Axolotl: The Walking Fish That Is Not a Fish!

Contributor: Jay Gregorio. Lesson ID: 13331

Is it a fish? Is it a tadpole? Is it an adult? Is it walking? Is it smiling at me? Is it regrowing a limb? Is it extinct? Discover all of the answers as you discover the amazing axolotl!

categories

Life Science

subject
Science
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:
  • Did you know that there is a dog-headed god named Xolotl in Aztec mythology?

Xolotl was the god of fire, lightning, deformities, and death.

Aztec god Xolotl

Image from the Codex Fejervary-Mayer, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

According to myth, the Aztec gods needed to sacrifice themselves to the sun to keep it alive and moving across the sky. However, Xolotl was fearful of being sacrificed, so it disguised itself as an animal.

The legend says that the animal Xolotl transformed into was an amphibious salamander resembling a water dog.

This is how the axolotl (pronounced AX-oh-lot-ul) got its name.

While the etymology of this Mexican salamander is interesting, the axolotl is a wonder because of its exceptional abilities, which only a few life forms on earth share.

  • Are you ready to find out what they are?

The axolotl is also known as the Mexican walking fish, but it isn't really a fish. It's an amphibian!

axolotl

At first glance, however, it is easy to see why people mistakenly call it a fish. They are found in the freshwaters of Mexico, although they are rarely seen. This salamander is considered to be one of the most unique and unusual creatures on earth.

Axolotl Classification and General Characteristics

Class: Amphibia Order: Caudata Family: Ambystomatidae
Genus: Ambystoma Species: mexicanum

 

Life Span: 10 - 15 years
Gestation: 2 weeks
Number of Young: 300 - 1,000 eggs
Age of Maturity: 6 months
Length: 6 - 18 inches
Weight: 2 - 8 ounces

 

Axolotls range in color from light pink to different shades of gray with greenish mottling or silver highlights. It has a broad, flat body with a large head donning its signature feathery gills waving gently in the water.

axolotl

Its mouth is often bent into a slight grin or is otherwise expressive. Round, dark eyes with yellow, iridescent irises take in its murky environment. It has lizard-like limbs that carry it along the lake bottom.

axolotl

What Makes Axolotl Unique?

Neoteny

Humans have always been fascinated with the idea of staying young by looking young. It seems like the axolotl holds the secret recipe!

They are known to be neotenic which means that they can delay or slow down their physiological development. It is a rare trait that helps them retain their larval stage throughout their adult life.

Aquatic

Axolotls differ from other salamanders because they live permanently in water. In rare cases, they develop into maturity underwater and emerge later in life. However, for the most part, they seem to enjoy their lives swimming and staying wet.

Camouflage

If the mythological Aztec god changed its shape to avoid sacrifice, the same is true for the axolotl.

Dark-colored axolotls can change their color shade lighter or darker to blend in with its surroundings. Axolotls that are safely kept as pets tend to have a light pink color which is pleasing to the eyes.

axolotl camouflage

Regeneration

Perhaps one of the most astonishing characteristics of the axolotl is the ability to regenerate. This means that they can regrow their limbs, jaws, spines, lungs, hearts, and some parts of the brain!

Many researchers have found that they can grow limbs perfectly in a few weeks without a trace of a scar.

Watch Axolotls are masters of Regeneration, from Animalogic, to learn more:

Axolotl Diet

  • Is this charming creature a predator?

The answer is yes. Despite their unlikely predator characteristics - like an infantile charm and undeveloped teeth - they eat worms, mollusks, crustaceans, insect larvae, and even smaller fish!

Axolotls are also very strategic. They hide under the mud during the day and hunt for food at night when everyone is resting.

Axolotls Are Endangered

Axolotls are known to live up to 15 years in the wild, which is longer than most salamanders.

  • So why is their population declining?

When larger fish are introduced to their body of water, axolotls cannot compete for food and other resources. Also, the increase in the heron population - their natural predator - has threatened their survival.

Axolotls are incredible creatures with very interesting characteristics. Watch Axolotls Have The Cutest Yawns | The Dodo before moving on to the Got It? section to answer questions about this quirky amphibian:

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