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Axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum

Introduction Axolotl are native to Mexico where they inhabit Lake Xochimilco in central Mexico. Axolotl can reach 7-8 inches. They inhabit high altitude bodies of water that are surrounded by harsh terrestrial habitat. The axolotl is carnivorous, consuming small prey such as worms, insects, and small fish in the wild. Axolotls locate food by smell, and will "snap" at any potential meal, sucking the food into their stomachs with vacuum force.

Unfortunately, Lake Xochimilco remains a diminished glimpse of its former self, existing mainly as canals. The wild population has been put under heavy pressure by the growth of Mexico City. They are currently listed by CITES as an endangered species. Axolotl are bred in large numbers in captivity and remain popular due to their unique biology.

Acclimation and Quarantine Quarantine and/or acclimation enclosures need not be elaborate, instead they should be sterile and easy to clean. Appropriately sized tanks or plastic Rubbermaid containers can be used. Water should be filtered and/or changed frequently. Be sure to provide a heat source, a pool, and a dry spot. A hide area should be provided for additional security. This setup should be used until the axolotl is feeding regularly and appears to be in good health.

Housing Several specimens can be adequately maintained in an aquarium ranging in size from 20-30 gallons. Designing the aquarium as you would for fish is best for this large amphibian. Since they do have a propensity to climb, the aquarium is never filled more than 3-4 inches from the top. A filter that is efficient in chemical and mechanical filtration is best. The filter's ability to maintain sanitary conditions is most important. However, the filter should not be to forceful as axolotl do not like strong water flow, but rather a gentle water flow. We recommend Duetto Filters for Axolotl.

The tank can be decorated with or without gravel. Artificial plants can be buried in the substrate or siliconed directly to the glass base. Driftwood and water safe rocks such as slate and quartz many also be used to decorate the tank. If you choose to place gravel on the bottom, refrain from using gravel that is smaller than a pea. If the gravel is to small, Axolotl have a tendency too swallow surrounding substrate in their feeding attempts.

Heating and Lighting The temperature of the aquarium during day time hours should be maintained between 65-70 degrees F. Night time temps may be allowed to drop a few degrees or so, so that temps are about 60 degrees, however we recommend maintaining a consistent temperature. Incandescent lights may be used as a heat source, but in most applications, will be to hot. We recommend using full spectrum fluorescent lights to maintain most amphibians. They provide enough heat assuming the average indoor temps are in the 70's. Be sure to utilize a light that produces UVB. A photoperiod of 14 hours of light and 10 of dark is sufficient.

Axolotl need UVB exposure from a quality light. Amphibians synthesize vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB. Vitamin D3 is necessary for calcium to be metabolized. Animals that are not exposed to UVB can develop Metabolic Bone Disease, especially babies and juveniles. If MBD isn't treated in a timely fashion, skeletal deformities, kidney failure, seizures, and eventually death will occur.

Feeding Axolotls will thrive on a diet that is well varied. Earthworms, mosquito larvae, small fishes, aquatic insects, crickets, meal and super meal worms, silkworms, horn worms, roaches and occasional pieces of raw lean beef or pinky mice are all acceptable food items. Any food items should be of an appropriate size. Dusting with vitamins will not work, as they will simply wash off in the water, so be sure to gut load all feeder insects before offering them to your axolotl.