What Do Xoloitzcuintlis and Axolotls Have in Common?

Discover the six things the Mexican Hairless dog breed, Xoloitzcuintlis, and feathery-gilled axolotls have in common.

Dec 11, 2023By Jessica Montes
what do xoloitzcuintlis and axolotls have in common

Xoloitzcuintlis and axolotls. Try saying that five times fast! Although one is a hairless dog and the other a salamander, these two animals have similarities that span from ancient times to the present day. Continue reading for six amazing things Xoloitzcuintlis and axolotls have in common.

Both Animals Come from Mexico

Photo courtesy of Artem Lysenko via Pexels

Both the axolotl (ax-uh-lot-ul) and the Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced sho-lo-eatz-queen-tlee) have roots that trace back to civilizations from thousands of years ago. The axolotl, a unique amphibian, is native to the ancient lake complex of Xochimilco in Mexico. This creature has earned the nickname of "Mexican walking fish," but it is not a fish at all. Axolotls are actually neotenic salamanders, meaning they live in water for their entire life, not just during adolescence.

Similarly, the Xoloitzcuintli (also known as the Xolo) has a long history in Mexico. The Aztecs, Toltecs, and Mayan civilizations all admired Xolos. These canines were thought to have magical healing powers and served as both companions and guardians to their owners. Xolos were often sacrificed after the death of their human companion and buried with them to guide them into the afterlife.

Both Are Named for a Mexican God

Photo courtesy of Modern Dog Magazine

Study the names for a few seconds, and you’ll notice a similar root word. This is because both creatures feature Nahuatl terms, an indigenous language spoken in western and central Mexico by the Aztecs.

First, you’ll see the variations of “Xolotl,” who was the Aztec god of death, fire, lightning, and transformations. Xolotl was often drawn as a skeleton figure with a dog head, and Xolos were thought to resemble him. For Xoloitzcuintlis, you have the first part, which refers to the god, and “itzcuintli,” meaning dog. So, a translation for the breed is “god dog.”

As a master of transformation, Xolotl was said to change into a salamander. The Aztec word for water is also “atl,” so axolotl has a loose translation of “water dog” or “water monster.”

Both Have Unique Appearances

Purple axolotl
Photo courtesy of Raphael Brasileiro via Pexels

Another similarity between both animals is their rare bodies and appearances. Xolos are one of a few dog breeds that are hairless and were not bred to grow without fur. This look develops from a mutation in their FOXI3 gene. It can cause other issues with their skin, nails, and teeth. As Xolos grow, they can lose their incisors or molars and even have a tongue that permanently sticks out in an adorable way.

Axolotls have several features that make them unique. The external gills on their heads spread out, giving these salamanders a feathery-looking hairdo. Even more surprising, Axolotls can regrow lost body parts, including limbs, spinal cord, and even parts of their brain. This extraordinary power has made axolotls valuable for scientific research. They may help researchers discover advancements in regenerative medicine for humans!

Both Xolos and Axolotls Have Faced Extinction

Two xolos
Photo courtesy of World Animal Foundation

Unfortunately, both animals have been at risk of extinction. Xolos faced the biggest threat a few hundred years ago with the immigration of Europeans and their furry friends. Dogs of all varieties began mating and creating litters of mixed-breed puppies. This led to a generation of dogs without the purebred Xolo DNA. To make matters worse, Spaniards saw Xolos as an easily available meat and added to the breed’s dwindling numbers. Thanks to Mexican activists in the 1950s, a Xolo breeding kennel was created, and the population was regrown.

Axolotls were labeled a Critically Endangered species in 2019 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are threatened by pollution, habitat transformation, and urbanization. A scary statistic estimates that the salamander’s population has reduced by 80% since 2003, and only about 50 to 1000 mature axolotls are living in the wild. An action recovery plan, international legislation, educational programs, and a re-population test were conducted to make axolotls a conservation success story.

Here's good news for fans of these smiley-faced salamanders: axolotls are fairly easy to care for. In captivity, their numbers exceed one million.

People Have Dined On Xolos and Axolotls

Axolotls tank
Photo courtesy of Matias Tapia via Unsplash

The Spanish consumption of Xolos was not the only time these animals were seen as a food source. Aztecs sacrificed the dogs and often ate them during important ceremonies, such as funerals and marriages. Aside from this, Xolos were eaten by these indigenous groups for their supposed powers to cure health issues.

The ancient Mexican civilization also considered axolotls a highly desirable meal, and they were consumed for their protein. This practice continued well into the 1850s when vendors sold them for food at local markets. Axolotls carried their god-like reputation and were also thought to have healing powers, like the Xolos.

They were used in traditional Mexican medicines for respiratory conditions and traded for their medicinal purposes as well. Today, some communities in Mexico still eat axolotls regularly or for the claims of healing illnesses. Not great news for these animals in need of conservation!

Both Have Been Featured in Popular Media

Xolo grass
Photo courtesy of World Animal Foundation

Axolotls and Xolos have gained popularity with several generations in the animated form. The number of shows, videos, games, and films featuring these ancient creatures has increased in the last decade. This means more children, teens, parents, and adults of all ages are recognizing these axolotls and Xolos on screens.

An animated children’s YouTube channel titled “Axl the Axolotl” was created in August 2020 and has over 256,00 views so far. The open-world adventure game Minecraft also has a pixelated axolotl that players can capture and use to restore their health. On top of that, fans of Pokemon will notice the similarities between axolotls and the creatures “Wooper” and “Mudkip.”

For Xolos, the most recognizable appearance in the past few years was in Disney’s film “Coco.” There, the main character travels the Land of the Dead with his dog sidekick, a goofy and affectionate Xolo named Dante. Since then, countless stickers, posters, t-shirts, plushies, and other merchandise with the animated Xolo have been sold.

Axolotls and Xolos Are Beauties of Nature

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Axolotls and Xolos live in different habitats, but they share unique similarities. Their names were inspired by the Aztec god of death, Xolotl, sharing this root word. Both unfortunately battled with extinction. These fascinating animals also call ancient Mexico home and have found a place in popular media. Best of all, Xolos and axolotls remind us of nature’s endless wonders.

Jessica Montes
By Jessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.