The axolotl is an amphibian that spends all its life underwater, which has earned it the nickname the “walking fish.” Axolotls are small and are subject to much scientific research due to some incredible features that they possess. In this article, you will learn about some incredible features and facts about axolotls.
1. The Axolotl can Regrow Virtually Every Part of its Body
Generally, amphibians can regenerate certain parts of their body, such as their limbs and tails. However, in the case of the axolotl, this ability is taken a notch higher. These creatures can regenerate almost all parts of their body, including their brains. When we say all parts of their body, we mean their jaws, lung tissue, spinal cords, ovary, skin, and even parts of their hearts. Interestingly, this ability remains with axolotls all through their lives. Of course, this attribute makes them the subject of much scientific research with the hope that the ability can be reproduced in humans.
2. Axolotls Look Like Babies All Their Lives
If you encounter an axolotl, one of the striking things about its physical appearance will be how it retains the features of a larva, even as an adult. Axolotls belong to a class of creatures referred to as “neotenic.” These kinds of creatures reach sexual maturity without shedding any of their larval features. Therefore, they retain their feathery external gills and also remain aquatic all their lives despite being amphibians.
3. Axolotls are Carnivorous and Top Predators in Their Natural Habitat
Axolotls are small in size and have baby faces, but that doesn’t mean they are pushovers. In their natural habitat, the axolotl is a top predator that feeds on other creatures like small fishes, worms, and insects. They have a good sense of smell which helps them locate their prey, and they suction up their prey when they find them. They don’t bite or chew because their teeth are incredibly small and vestigial.
4. Axolotls Have Only One Native Habitat
Axolotls may be found in labs and aquariums around the world, but they have only one native habitat left, and that is Lake Xochimilco in Mexico. In the past, axolotls were native to multiple lakes in Mexico. They particularly lived and thrived in Lake Chalco and Lake Xochimilco, located in the Valley of Mexico. However, urban development in Mexico led to the extinction of Lake Chalco, leaving only parts of Lake Xochimilco. It was declared a biological reserve by the Mexican government in 1984. This site was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1987.
5. Axolotls are Endangered in Their Native Habitat
There are several axolotls in captivity today, but in their natural habitat, the species population is dropping at alarming rates. According to a 2019 International Union for the Conservation of Species assessment, only about 50 to 1000 axolotls could be found in the wild.
There is more than one reason for this drop in population, including urbanization, which has led to the destruction of habitats and water pollution. Another reason for this drop in population in their native habitat is the introduction of invasive species like tilapia, which prey on babies and compete with the adults for food. Thankfully, several measures are being put in by NGOs and the government of Mexico to protect and restore the species. A good example is the partnership between local farmers and scientists, which involves constructing floating islands out of water plants, logs, and lake mud to filter polluted water.
6. People Can Eat Axolotls
The natives of Xochimilco used to eat the axolotls before they became an endangered species. These unique creatures are edible, and some restaurants worldwide may still serve them to date. One in Osaka, Japan, serves them deep-fried and whole. According to those who have eaten them, they are crunchy and taste like white fish meat.
7. Axolotls Can Lay up to a Thousand Eggs
Axolotls typically breed once a year which in the wild is usually in February. The females can lay up to a thousand eggs, though the average is usually 300. A female axolotl lays these eggs one after the other and attaches them to bedding materials, rocks, or plants to protect them from predators. The eggs will usually take 10 days to hatch. They have no parental care after this.
8. Axolotls Have the Potential to Help Humans Cure Several Diseases
Axolotls are the most scientifically studied salamanders in the world due to their regenerative abilities which may hold the key to the cure of many medical challenges. As a species, they are also several times more resistant to cancer than mammals, making them a potential answer to the cancer question. Research is still ongoing, but researchers and scientists are hopeful.
9. Axolotls Get Their Name From Aztec Mythology
Ancient Aztecs believed axolotls were manifestations of the god Xolotl, which led souls to the underworld. They believed this because of the axolotl’s unique look and regenerative power. According to the myth, Xolotol, which had a dog’s head, had transformed into the axolotl to prevent being banished and killed. They also named the amphibian after the god.
10. Axolotls Can Be Kept as Pets
Axolotls can be and are being kept as pets by many individuals. Some companies breed them and sell them as pets. If you keep the axolotls as pets, you must note that they are fragile and must be treated with care. It is best to keep them in large aquariums and feed them what they would eat in their natural habitats, like worms and snails.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/izanbar
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