We get it: Those “I axolotl questions” memes are freakin’ adorable. If your kids have seen them (or come across this passive aquatic creature in Minecraft), they might be asking a ton of questions about these slippery little Pokemon-looking Mexican import pets. Of course, as a parent, you’re probably wondering how complicated axolotl care is — because, let’s be real, if your kid drops the ball with their potential new family pet, you’ll be the one tending to its every need. Since your little one’s axolotl obsession probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, though, you might as well go ahead and do your homework.
First, your kids might enjoy learning that these cuties are also called “Mexican walking fish.” The two most popular and easiest to obtain varieties of axolotl are the black axolotl (which actually looks more green) and the white axolotl. Your kids have more than likely seen the white axolotl, which has super-cute pink gills. The black axolotl’s gills are blue. Another fun feature of the axolotl is, of course, that oh-so-irresistible smile. They smile because of the shape of their mouths, which, when open, suck up dinner like a vacuum (or a teenager).
In pictures, these critters often seem rather precious and tiny. But, be forewarned — some axolotls can grow to be upwards of 18 inches. Here’s everything else you should know before considering this (admittedly adorable) species of salamander.
Are axolotls good pets?
Yes. And no. Sorry — we don’t mean to be ambiguous! “Good pets” can mean different things to different people. Axolotls are easy to care for and live for long periods if you keep them in favorable conditions. Because axolotls are neoteny species, they never really “grow up.” (The term neoteny in biology describes the retention of juvenile traits.) So, in other words, they stay looking and acting like juveniles for, well, forever. They’ll never develop into salamanders or lose their gills, and they’ll always have a somewhat playful nature.
But (and it’s a big one) that “playful” doesn’t mean “fun to play with.” Axolotls are fairly solitary creatures. They don’t much care for humans or even their own species unless they’re mating with the latter. Not to mention that axolotls are aquatic animals, so you can’t handle them as much as you would some other aquarium pets. Because these soft-bodied creatures have delicate, permeable skin, they should only be touched when absolutely necessary. Having said all of that, they tend to be a bit goofy and are a blast to watch. While that won’t seem nearly as fun for some kids, older children may find these little guys supremely entertaining.
One cool factor about axolotls is that they’re somewhat indestructible. OK, not really. They are incredibly hardy creatures, though, and can grow back limbs (if, for example, they get injured in their natural habitat). They can even grow parts of their brains back! But here’s the thing: Axolotls in the wild have been known to die after accidentally stranding themselves on land. So, while you might learn that, yes, an axolotl can be removed from its water for short periods, there’s no real evidence to prove that they like it or that it doesn’t hurt or scare them. For that reason, it really is best if you leave them in their aquarium.
Do axolotls bite?
Sometimes. However, it doesn’t exactly hurt. Some compare it to being poked by a piece of the firm side of Velcro. Others say that it’s a bit like being licked by a cat’s sandpaper tongue. It’s worth mentioning and warning, though, that if your axolotl is biting you, it’s probably because it wants to be left alone.
Are axolotls poisonous?
Axolotls are cute, but we can all agree that they do have that vague poisonous salamander look that may have you second-guessing whether they’re dangerous. Thankfully, axolotls are super harmless. They don’t have toxins in them that are damaging to humans. And if they do get rough with you, it’s unlikely they’ll draw blood or that you’ll even feel the bite.
Where do you keep an axolotl and how to take care of it?
Caring for axolotls is refreshingly easy-peasy. The hardest part of axolotl ownership might be maintaining its aquarium. The tank should be 15 to 20 gallons in size and kept in a cool room away from bright sunlight. You should maintain the water at a temperature between 57 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Axolotls live in brackish water, which is a mix of saltwater and freshwater. Even if you’ve had experience caring for and maintaining both a saltwater aquarium and a freshwater aquarium, that doesn’t mean you’ll immediately know the ins and outs of brackish water. It’s just not that simple. Still, once you find the right water chemistry, axolotl ownership can be fairly smooth sailing. Just remember never to use distilled water and always treat or filter the water to remove chlorine and chloramines. The water’s pH should stay between 6.5 and 7.5.
What do you feed an axolotl?
As with any pet, a big concern when diving in is knowing what to feed your new little friend. Your axolotl will eat pretty much the same stuff as any amphibian. They prefer a mix of crustaceans, insects, insect larvae, small fish, tadpoles, and worms.
How long do axolotls live?
A well-cared-for axolotl can live a surprisingly long time! It’s not unusual for axolotls to live as long as many dogs, or about 15 years. Just keep in mind…
Do axolotls “play dead?”
Yes! When an axolotl feels threatened (or just mildly annoyed), it will play dead. It freezes, not moving even if it’s poked or stroked. It might float upright, on its back, or on its side. Their act can last up to nearly a minute. So, if you’re worried your axolotl kicked the bucket, you’ll need to pay attention for a while.
Do axolotls get lonely?
Don’t worry about your axolotl feeling lonely because they’re usually solitary animals out in the wild, so they don’t really need a buddy in the tank. But if you want to put two axolotls in a tank together, make sure they’re about the same size. Sometimes, axolotls can be a little cannibalistic, especially if they’re super hungry. They may eat others’ limbs, so remember to keep that in mind (and your axolotl well-fed).
Are axolotls endangered? Is it even legal to own one?
Of course, any time you consider adding an exotic pet to your family, you should do your due diligence — not only in researching how to care for said pet but also whether it’s ethical (or legal!) to own one. According to National Geographic, axolotls are considered a critically endangered species, with populations in decline due to loss of habitat, the introduction of large fish into its lake habitat, the food trade, and, yes, the pet trade. However, most captive axolotls are genetically different from the critically endangered wild axolotls. Rather, they’re primarily descendants of captive-bred animals used in scientific research.
What does this mean? First and foremost, axolotls should never be taken from the wild. Second, if you’re seriously considering an axolotl as a pet, you should find a reputable breeder or rescue group in your area. Never buy an axolotl through an internet ad or online marketplace unless the seller can provide you with proper documentation on the animal’s origin. And, finally, check your state’s exotic pet laws to make sure you can even bring an axolotl home. Some states — including California, Maine, New Jersey, and Virginia — prohibit having one of these aquatic cuties as a pet.
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