ABOUT THE AXOLOTL
Axolotl salamander (pronounced as ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl) was the rare feature of retentive its larval features throughout its adult life. This stage is called neoteny, means it keeps its tadpole-like dorsal fin, which runs almost the length of its body, and its feathery external gills, which protrude from the back of its wide head.
Differences from Other Salamanders
In the lake of Xochimilco (one of the 16 mayoralities) near Mexico City it was found, axolotls vary from most other salamanders in that they live forever in water. In rare cases, an axolotl will expand to ripeness and arise from the water, but by and large, they are relaxed to stay on the bottom of Xochimilco’s lakes and canals.
Close families of the tiger salamander, axolotls can be somewhat large, reaching up to a foot in length, although the average size is closer to half that. They are typically black or mottled brown, but albino and white varieties are somewhat common, particularly among captive specimens.
This is longstanding creatures, living up to 15 years on an intake of mollusks, worms, insect larvae, crustaceans, and some fish. Adapted to being a top predator in its habitat, this species has begun to suffer from the introduction of large fish into its lake habitat. Natural threats include predatory birds such as herons.
Populations are in waning as the demands of nearby City of Mexico have run to the draining and pollution of much of the waters of the Xochimilco Lake complex. They are also popular in the aquarium trade, and roasted axolotl is considered a delicacy in Mexico, further shrinking their numbers. They are considered a critically endangered species.
The family “the mole salamanders” is included within the four earliest or most embryonic family ancestries of the order “Caudata”, diverging from all other salamanders in the Early Cretaceous period over 140 million years ago, around five million years before the koala and dolphin lineages diverged from their common ancestor. The small amounts of species that represent the kind Ambystoma are highly evolutionarily separate members of both the salamanders and the amphibians as a whole.
Wild axolotls are rarely white:
You might see plenty of white ones in captivity; the animal is usually greenish brown or black. White ones are known as “leucistic” and descend from a mutant male that was shipped to Paris in 1863. They were then specially bred to be white with black eyes (different from albinos, who generally have red eyes).
Their feathery headdress is not just for show:
The trivial branches that grow from the axolotl’s skull might not seem practical, but they’re salamander’s gills. The filaments attached to the long gills increase surface area for gas exchange.
Wild ones can only be found in one place:
You can find them in aquariums and laboratories all over the world; it’s much harder to find them in the wild. The species can only be found in the lakes and canals of Xochimilco, Mexico. The axolotl eats anything it can find that will fit in its mouth like small fishes, worms.
They’re critically endangered:
As a result of habitat loss, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species like tilapia and carp, these salamanders are being pushed closer and closer to extinction.
In an attempt to revive the species, researchers have built “shelters” made from reeds and rocks to filter the water and create a more desirable living space. Unfortunately, the numbers continue to decline. There were about 6000 wild axolotls recognized in a 1998 inspection, but today, researchers are lucky to find any. Luckily, some have since been found roaming the water. And although it’s not ideal, even if the elusive animal disappears from the wild entirely, the species continues to thrive in captivity.
You can eat them:
Previously the axolotl was a rare species, Xochimilco populations would chow down on the salamanders. Axolotl tamales were a favourite, served whole with cornmeal. In 1787, Francesco Clavigero wrote that, “the axolotl is wholesome to eat, and is of much the same taste with an eel. It is thought to be particularly useful in cases of consumption.”
Today, you can still taste one of these creatures—but you might have to travel to Japan to do it. A restaurant in Osaka serves whole axolotls, deep-fried. They apparently taste like white fish meat, but with a crunch.
They have a mythological background:
Xolotl was a dog-headed god from Aztec mythology. God of all things grim, the deity would lead the souls of the dead to the underworld. As with all mythology, there a lot of mixed accounts about what happened next, but some believe that Xolotl was fearful of being killed and transformed into an axolotl to hide. The salamander is trapped in the water of Xochimilco, unable to transform and walk on land.
Axolotls exhibit Neoteny:
It means that creatures can extent maturity without going through transformation. In less extreme cases, it’s simply exhibiting juvenile traits after reaching adulthood. Axolotls are a great example of neoteny because as they grow bigger, they never mature. Different tadpoles, axolotls hold on to their gills and stay in the water, despite actually growing lungs.
“The one thing that neotenic species have as an advantage is that if you don’t undergo this metamorphosis, you’re more likely to reproduce sooner. You’re at present one step ahead,” biologist Randal Voss told WIRED.
But sometimes they can grow up with a little push:
Occasionally as an end of a mutation, or a shot of iodine from a scientist, axolotls can be forced out of their safe watery home. The shot gives the animal a rush of hormones that leads to a sudden maturation (in humans, this known as “getting kicked out of your parent’s basement”). The axolotls convert extremely alike to their close family member, the tiger salamander, but they continue to only breed with their own kind.
Transforming your aquatic friend into a land-dweller might seem cool, but leave it to the professionals; Axolotl.org strongly urges owners to never interfere with their pets’ biology, because it will likely be fatal.
Regeneration is no problem for them:
It’s not unfamiliar for amphibians to be able to stimulate, but axolotls take it to the next level. On top of being able to regenerate limbs, the animal can also rebuild their jaws, spines, and even brains without any scarring.
You can cut the backbone cord, crush it, remove a segment, and it will regenerate. You can cut the branches at any level—the wrist, the elbow, the upper arm—and it will regenerate, and it’s perfect. There’s no blemishing on the skin at the site of amputation, every tissue is replaced. They can regenerate the same limb 50, 60, 100 times. At University of Montreal Professor Stephane Roy clarified this to Scientific American:
And every time: perfect.
Scientists have also transplanted organs from one axolotl to another successfully.
Scientists are looking to harness that ability:
With their findings the Salk Institute for Biological Studies had studied how regeneration works in animals like axolotls, and released two studies in 2012. The hope is that if we can fully understand regeneration, we can recreate the phenomenon in human beings.
Unluckily, outcomes so far have shown that the process might be even more complicated than expected. The scientists worry that humans might not even have the necessary genes to successfully regenerate. But there’s a silver lining: While re-growing limbs might not be on the table, future studies can shed some light on smaller healing techniques.
“It is important to understand how regeneration works at a molecular level in a vertebrate that can regenerate as a first step,” said the studies’ senior author, Tony Hunter. “What we learn may eventually lead to new methods for treating human conditions, such as wound healing and regeneration of simple tissues.”