Water Dogs VS Axolotls VS Water Puppies

Written by Peralee Knight
Published: September 7, 2022
© iStock.com/NORRIE3699
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Are They All The Same Or Not?

Waterdogs, axolotls, and water puppies, oh my! Turns out that they are all the same thing…kind of. Waterdog is a common name for tiger or leopard salamanders, and water puppies are the common name for their larval form. Now, when figuring out water dogs vs axolotls, things get a bit more complicated. Waterdogs and axolotls are cousins. Both are species of leopard salamander that do not grow past their juvenile form. They retain their external gills and tadpole-like tail and live their entire lives underwater. But this is far from the only difference between these three!

Water Dogs VS Axolotls VS Water Puppies: Physical Characteristics

Waterdogs and axolotls are both salamanders, but the axolotl and the water puppy stopped development in the larval stage. How does that change the physical appearance and characteristics of the axolotl and the mudpuppy? How do those differences play into the axolotl being so dramatically different from other species of leopard salamander? And what makes the axolotl different from other mudpuppies? First, we must get into the physical makeup of an adult leopard salamander, then what makes the axolotl unique!

Characteristics Of Adult Salamanders

Brightly colored Tiger Salamander isolated against a white background
Adult salamanders like this Tiger salamander go though metamorphosis at 2-5 months old to transform, losing their external gills, dorsal tail fin or “Tadpole tail”, and developing lungs to breathe on land. Axolotls and mud puppies do not!

©Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock.com

Salamanders are amphibians and are found everywhere in the world. The axolotl is a species of the tiger salamander. These are the most common species of salamander found throughout the U.S., Canada, and Eastern Mexico.

Salamanders, like most amphibians, go through an amazing growth cycle. They begin their lives hatching from an egg underwater, and females lay up to one hundred eggs at a time in multiple locations. These eggs are left securely fastened to underwater vegetation and do not have parental protection. Salamanders hatch after four weeks and emerge looking quite like a frog tadpole with a longer body and tail.

Between 2-5 months, they transform into their adult form by losing their external gills and developing lungs. Salamanders also have the unique ability to breathe through their skin!

Characteristics Of The Axolotl and The Mudpuppy

Mudpuppy, in a stream, close-up
Axolotls and water puppies are both species of salamander that do not reach an adult form and stay in the larval state. While mudpuppies are found in many locations, the axolotl is only found in one Mexico lake region.

Axolotls and mudpuppies are both species that have several color morphs. Both same growth cycle as other salamanders with one notable difference. They simply stop growing in the juvenile phase and reach sexual maturity while still in the larval form! The axolotl and mudpuppy keep their external gills and dorsal tail fin and lives its entire life underwater. This is believed to be caused by the thyroid receptors responsible for both staying in juvenile form. When animals do this, they are classified as neotenic, which also slows their progress to sexual maturity to almost 2 years.

If Neotenic Animals Never Become Adults, How Can They Reproduce?

Though the axolotl and the mudpuppy retain some of their outward juvenile characteristics, they mature sexually. While this process can be much slower than other species of salamander, internally they are full adults. While other species reach sexual maturity in 2-5 months, the axolotl and the mudpuppy can take up to 2 years to reach maturity.

Water Dog VS Axolotl and Mudpuppies: Why Do Axolotls and Mudpuppies Stop Growing?

An albino axolotl among rocks underwater
Axolotls and water puppies are both neotenic, but the axolotl is the only species of its kind in fully aquatic salamander This is believed to be due to the highly specific habitat found in the Lake Xochimilco region in the Valley of Mexico.

©Orizatriz / Creative Commons

The axolotl can only be found in the Lake Xochimilco region in the Valley of Mexico. This species can only develop in their preferred comfort zone of 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, axolotl eggs often fail to hatch in cooler or warmer waters. Researchers believe that this region is the only place where axolotls can be found.

In contrast, mudpuppies can be found in multiple locations.

There are studies that suggest that the specific lake region where this species is found is the reason for their unique life cycle. Researchers believe that the region meets an overly complex series of requirements to produce axolotls. One study found that increasing iron intake will force an axolotl into metamorphosis into an adult salamander. Consistent forced exposure to conditions outside of water will also force metamorphosis. Both measures are unnecessary and cruel by most herpetologists.

The Axolotl Is Nearly Extinct

Due to many factors including loss of habitat, invasive and non-native species, and human interference the axolotl is classified as Critically Endangered. In fact, the axolotl is extinct, and very few remain in the only lake region they inhabit. Due to their extensive breeding in captivity as pets and food, their extinction is complicated.

Hopefully, the popularity of the axolotl as an exotic pet will help to spread awareness for the axolotl. This species is unique and vital for humans to understand the complexities of the world we live in. The axolotl should not exist, yet this adorable smiling amphibian and its equally stunning cousins do. If we let the axolotl go, we lose an amazing member of the salamander family, and the natural world.

Is It Okay To Have A Pet Axolotl?

pink pet axolotl "smiling"
Though they are critically endangered in the wild, axolotls are an extremely popular exotic pet, and can live over ten years in captivity. However, they have very strict needs and a prospective owner should learn all they can before adopting one of these smiling amphibians!

©iStock.com/izanbar

Axolotls are excellent pets for experienced exotic pet owners. However, they are expensive to purchase and have many complex requirements. An axolotl can live well over ten years in captivity and are a long-term commitment. For more about caring for a pet axolotl, check out our article on caring for a pet axolotl!

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The Featured Image

blue speckled axolotl
blue speckled axolotl
© iStock.com/NORRIE3699

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How are axolotls and mud puppies similar?

Axolotls and mudpuppies are both species that have several color morphs. Both same growth cycle as other salamanders with one notable difference. They simply stop growing in the juvenile phase and reach sexual maturity while still in the larval form!

What is the axolotl's status?

Due to many factors including loss of habitat, invasive and non-native species, and human interference the axolotl is classified as Critically Endangered.

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