Axolotls require the same conditions that many freshwater creatures crave, needing only a few hours of maintenance a week. Their dietary habits are straightforward, and most big-name pet stores carry the necessary supplies.
Yet, as with any pet, one should research before bringing one of these underwater friends home. While axolotls are great for beginners and freshwater enthusiasts, they still need their needs met.
Axolotls Are Generally Easy to Care For
National Geographic reports that axolotls (ax-a-lot-tuls) stem from Mexico, where they thrive in only a few bodies of water. In the 1860s, Parisians took note of these smiley-faced salamanders and started breeding them in captivity. As one can imagine, if the French in the 1860s could care for axolotls, one in the 21st Century should have a far simpler time.
Axolotls Need Medium-Sized Tanks
The biggest axolotls don’t exceed 12 inches in length––and even that’s rare. These aquatic lizard-like companions generally don’t get much bigger than a teacup. The San Diego Zoo notes that an axolotl reaches maturity at around six months, and that’s when it reaches its final size. This is when many people purchase these salamanders for their aquariums.
Axolotls spend most of their time chilling on the bottom of tanks. So, when purchasing a tank, it should have a generously sized base. The aquarium should hold 15 to 20 gallons of water (at a minimum), and owners should clean it once every few weeks.
Don’t Forget to Maintain It
It’s not enough to introduce an axolotl to an undecorated 20-gallon tank and call it a day. An axolotl’s aquarium should replicate its habitat as closely as possible. Here are the basics:
- Sand on the bottom. Sand is a perfect ground layer for an axolotl’s tank. First and foremost, the sand lets them get a good grip and makes it easier to move forward. Also, it’s safer than gravel, which younger axolotls may swallow by accident.
- Plants. Aquatic plants are for more than decoration; they also provide the oxygen-rich water that axolotls crave. They also offer some dietary enrichment. After all, who doesn’t want a side salad with their earthworm? Ideal plants in an axolotl tank include duckweed, hornwort, and java ferns.
- Small critters. There’s nothing wrong with keeping anaxolotl alone in a healthy aquarium. Yet, owners can place guppies, apple snails, and minnows in the tank without problems. It’s worth noting that the axolotl might eat one of the smaller fish for fun, so don’t get too attached.
Axolotls are not social creatures, meaning one doesn’t have to have an army of axolotls to have a well-balanced environment. Yet, axolotls do well in pairs, specifically male/female pairings. One may be better off sticking with same-sex axolotls––unless they want a lot of babies swimming around.
Axolotls Need a Healthy Diet
In the wild, axolotls love munching on small crabs, fish, and insects. However, in captivity, their diets can be more varied. They thrive off:
- Insect larvae
- Raw meat
- Brine shrimp
- Store-bought pellets
Axolotls love to eat, and unlike humans, they don’t have to worry about fitting into their old jeans. When given the opportunity, axolotls can eat and eat and eat more, causing some to become obese. With obesity comes health complications, so new axolotl owners should only feed their pet once or twice a day.
Conditioned Tap Water Works Fine in Axolotl’s Tanks
Some types of tropical fish need special conditioned water to survive. But an axolotl isn’t tropical. And it’s not a fish, either. One can use tap water in their tanks. However, before welcoming the axolotl home, an owner should let the water sit in the tank for at least 24 hours. This allows the chlorine in the water evaporate, making it safe. Remember: chlorine is toxic to axolotls!
Still, if waiting 24 hours seems too long, one can:
- Remove the chlorine with de-chlorination drops. Many pet stores sell de-chlorination drops in their fish care section. Aquarists swear by DeChlor. Be sure to read the instructions before use.
- Use bottled water. Bottled water already has chlorine removed. An axolotl owner should make sure the water isn’t treated with anything first.
Axolotls thrive in water with a pH of 7.4 to 7.6, per the Royal Veterinary College. A water’s pH indicates whether a sample’s acidic, neutral, or alkaline. Axolotls need neutral water.
Axolotls Don’t Like Being Handled
The joy of having an axolotl comes from its daily antics, like gobbling earthworms and grazing on the aquarium’s floor. They do not need human interaction, and they don’t like being handled, either. One should only handle an axolotl for a few seconds if they’re cleaning the tank or another situation requires it.
On another note, owners should not take their axolotls out of the water. Once their slime coat dries out, they could pass away. That’s the last thing an axolotl owner wants. Now, let’s look at some frequently asked questions.
How Long Do Axolotl Live?
As noted, axolotls can live up to 15 years. That means getting one is a large commitment––the same as adopting a small dog. When most people adopt axolotls, they’re generally sold when they’re six months and older. So, one should plan accordingly.
Why Are Axolotls Critically Endangered?
One may think: “If axolotls are so easy to take care of, then why are they endangered?” Smithsonian Magazine has an answer. Axolotls only live in Lake Xochimilco and a few canals in Mexico City. These waterways have endured pollution and a barrage of invasive species. Both things have made it difficult for axolotls to thrive, despite being easy to take care of in captivity.
Are Axolotls Good Starter Pets?
If an aquarist wants to “break into” amphibian care, getting an axolotl could be a good place to start. These grinning guys don’t need highly specialized conditions, and they require consistent (but not intensive) maintenance.