Axolotl Care Guide
The Species: Axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) also known as the Mexican Walking Fish are native to Mexico, inhabiting freshwater lakes with sand banks. Unfortunately due to pollution to their native waters, they are dying out in the wild and are now classed as Critically Endangered, despite this they are easily bred and are often kept as pets. Often mistaken for fish, these unique animals are in fact amphibians and close relatives of salamanders. Unlike salamanders and newts, Axolotls don't go through metamorphosis and stay in their juvenile state and continue to grow, they can reach up to 18".
Enclosure: Axolotls are permanently aquatic animals and spend their entire lives in the water, living in filtrated tanks. As juveniles they should have a minimum size tank of 60L (13 gallon) and need to have a minimum size of 90L (20 gallon). Axolotls are solitary by nature but can cohabit as long as they have a large enough tank to avoid territorial behaviours.
When setting up a fish tank or aquarium, the filter should be running for a minimum of 7-10 days before adding any animals and a water test should always be completed before adding anyone to the tank. This is to make sure that all the chlorine has been cycled out of the tank and that healthy bacteria has established itself within the water to keep any animals alive. It is important to cycle out the chlorine as this can harm the skin of amphibians and burn fish gills. It is also important to make sure that there is water movement in the tank to disturb the surface of the water to make sure that oxygen can enter the water, this can be accomplished by having a filter or air pump within the tank.
They naturally walk along the river bed with a sand base, this makes fine sand one of the only suitable substrates to use for these animals. Other suitable substrates are axolotl sand, aquarium plant soil or no substrate at all, their tanks can be left bare at the bottom with no substrate. Gravel and pebbles are not suitable substrates to use as they can easily be ingested and cause impactions in Axolotls which is usually fatal.
Various decor and apparatus should be included to provide as natural of an enclosure as possible. Woods, rocks and caves are all suitable to use for this species however it is important to make sure that they cannot get trapped inside as they will be unable to come up for air and can die. Live or artificial plants are also acceptable.
Many people want to keep fish, frogs and other aquatic animals in the tank with Axolotls however this is advised against, Axolotls have very poor eyesight and only see movement, they are natural hunters so will often attempt to eat anything that moves in front of them, meaning whatever animals are in the tank with them will most likely end up as the Axolotls' food. Keeping fish with these animals can also harm them as fish will often try to eat the rami (external gills) of the Axolotl.
Heating: These are cold water animals and should not be given heaters, they should be kept at a temperature range of 15-18 degrees celcius (59-64 degrees farenheight) and should never raise above 22 degrees celcius (72 degrees farenheight). If the tank raises above maximum temperatures, Axolotls can become extremely uncomfortable and even end in death.
Lighting: Unlike most amphibians, Axolotls do not require UVB lighting as they would receive very little sunlight at the bottom of lakes, however it is not harmful to provide them with UVB lighting as long as it is low level UVB, no higher than 6%. Although they don't need UVB lighting having lighting does benefit them as it provide them with a day/night sequence, LED lighting or fluorescent lighting, blue lighting is another option for them as they are a nocturnal species. With aquariums, the lighting should be on for no longer than 6 hours a day as it can increase algae growth within the tank.
Tank Maintenance: Fish tank maintenance is very important when keeping these animals as they have the same maintenance level. Water changes of approximately 20-30% should be completed every 2 weeks and during this process, any dirt should be syphoned off of the bottom of the tank and any algae cleaned off of the glass.
Filter sponges should only be cleaned whenever the filter starts to slow down and should only be cleaned in the old water removed from the tank, filter sponges or media rarely need changing and if done, should not be changed all at once as doing so can disrupt the system causing the tank to essentially start form scratch meaning all the healthy bacteria has been removed from the tank, this goes for tank water as well, no more than 50% of thank water should ever be removed at a time as removing more than that can disrupt the system and remove the healthy bacteria. Removing healthy bacteria basically starts a tank from scratch and can kill any animals living in the tank.
Diet: Axolotls are carnivores and will actively hunt anything that moves past them, they have poor eyesight so rely on movement and smell to hunt. A good varied diet can consist of livefood such as shrimp, worms, bloodworm, and some insects however some other foods can be given such as frozen bloodworm or axolotl feeds.