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Axolotls: “The Peter Pan Amphibians”

Updated: Nov 10, 2020


Although often bred to be white in captivity, white Axolotls are actually quite rare in the wild. Find the original photograph here.



Population Estimate: Less than 1,500 individuals in the wild


Brief Description

Axolotl (Ax-o-Lot-ul) comes from the aztec word of “Atl” meaning water, and “xolotl” meaning dog. This name has roots in Aztec mythology, as Xolotl was a god with a dog head that lead souls to the underworld. They eat small fish, worms, and insects and are a favorite of exotic pet lovers. Despite prospering in captivity, Axolotl population in the wild has drastically decreased since the beginning of the century. In 1998, there were over 6,000 individuals found in the wild, but recent surveys have suggested there are a mere 900 to 1,200 axolotls. This is due to a combination of several factors, including habitat loss, pollution of Xochimilco, and the addition of invasive species such as carp to their habitat.

Axolotls are very similar to the Tiger Salamander, but do not mature to adulthood. In simple terms, Axolotls do not lose their gills because they do not undergo metamorphosis and therefore stay in the water. This adaptation gives them their iconic feathery branches as these are actually their gills.

Another important factor that contributes to the Axolotl’s popularity is their ability to regenerate. Axolotls are able to not only regenerate any of their limbs, but they do not form any scar tissue when regenerating any wound. This has given them an almost mythical standing in the scientific community as much research has been done to understand these abilities. Additionally, Axolotls are incredibly resistant to cancer making them desirable to medical research as well. This has led to some morally questionable studies performed over the past century, especially in the United States.

Written by — Joe Sweeney


Fun Facts

  1. Axolotls are illegal pets in only two states, California and New Jersey, to prevent the potential of breeding with native species.

  2. They were revered in Ancient Aztec Culture.

  3. Axolotls retain all their juvenile features into adulthood, only found

  4. Axolotls can regenerate any of their limbs without scarring as many times as necessary

  5. There has even been a study where researchers were able to transplant an axolotl’s head onto another individual’s body successfully. Yes, you can download that study here.

  6. They are 1,000 times more resistant to cancer than any other organism.

  7. Xochimilco is the only lake in the world that Axolotls can be found in the wild due to massive habitat loss since the Spanish invasion of México.


How You Can Help

Conclusively, many researchers believe reintroducing individual Axolotls would lower the genetic variability of the wild population and increase the susceptibility to many diseases, including Chytridiomycosis which has been associated with mass die offs of many amphibian populations in recent years. This means that if reintroduction is not an option, we must save this last population before axolotls become officially extinct in the wild. The Amphibian Ark is a nonprofit organization that funds research and conservation of all sorts of amphibians around the world, including axolotls.

Petition / Donation Links


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