Axolotl, a walking fish

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Contradictory from its appearance, Axolotl (AX-oh-lot-ul) is commonly known as a ‘water monster.’ This cute ocean creature is a type of aquatic salamander. According to the legend, ancient believes that Axolotl was a god who disguised himself as a salamander to avoid sacrifice. Axolotl, or its scientific name Ambystoma mexicanum, is related to the tiger salamander. The common name comes from the native Aztec language or Nahuatl, which defines as water slave, water servant, water sprite, water player, water monstrosity, water twin or water dog. This animal is rarely to be found and was originally discovered in several lakes such as Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City. It is a native animal to the freshwater of Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco although the latter lake is no longer exist due to flood control measure. Axolotl has special characteristics unlike other organisms as it retains its larval features throughout adult life. It is called neoteny, the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal. Axolotl keeps its tadpole-like dorsal fin, which covers 80 percent the length of its body, and its feathery external gills attached from the back of its wide head. When this animal loses a leg, tail, or any part of the body, it can regrow and nary a scar remains. Axolotl is different from other salamanders as it lives permanently in water. Axolotl can grow quite large that it can reach up to a foot in length. They are generally black or mottled brown, but albino and white varieties of axolotl are especially among captive specimens.

The courtship of axolotl is similar to the general Ambystoma animal. It involves nudging to each other cloacal region which leads to a “waltz,” both animals moving in a circle. The male Axolotl will step away while undulating the posterior part of his body and tail like a hula dance and the female will follow at the back. Later, the male will deposit a spermatophore by vigorously shaking his tail for about half a minute and then move forward one body length. The female will pick up the spermatophore with her cloaca by shaking her tail. Axolotl usually breeds in the wild from March to June. Estimated eggs deposited by axolotl almost reach 300 eggs in the water and are attached to substrates. It took 10 to 14 days for the eggs to hatch. Juveniles are immediately independent after they were born and have no parental involvement to care for them. Sexual maturity reach one year after they were born. The eggs of axolotls are unlike frogs which are laid in clumped masses. Their eggs are laid singly with a protective jelly coat surrounded to protect the baby and give a huge amount of oxygen. They are often to be attached to substrates like rocks or floating vegetation.

The axolotl is a solitary animal and is active at any time of the day. This is one of the reasons it become one of the exclusive pet trades across the globe. Other than the lovable face of the axolotl, it has adorable behaviour especially when yawning. Axolotl communicates through visual cues and chemical cues during mating and at the ordinary moment, there is little to no intraspecific communication. Axolotl used its sensitivity sensor to detect electrical fields and chemical cues to observe the environment and avoid predators. Unbelievably, Axolotl has a long lifespan, surviving up to 15 years with the persistent diet of molluscs, worms, insect larvae, crustaceans, and some smaller fish. This species has begun to suffer since large fishes have appeared in the lake habitat and other natural threats including predatory birds like herons. Other than that, Xochimilco lake has been contaminated due to the demands of construction in Mexico City which caused a population decrease among axolotl habitats. Moreover, further shrinking is caused by the aquarium trade, and the roasted axolotl is considered a delicacy in Mexico. They have now been declared a critically endangered species by IUCN. Subsequently, this animal is known to be the top predator in their native environment, however, since large fish have been presented in the lakes, making it an unstructured food web. This salamander species is also an important research animal that has been used in recent regulation of gene expression, embryology, neurobiology, and regeneration. Its miraculous regeneration abilities influence captivity in scientific research studies and have been portrayed as a natural miracle healer. Sporadically, the axolotl has been taken as a food item as a substitute for fish. The declining population of axolotl has caused limited information and ecological studies on its wild populations.

Axolotl can reach an average of 20cm but can grow more than 30 cm in length. It is easy to distinguish between male axolotl and female axolotl. Male shaves enlarged cloaca which is similar to other urodeles whereas the female has a smaller cloaca and round plump bodies. While axolotl is particularly hardy to slight fluctuations in their habitat, it also has delicate, soft bodies with permeable skin. Most of its body comprises of cartilage and little bone. Thus, it requires gentle handling mechanisms to avoid any injuries to its body part. If you are thinking to make axolotl as a pet, you might need a good aquarium set up as axolotl obviously lives in the water for its entire life. The temperature and pH need to be kept at right for this animal to thrive in an adequate tank. The tank should be placed in a cool room with a little amount of sunlight and water temperature in between 14°C to 20°C and pH range from 6.5 to 7.5 only. In fact, flowerpot, or any accessories for the axolotl to hide is very well appreciated. The afterward maintenance is not that tough as the pet owners just need to spend a few hours to feed and clean as axolotl loves to enjoy the presence of a person observing them. However, it should not be put together with other animals as axolotl is a carnivore. Even juvenile axolotl can be cannibalistic toward one another; hence they are best to raise in a separate tank. Although adult axolotl has the potential to be housed together and easily regenerated but still need to watch out for any cannibalistic tendencies. The tank should be at least filled with 15 to 20 gallons of water and covered with a lid as it might jump out of its enclosure. Adding extra depth for the axolotl will be perfect to keep them in high water quality and more space to swarm around. The development of axolotls can be induced with meta metamorphosis through thyroid hormone injections.

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