Axolotls have seen a huge rise in popularity recently. You can’t visit a pet store or play your favourite video game without seeing these adorable amphibians. But what exactly is an axolotl, where do they come from, and how do you look after them?

What is an axolotl?

Axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) are a species of salamander that never actually grow up. Salamanders are amphibians that, similarly to frogs, newts and toads, begin life in the water, as larvae. Salamanders go through metamorphosis when they become an adult and leave their larval stage, allowing them to leave the water and live mostly on the land, similarly to how tadpoles turn into frogs, which also leave the water.

Axolotls never go through metamorphosis and live their entire lives seemingly as babies, keeping their youthful appearance, but still being able to breed when they reach adulthood. These amphibians can be found in a large range of colours and are commonly kept as pets, with keepers taking pride in their distinct appearance.

Golden Red Eye Albino Axolotl resting on rocks in a fish tank
Axolotls are very curious and love exploring their environments

Where do axolotls come from?

Axolotls are endemic to Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City, although they did live in Lake Chalco until it was drained during the 1970s. Mexico City has expanded over the years, encroaching on axolotl habitat. This has caused them to be declared critically endangered in the wild, with an estimated 50-1000 remaining in Lake Xochimilco. Although leucistic or pink axolotls are commonly kept in aquariums, these colour morphs are very rare in the wild, with most wild axolotls in the lake a deep brown, or even green in colour.

How to look after an axolotl

Axolotls make fantastic pets and although they have specific care requirements, they can also be simple to look after. The axolotl lifespan can be up to 10 years in captivity, and they can grow as large as 30cm, meaning they need a large aquarium to allow them plenty of room to manoeuvre when they are fully grown. It is best to provide at least 75 litres per axolotl but a tank size of around 90cm or more in length is crucial. They can live in smaller aquariums of 60cm as a baby axolotl but quickly outgrow these tanks. An axolotl tank does not need to be particularly tall as length and depth is required to provide plenty of room for them to walk around.

Axolotls are solitary creatures and are happy to live alone in their fish tank. They can be around other axolotls, as long as they are not small enough to fit in the mouth of the other. When keeping more than one, you will need to make sure they have an additional 75 litres of water and plenty of walking space, as well as enough hiding spots for them both. You should avoid putting fish in the same tank as an axolotl, as they can easily be eaten or even bite the axolotl.

Axolotls live in water that is around 16-18°C and cannot live in temperatures that exceed 24°C. It is crucial to own a thermometer and regularly check the water temperature, especially in summer. If you find your water temperature hard to maintain, you can easily add an aquarium chiller to keep the water cooler.

Fine sand is a common choice to use as a substrate in an axolotl tank, as they can easily digest it if swallowed. It is important to avoid including small gravel in their aquariums; if consumed, gravel will cause blockages in their stomachs. Large, pebble-based substrates are only suitable if they are larger than the head of your axolotl, which will need to be monitored as they grow to full size.

Silk or live plants should be chosen over plastic ones, as the harsh edges can cut your axolotl. Axolotls love to shelter in live plants, but can uproot them as they pace around. To combat this, plant aquatic plants with deep roots. Some suitable choices include java fern, anubias, pothos, lucky bamboo and floating plants such as duckweed or frogbit. As they can chew on leaves, never put toxic live plants in their aquarium.

White Albino Axolotl in fish tank with aquatic plants
Axolotls make excellent pets in home aquariums

What Do Axolotls Eat?

Axolotls are carnivorous, benefiting from a diet that consists of bloodworm, dendrobaena worms or brineshrimp. These foods often come frozen, live, freeze-dried, or in pellet form. For a healthy diet, offer your axolotl a mix of pellets or freeze-dried food, along with some live or frozen food. It’s a good idea to offer sinking pellets, as axolotls spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank.

Frozen food can be a little messy to clean up but it’s straightforward and very nutritious. You can place a frozen block of food straight into the aquarium in a small food dish or defrost it beforehand. Using a submerged food dish prevents waste from spreading into the substrate, keeping it clean.

Brineshrimp are an excellent option as a live food for adult axolotls. The eggs are inexpensive to buy and easy to breed at home, so you can have a constant supply for your axolotl. Using live food encourages natural feeding habits and keeps them active. Brineshrimp are also very high in vitamins, providing excellent nutrition to your axolotl.

Where to buy an axolotl?

Axolotls are available to purchase from Swell UK in many different colour morphs. From the classic Wild Coloured to the popular pink Leucistic axolotl, these colour morphs are ready to order straight to your door. Some rare colour morphs are also available, such as the Copper Axolotl or the Golden Red Eye Albino Axolotl. At Swell UK, we have many an axolotl for sale.

Green axolotl swimming in fish tank with aquatic plants
There are many different colour morphs of Axolotls

10 Cool Axolotl Facts:

  • Axolotls are named after the Aztec god of lightning and fire, Xolotl, who disguised himself as a salamander to avoid being sacrificed. Directly translated, “Axolotl” means “Water Dog”.
  • Axolotls can regenerate their limbs (up to 5 times) and even parts of their brain.
  • These pets gained popularity due to the introduction of the Minecraft axolotl, from the popular video game.
  • Although known as the Mexican Walking Fish, axolotls are not fish at all, but are a species of the salamander family.
  • There is only one species of axolotl, although they come in many colour morphs.
  • Axolotls don’t have teeth, but rather a strong upper jaw they use to grip their food and strong suction power they use to consume their food.
  • Female axolotls can lay between 100-1000 eggs at a time, which is more eggs than axolotls that likely exist in the wild.
  • Axolotls were declared critically endangered in 2006 as their numbers declined from 6000 in 1998 to as few as 100 in 2008. They were mistakenly thought to have gone extinct in 2014.
  • Axolotls, and specifically their regeneration abilities, have been highly studied in cancer research, as axolotls are highly resistant to cancer, more so than any mammals.
  • The blue axolotl is not a colour morph that is found naturally, but was added to the axolotl Minecraft line-up as a rare colour morph found only in-game with breeding.