How To Care For Axolotls

Axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum)

Axolotls are large salamanders that come from Mexico. They live their entire lives under water, never emerging onto land. Axolotl care requirements are minimal provided temperature, and water flow is well controlled, they can be hardy, easy-to-care-for pets that breed readily in captivity. It's hard to think of a more unusual pet than an axolotl, its bold and tame nature makes it a great interactive pet.

Axolotl Availability

Axolotls are often available from private breeders, usually on the Internet. Axolotls are not available in pet stores or at reptile shows, due to their incompatibility with most reptile-friendly temperatures. Some suppliers may be able to order them for you, but generally, the best sources for healthy axolotls are other hobbyists. We cannot help you acquire axolotls, please don't ask.

Axolotl Size

Most axolotls reach about 10 inches total length (from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail). A few will pass 12 inches, but this is rare. Axolotls reach sexual maturity when they reach about 8 inches. This can be in as few as six months, but generally, it takes about a year of reasonable care.

Axolotl Life Span

Axolotls have been known to live 20 years, but 10 years is a more typical lifespan.

Axolotl Housing

A standard 10-gallon reptile aquarium can accommodate a single adult axolotl, a 20-gallon aquarium is a safer choice. Axolotls do not leave the water, and a land area will go unused. Fill the aquarium as you would for aquarium fish. A lid or hood should be used at all times because axolotls can accidentally jump out of their aquariums.

A filter will help maintain safe water parameters. The best choice is an external canister filter, such as the Zoo Med Turtle Clean Canister Filter, but ensure the water outlet to the aquarium is fitted with a spray bar or other flow-spreading outlet. This is necessary because axolotls do not tolerate distinct water flow like fish. Axolotls that live in noticeable water flow for a few months will go off food and develop stress-related diseases. Lack of appetite and forward-curled gills are usually a sign of stress from too much water flow.

Axolotl Lighting and Temperature

Like most amphibians, axolotls do not require lighting, and indeed, new axolotls may be stressed if kept under bright light, over time they will become accustomed to it. Provide plenty of hiding places such as caves, wood, plants, etc. Keep in mind that light fixtures often generate excess heat, and this can be detrimental to axolotls, use LED lighting to lessen this effect.

Temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit are tolerated, but the ideal temperature range is low to mid-60s. Temperatures above 74 degrees will lead to heat stress, loss of appetite and death. If you cannot keep year-round temperatures below this limit, axolotls are not the ideal pet for you. If you must have one, but you have temperature problems, consider buying an aquarium chiller for the warmer parts of the year.

Axolotl Substrate

A preferred substrate for axolotls is aquarium sand. Axolotls have a terrible habit of ingesting gravel and mouth-sized objects if they are available, Anything the size of their head or smaller can be accidentally eaten and can lead to impactions and death. If you wish to use gravel, consider larger pebbles.

A substrate is not essential. Many people use no substrate at all – but it is more pleasing to look at if a substrate is used, and will also help to keep water chemistry stable by providing surface area for beneficial bacteria.

Axolotl Food

Food for axolotls includes live reptile foods, such as nightcrawlers (giant earthworms) and store-bought frozen bloodworms, and high-quality pelleted fish foods. Treats for axolotls include frozen shrimp from the supermarket (cooked). Avoid live feed such as feeder fish because of the risk of parasite and disease transmission – axolotls are vulnerable to many fish diseases and parasites. Pinkie mice and other fatty foods are best used only as a rare treat for axolotls and preferably not at all.

As is the case with most salamanders, axolotls have no need of vitamin/mineral supplementation, and indeed it would be hard to deliver this to an aquatic animal. In my experience, axolotls fed solely on nightcrawlers will never develop any vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

Axolotl Water and Quality

Tap water is ok for axolotls, provided it is pretreated with an aquarium water conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramines. Axolotls are far more forgiving than aquarium fish when it comes to water quality, but a good filter and regular water changes should be employed nonetheless. If you’ve ever kept aquarium fish, follow a similar routine.

Ideally, a new aquarium and filter should be allowed to cycle for several weeks before the introduction of axolotls to let the water conditions settle and filter bacteria develop. Be sure to keep an eye on water parameters using a water test kit.

Axolotl Handling and Temperament

Axolotls have virtually no real bones in their bodies, especially when young. Much of their skeleton is made up of cartilage. Axolotls are delicate soft-bodied amphibians with permeable skin and should not be handled unless necessary. If you use a net to move an axolotl, avoid ones with mesh that would get an axolotl’s fingers damaged. Use a soft fine-mesh net.

Young axolotls tend to bite off the legs or gills of their tankmates, so youngsters should only be kept together if fed thoroughly and given plenty of space. Axolotls larger than 5 inches tend to be safer tankmates, will rarely have any altercations. Contrary to the opinion of some sources, axolotls are not social creatures and do not benefit from having a fellow axolotl. Having multiple axolotls is purely for the keeper’s benefit and for breeding.

Due to the tendency of biting, fish should not be kept with axolotls. In fact, an axolotl aquarium should contain only axolotls!
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