What is an Axolotl
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What is an Axolotl? [are Axolotls good pets?]

Despite being referred to as the “walking fish” an Axolotl is not a fish. They are aquatic salamanders. Discovered in the high-altitude ancient waters of Lake Chalco and Lake Xochimilco, near Mexico City, their unique charm and look make them popular aquarium pets. 

There is a lot to know about having a pet Axolotl. If you think you want one, keep reading to learn more about these amazing animals!

Is an Axolotl a Fish
Is an Axolotl a Fish?

Is an Axolotl a Fish?

No, an Axolotl is not a fish. Many people think the Axolotl is a fish because of names given to it such as Mexican walking fish or water monster. Axolotls do live in water and are actually a type of aquatic salamander classified as an amphibian.

Specifically, Axolotls are a species of salamander called neotenic salamanders. Let me explain. Salamanders go through developmental stages called metamorphosis. 

In the final stage of metamorphosis, amphibians achieve sexual maturity, or the ability to procreate. Neotenic salamanders reach sexual maturity while retaining juvenile characteristics.

When salamanders eggs hatch they go from hatching to the larva stage, where they develop limbs. During the larva stage, salamanders live in water, using gills to breathe. 

The final stage of metamorphosis for salamanders is developing features (such as lungs) that allow them to be terrestrial animals, which allows them to breathe outside of water. Axolotls do not undergo this change.

One example of this is that Axolotls keep their juvenile dorsal fin for their entire life. Also, they live their entire lives in water, breathing through unique-looking feathery external gills.

Typically, salamanders do not become sexually mature before the final stage of metamorphosis. For Axolotls though, they become sexually mature before the final stage, which allows them to procreate and lay eggs while still in the larva stage.

What Does Axolotl Mean?

Axolotls were named by the Aztecs after the Aztec god, Xolotl. Xolotl was drawn with the head of a dog in many depictions and was known as the God of Fire and Lightning. 

What Does Axolotl Mean
What Does Axolotl Mean?

The word “axolotl” is believed to be derived from the Aztec language comprising two words “alt” for water and “xolotl” for dog. In one myth, the god Xolotl was supposed to sacrifice himself to move the sun but instead transformed himself into an Axolotl.

How Do You Pronounce Axolotl?

The name Axolotl is pronounced like ack-suh-lah-tuhl.

Axolotl is not pronounced like the Ocelot cat, though the pronunciations are commonly confused. 


Axolotls are often referred to as the Mexican Salamander, but that isn’t the scientific name. The scientific name is Ambystoma Mexicanum.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an Axolotl as:

 “any of several salamanders (genus Ambystoma especially A. mexicanum and A. tigrinum) of mountain lakes of Mexico and the western U.S. that ordinarily live and breed in the larval form without metamorphosing.”

Axolotl Features

Axolotls are unique in that they do not progress to the terrarium stage of metamorphosis, and they maintain juvenile features.

What Do Axolotls Look Like?

Axolotls grew in popularity because of their adorable dragon-like appearance. The gills protrude from their neck and give them a unique look that resembles a dragon. Because axolotls stay in the larval stage, they keep their juvenile gills.

Axolotls come in a lot of different colors. These creatures have 28 chromosomes and there are three different cells that control their color. This gives them a wide variety of genetic combinations that affect their color.

What Do Axolotls Look Like
What Do Axolotls Look Like?

Most wild Axolotls are a dark color with red lidless eyes. Most Axolotls that are bred in captivity come in a variety of colors. They are bred to have a unique and appealing look, such as white, yellow, or even gold speckles. 

There are also various types of albino Axolotls, allowing some of them to have a peach or yellow pigment, while others may be completely white with no pigment.

White Axolotl 

There is also a white Axolotl that is not albino, which is one of the most commonly bred colors.

Axolotls have four legs and a tadpole-like body, only they grow to be much larger. Their face has also won the hearts of many because their tiny eyes and wide mouth gives them a permanent baby-like appearance.

Why is my Axolotl turning a pale pink color?

This could be natural or it could be a sign of a health issue. An Axolotl’s natural pigment coloration will turn paler when they are resting due to a slowed blood flow.

This condition could also be due to poor water temperature control on their tank or an indication of some type of disease. 

How Big are Axolotls?

Axolotls typically grow to be up to 12 inches long, which makes them a large Mexican salamander, especially considering it doesn’t transition out of the larval stage. 

If you’re considering adding an Axolotl to your family, it’s important to know that their size is rather large for an aquarium pet. You will want to take time to consider how large of a habitat you will need to accommodate their large size.

How Long Do Axolotls Live?

Axolotls have an average life span of 10 to 15 years. This is the average life span observed in the wild. It is possible that captive Axolotls could live longer with the right care. The maximum longevity in captivity is recorded at 17 years for an Axolotl.

Do Axolotls Have Teeth?

Axolotls do have teeth. However, despite being carnivorous animals, their teeth are not designed for tearing or ripping apart flesh. Their teeth are difficult to see and are not protruding or sharp. 

Do Axolotls Have Teeth
Do Axolotls Have Teeth?

Their teeth are designed to help grip food when they suck in water, and they help to close their mouth quickly.  

Where Do Axolotls Live?

Axolotl’s natural environment is the freshwater lakes in the Valley of Mexico region near Mexico City, Mexico. 

Documentation of Axolotls goes back to the time of the Aztecs. Their scientific name, Ambystoma Mexicanum, is a combination of their genus and the location they are indigenous to. 

Axolotls are also bred in captivity for research and as pets. Which has brought them to aquariums around the world.


The Axolotl population is figured by observations in their natural habitats in lakes in Mexico. The observed wild population has drastically decreased, making them an endangered species.

The number of Axolotls in captive populations is really unknown at this time.


While getting a definite number of Axolotls in the wild is impossible, studies and observations have noticed a large decrease in the Axolotl population in the wild. The Axolotl is on the endangered species list and classified as critically endangered.

They are considered a critically endangered species with an estimation of the mature population existing between 50 and 1000 individuals.


There are several threats that are affecting the Mexican Axolotl population. Residential and commercial development, hunting and trapping terrestrial animals, invasive and other problematic species, habitat destruction, and most importantly water pollution. 

Pollution is likely one of the biggest contributing factors to the decrease in the Axolotl wild population. The water quality of the high-altitude lakes to which the Axolotls are indigenous continues to get worse.

Clean water is critical to their survival. The poor water quality impacts the entire ecosystem of the lakes which the Axolotl needs to flourish.

Can You Own an Axolotl?

If you are thinking you might want an Axolotl, check with your state laws. Axolotls are illegal to own in some states because they are considered an exotic endangered species. In other states, you may need a license to own one.

Can You Own an Axolotl
Can You Own an Axolotl?


If it’s legal to own an Axolotl in your state, you can contact local pet stores or aquariums to find out if they keep any in stock or have any for adoption. The local aquarium may also be able to special order an Axolotl for you. 

You may also find breeders by searching online. It would be ideal to find one locally from a shop that has experience with Axolotls.


The initial cost of purchase will depend on how common they are in your area and what color you are able to purchase. In an area where you need a license for the exotic pet, it may cost a little more to purchase. 

The cost of the Axolotl itself isn’t all you should consider though. Also consider the cost of a good size aquarium, filter, lighting, cooling, décor, food, and other needs to ensure the safety of the water. 

Before purchasing the Axolotl, figure out how much food and water treatment will cost as a regular purchase. Then calculate how much it will cost to purchase and set up the aquarium. 

It would be best to set up the aquarium at least a few days before you pick up your Axolotl, this will give you time to test the water, and ensure it is safe. In general, you can expect to spend at least $200 on supplies and the Axolotl itself. 

In areas where Axolotls and supplies are more expensive, or if you decide on higher quality supplies, you can spend several hundred dollars.  


While Axolotls are endangered in the wild, the population in captivity is much larger. These little critters are a beloved aquatic pet and their popularity continues to grow.


Axolotls can grow to be around 12 inches long, which means they need a good size habitat to allow them to thrive. If you plan on having just one Axolotl a 15-20 gallon tank is the smallest tank you should have. 

The larger the tank the better, the better though. If you are wanting two Axolotls, you should aim for a 55-gallon tank to give both Axolotls the space to grow and have room to themselves.

A tank that is too small can stunt the growth of the Axolotl. And if you plan on having other pets in the tank, it needs to be large enough to give all of them their own space. Keep in mind, Axolotls are predators, which means they may eat small fish.


Axolotls are carnivores. They will pretty much eat any kind of meat that will fit in their mouth. In the wild, Axolotls are at the top of the food chain and eat a variety of insects, insect larvae, worms, mollusks, and small fish

For Axolotls in captivity, they can eat food pellets that have developed to provide them with a balanced diet. They may also eat brine shrimp or worms.


It is important to keep a lid on your aquarium because Axolotls can leap out of the tank. 

They may survive for short periods outside of the tank, but the fall to the floor can cause injury and stress, and long periods outside of water can be deadly to them. To keep them safe, it’s best to keep a lid on the tank.


While Axolotls can survive out of water for a short period of time, holding them can be stressful for them. You may need to hold your Axolotl to get them out of the aquarium to change the water or check on their health. 

However, you should not hold the Axolotl out of the water unless necessary. They are very delicate and do best when in the water and left alone.


While petting your Axolotl will not cause direct harm, putting your hands in their aquarium can affect the water if you have oils or chemicals on your hands.

Frequent petting can also be stressful for the Axolotl. Frequent touching can also remove the protective layer around their skin.


Depending on what you’re looking for, Axolotls can be great pets.

They are relatively low maintenance because they don’t require frequent interaction, unlike dogs or cats. However, they are a higher need aquatic animal. 

Axolotls tanks require weekly water testing and changes to ensure high water quality. They also need a large living space for optimal growth and health. They are not a pet for cuddling or petting.

You can feed them easily as their diet is not restrictive like many other animals. There are pellets, or even live food you can give them, such as worms. 

Their cost is relatively low when compared to other pets as well. You will need to purchase water conditioners and food regularly for upkeep, but the cost is fairly low.

If you think they will make a great pet for you, make sure you check your state laws. Axolotls are illegal to own in some states, and others may require a license. 

Axolotls are illegal to own as pets in some states!

So while they may appear to be a great choice, there may be issues with having such an exotic pet!


Axolotl Limb Regrowth

Axolotls are regenerative animals, they can regrow fully functional limbs, organs, and other body parts! 

Jeremiah Smith, an associate biology professor at the University of Kentucky, says the Axolotl’s ability to regrow limbs is due to the use of stem cells. “Salamanders have this unique ability to regenerate almost anything you cut off them,” Smith says.

Salamanders can even regenerate spinal cords, eyes and parts of their brain.

Can an Axolotl Regrow its Head?

No, unfortunately, an Axolotl cannot regrow its head. The brain is what controls the Axolotl’s regenerative process.

Axolotl Genome Size

A genome is a living organism’s genetic instructions. Interestingly, the difference between an Axolotl’s genome and a human genome is startling!  According to Discover Magazine, an Axolotl’s cell “contains 10 times more DNA than a human’s.”

Axolotls Cancer Resistance

Axolotls are believed to be 1000 times more resistant to cancers than humans.

They have been the center of a lot of scientific research because of their regenerative abilities and resistance to cancer. Scientists are trying to figure out a way to harness these incredible traits to cure human diseases.

Can Axolotls Metamorphosis?

In rare circumstances some Axolotls have completed metamorphosis, allowing them to lose their juvenile looks and grow into terrestrial salamanders living on land.

Scientists have discovered that they can force Axolotls to undergo metamorphosis, but it shortens their lifespan and they will die shortly after.

Are Axolotls Poisonous?

No, Axolotls are not poisonous to humans. They even used to be eaten in central Mexico, but now they are now a protected species.

Is an Axolotl a Water Dog?

No, an Axolotl is not a Water Dog but they are often called that. A Water Dog is a type of salamander species derived from the Tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) usually found in the United States. 

Axolotls are closely related to the Tiger salamander but have their origins in Mexico.

Axolotls can make good pets for certain people and certain situations. My advice would be to take your time and really research all aspects of owning an Axolotl before getting one.

Axolotl Names

If you do get an Axolotl as a pet you have to give it a great name! Here are some popular Axolotl names.

  • Axel
  • Binky
  • Captain
  • Floof
  • Glow Boi
  • Kirby
  • Neptune
  • Popper
  • Sparky
  • Sally Mander
what is an axolotl

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