The ‘Forever Baby’ Monster
The word ‘Axolotl’ comes from the Aztec language (Nahuatl) meaning “water monster,” or “water dog.” Indeed, when a normal colored Axolotl (brown, with spots) is viewed face on in an aquarium, with no eyelids, no teeth, three feathery horn-like gills at each side behind its head, it does resemble a funny-faced dragon. The goofy appearance is more pronounced in light pink (leucistic) Axolotls, which look smiley-faced with feathery red gills. Some people pointed out they look like the PokemonTM Mudkip.
The secret to this goofy appearance is neoteny—the adult body proportions and parts develop very slowly or never at all. This means that Axolotls are forever babies—retaining tail fins and gills that, in other salamander species, disappear when they totally depend on their lungs and leave the water for dry land. The Axolotl, however, remains in the water. But, even if they have the body characteristics of babies, Axolotls grow in size in the water and they also breed. The ability to breed while retaining baby characteristics is called pedogenesis.
What’s more amazing is the Axolotl’s ability to regrow lost or damaged body parts. While many lizards can grow back lost tails, Axolotls and salamanders can grow back lost limbs, eyes, and other organs. This ability is now being studied by scientists in the hope of bringing this ability to humans
The Axolotl comes in a variety of colors—chocolate brown, near black, leucistic (pink or white with black eyes), white albino or golden albino, grey, cream or piebald (and combinations of these). These variations in color makes the Axolotl a favorite of amphibian-lovers—together with frogs, toads, other salamanders, and newts (OK, maybe not including the presidential candidate).
As pets, Axolotls are kept in largish aquariums (around 40 liters or 11 US gallons) with at least 6 inches of water. Though they have lungs, they rely mostly on their gills to breathe. Since they still have baby characteristics, Axolotls must be protected from skin and gill injuries, hence their aquariums are usually padded with fine sand, not gravel. They should also be kept at temperatures between 17–18°C (63–64°F)—like the temperatures of their native lake habitats.
Since they are carnivores (gulping down whatever smells good to eat in the wild) Axolotls are fed live or dried fish food like earthworms, bloodworms, or even fish food pellets.
Axolotls thrive well in captivity. In fact, if not for their ability to reproduce while captive, Axolotls would be on their way to extinction, because their native lakes—Chalco (drained) and Xochimilco (polluted) are no more. Wild Axolotls are very very endangered.