*Welcome To the World Of Axolotls—A Basic Introduction*
Axolotls (abystoma mexicanum) are a freshwater amphibian, technically a salamander that forever remains in a larval state so-to-speak. They are able to regenerate their legs, gills, tail, heart, spine and even brain..... countless times. They are one of the most heavily studied creatures in science because of their regenerative capabilities. Sadly, they are nearly extinct in the wild due to contamination and other factors in the one and only lake in the world that they are native to, near Mexico City. But they have quite a domesticated presence now!! They have a lifespan that can range from 10-15 years! ❤️ Male and female genders can be confirmed somewhere between 12-18 months of age, which is when they are considered mature and have finished growing. The largest specimens can reach lengths of 12”-14”, however 10” is about the average length. At 18 months old, axolotls are considered mature adults and should be full-sized and sex-confirmed by that time. They will begin to breed anywhere from 9-18 months of age if given the opportunity, and males will unfortunately breed females to death if housed together consistently. For this reason, it’s very important to keep males separate from females!! They can still be kept together in a tank however, with proper tank dividers…. although separating them altogether may be the more ideal solution. Female axolotls can lay upwards of 1,000 eggs in a single clutch. Any axolotls that are kept together, regardless of sex, should always be pretty close in size to avoid unnecessary injuries.
So for 1-2 smaller axolotls you need a MINIMUM 20 gallon tank and preferably a “low boy”. Add an additional 10 gallons for every axolotl after that! This is mainly because of the bioload each creature carries with it..... they poop much bigger than your average fish!! So they need the extra water volume to level out the bioload to keep ammonia/nitrites down. You want to do 20%-40% water changes weekly. We actually spot clean their poops when we see them, using a turkey baster (common practice), which prevents us from having to do water changes quite so often. We can occasionally get away with bi-weekly changes if we are vigilant enough on the spot-cleaning. We test our waters very regularly so we can watch for ammonia spikes and other sudden changes in water parameters. 🤓
Our adult axolotls thrive on a diet made up primarily of live earthworms or red wrigglers that I sometimes cut up to suitable size. (Most full size adults can eat entire worms) We supplement as necessary, with nutrition-rich pellets.... usually during short periods when live food is scarce or unavailable. The pellets come in very handy as a supplement for that purpose! Our hatchlings and juveniles are fed freshly hatched brine shrimp, frozen brine shrimp, frozen bloodworms, and fresh cut earthworms and red wrigglers. As youngsters and up until about a year old, they need to be fed everyday (twice a day until they are about 5”-6” in length). Often times mature adult axolotls will only eat every other day or even less, however food should still be presented to them each day. They will usually eat until they are full. 😊 They typically eat by motion detection, meaning they usually won’t eat something that doesn’t move past their face unless they are "hunting" around because they're not bring fed well. For this reason I try to drop pellets directly in front of them because it’s hard for them to “find” otherwise. Live worms are great because you can drop them near the axolotl, and they will strike it as soon as they see it moving. Many people choose to place their pellets into a glass aquarium feeding dish, which “trains” the axolotl to look there for food when they are hungry. Regardless of your method of delivery… uneaten food should be removed from the tank within hours, to prevent rotting which can heavily affect the water quality in the tank!
Axolotls do prefer and require colder water that is under 70 degrees (ideal temp is between 60-66 degrees. Above 70 degrees can be dangerous for them!! If you keep your home temperature at 70 degrees or below, your home air temp is probably going to be fine for them. Fans are a great option in the summer months or if you live in a warmer state; there are also aquarium chillers available. Winter they are perfectly happy, haha! They are just fine in water temps even under 50 degrees. So obviously, no heater necessary..... no air stone necessary either but you do want a good filter!! A sponge filter preferably (they are super cheap online) that just hooks up to an air pump. You definitely want a sponge filter rated for much higher than the actual volume of your tank..... for example, we use 55 gallon filters in our 20 gallon tanks. In turn, you will also want to use an air pump that is rated higher than the tank…. somewhere in the same range as the filter. As far as tank decor goes, they like to have hiding places so one “hide” for each axolotl in the tank is recommended. If you have a lot of plants in the tank, they can create hiding places too. Rocks or gravel should NEVER be used as substrate, as the axolotls MAY attempt to eat them and this will cause life-threatening impactions. Fine sand or bare bottom is recommended, and the axies don’t seem to care which. I will say that sand is a little easier to keep “clean” looking..... a bare bottom tank reflects every bit of discarded food & waste on the floor. Whichever substrate you decide is right for your tank, please remember that juvenile axolotls should be kept in bare-bottom enclosures until they are at least 5-6' long! Placing smaller axolotls on sand WILL cause risk of impaction and even death.
In most areas tap water will be fine for axolotls, although you ALWAYS want to add SeaChem Prime to remove any traces of chlorine. If your local water is high in ammonia, you will also want to treat it for that, but most don’t have to worry about that. Axolotls are sensitive to most “fish rated chemicals”, so you don’t want to use “Stress Coat” or anything like that with them.... it’s unnecessary and will wreak havoc with their natural slime coats. Just some Prime to remove chlorine, water should be nice and hard, ph above 7.6 is terrific. If you have a salt water softener, you will probably want to add something to the water to adjust the hardness. We do not, so our water is perfect from the tap (plus Prime). 😁 REMEMBER---Your tank must be completely cycled PRIOR to adding your axolotl or you will risk death! The cycling process takes anywhere from 2-6 weeks and even longer in some cases. For more information on the cycling process, please see the corresponding blog entry titled "Cycling Your Tank".
Another worthy mention..... axolotls really do their best in SPECIES-ONLY environments..... for their health and the health of others. They will eat anything that moves past their mouth and is smaller than their head (this is also the reason that axolotls kept together should be approximately the same size). But they are also very docile, so tank mates tend to pick on them too. I.e. even the most peaceful fish will pick & nibble at their frilly gills.... snails & suckers will develop a taste for their slimecoat.... shrimp and other crustaceans will get eaten and cause impaction with their exoskeletons. There are many cons to keeping axies with other species.... and endless benefits to keeping them in a species-only environment!! 😎