I would like to have an unusual pet – can you please tell me about the ‘‘Axolotl’’?
The Axolotl, (Ambystoma mexicanum), is a type of salamander that is native to Mexico.
The typical adult length of this uncommon pet is between 20cm to 28cm.
With good husbandry, these fascinating creatures can be expected to live up to 15 years old.
One of the most interesting characteristics of the Axolotl is that unlike other salamanders, Axolotls are ‘‘neotenic’’, meaning that they do not metamorphosise from the larval to the adult form.
Instead, they retain their larval features such as gills and fins, become sexually mature in this state and maintain a strictly aquatic lifestyle.
However, occasionally the Axolotl can morph into the land-based adult form, a change thought to be caused by hormonal changes which can be instigated, for example, by excessive iodine levels in their water tank.
The change to the land-based form can cause much distress to an Axolotl and can result in drowning as they develop small lungs and are no longer adapted to living in the water.
Perhaps the most astounding feature of Axolotls is that they are able to regenerate rapidly after being wounded and can even regenerate whole body parts that are lost to injury.
Axolotls are carnivorous, but their teeth have limited biting and tearing ability, so their feed must be small enough to fit into their mouths.
A balanced diet is very important.
Axolotls eat food that sinks, so floating food for other amphibians isn’t appropriate.
Soft pellets formulated for salmon provide adequate nutrition, but live feedstuffs are also vital, particularly for Axolotl larvae, which respond instinctively to movement, and will not learn to eat non-moving, dead feed until they are older.
Young Axolotl larvae require feeding one to two times a day, but frequency drops as they age, and adults only require food two to three times a week.
Also, the warmer the environment, the more regularly they need to feed.
The amount your Axolotl eats in 15 minutes is a good indicator of how much they require for each feeding.
• Tank size: at least 60cm long and 15cm deep in water to allow the Axolotl to swim comfortably.
• Water temperature: 10 to 20 degrees celcius. Axolotls like cool conditions and excessively hot water can cause bacterial and fungal infections and death.
• Clean the tank by removing 20 per cent of the water weekly or as needed. Tap water must be treated before being poured into the tank. Water pH should be maintained between 6.5 and 7.5.
• Place the tank out of direct sunlight and do not install lighting for the tank as Axolotls have sensitive eyes.
• Avoid flowing water. If a filter is used, minimise rate of water circulation.
• Ensure a tight fitting lid to the tank to prohibit escape.
As the skin and gills of the Axolotl are quite soft and sensitive, handling them is not recommended.
With basic care and with attention to appropriate housing, most Axolotls will remain in good health.
Most diseases suffered by captive Axolotls are bacterial infections due to poor husbandry or other stresses.
They may also suffer from deterioration of the gills.
If left unchecked, this stress inevitably leads to disease.
Barring infection, Axolotls generally recover well from injuries.
It is best to approach your exotics veterinarian to seek help for any problem that your Axolotl may have.
Self-medicating your axolotl is not recommended as many over-the-counter aquarium fish remedies may be toxic to Axolotls.
Amphibians are able to absorb chemicals directly through their skin, making it easy to overdose or poison your Axolotl.
Send in your pet care questions and get expert answers from the veterinarians at the Sydney University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, 410 Werombi Road, Camden. If your pet has an emergent problem, seek medical attention immediately. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Details: 4655 0777.
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