enhances the visual appeal of your setup but also prioritizes the comfort and tranquility of your axolotl companions.

Proper Care


a. Feeding: Axolotls are carnivorous creatures with a palate for small aquatic delights such as worms, shrimp, and the occasional small fish. When it comes to their feeding regimen, it's recommended to offer nourishment every 1-2 days, ensuring to adjust the portion size according to their appetite. This practice allows them to relish their meals without overindulgence, maintaining their health and well-being. By providing a diverse diet that aligns with their natural preferences, you're not only satisfying their nutritional needs but also acknowledging their inherent hunting instincts, making mealtime a gratifying and authentic experience in their home aquarium.

b. Handling: Handling axolotls requires a delicate touch due to their sensitive skin, which can be easily damaged. To ensure their well-being, it's recommended to minimize handling as much as possible. However, when circumstances necessitate moving them, it's important to do so with care. Using a container or a fine mesh net is a considerate approach, allowing you to lift them gently without causing harm. By adopting these gentle handling practices, you can help maintain the integrity of their skin and overall health, while also respecting their natural sensitivities.

c. Water Parameters:

Water Test

Temperature- 60°F to 68°F (15.5°C to 20°C)

pH- 7.2 to 7.6

Ammonia- 0ppm

Nitrite- 0ppm

Nitrate- 0ppm to 10ppm

d. Tank Mates: When it comes to cohabitation, axolotls exhibit a distinct preference for their own kind. Ideally, they are best kept in the company of fellow axolotls of similar size and the same sex. Axolotls have been known to display territorial tendencies, and introducing differing sized axolotls into a habitat can lead to complications as the are not known for their diplomacy when it comes to sharing space. They have a penchant for nipping at other fish and, in some instances, even swallowing smaller tank mates. It's important to consider their unconventional feeding mechanism - the way they suck in prey with a sudden gulp - which makes them ill-suited for cohabitation with other aquatic creatures. Additionally the distinctive external gills that crown the axolotl's head are an easy target for fish, which may exhibit nipping behavior towards these vulnerable appendages. Given these factors, it's prudent to adhere to the principle that axolotls thrive best in the company of their own kind. By creating a community of axolotls that share the same size and sex, you're more likely to provide an environment that minimizes stress and fosters a harmonious living arrangement. This approach aligns with their natural tendencies and ensures that the unique attributes of these captivating creatures are honored and respected in their home aquariums.

Two Axolotls (Phot Credit: Canva)

The world of axolotls is one of wonder and fascination, offering enthusiasts a glimpse into a unique corner of the animal kingdom. Originating from the Mexican lakes, these neotenic salamanders require a carefully curated environment to thrive in a home aquarium. By adhering to proper housing requirements, practicing diligent care, and embracing their natural behaviors, you can provide a comfortable and nurturing space for these captivating creatures.

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