Fascinating Axolotl Facts You Need to Know

Amelia Ivanik

Axolotl: Amazing Facts You Need to Know

Axolotls are fascinating creatures that have captivated the hearts of animal lovers and researchers alike. From their unique physical features to their regenerative abilities, there is so much to learn about these amazing amphibians. We’ll uncover facts about their size, appearance, habitat, diet, family life, lifespan, conservation efforts, cultural significance, and more. We’ll also debunk some common myths about them and explore why they are often referred to as ‘Mexican Walking Fish’.

Scientific Name

Scientists know the axolotl as the Ambystoma mexicanum. 

As we love to do on Relax With Animal Facts, let’s break down that scientific name a bit.

Ambystoma can be broken down into two root words, “amby-” (αμβ-)and “stoma” (στομα)The former root word means immortal, while the latter means mouth.

Mexicanum, intuitively, refers to the location in which they are found—Mexico. 

So their scientific name connotes an immortal-mouthed creature from Mexico. As we’ll soon see, there’s something to that whole immortal thing.

Unique Characteristics

Unique features set these little guys apart. They can regenerate limbs, spinal cords, and even parts of their heart. With a variety of colors and patterns, they possess external gills for breathing in water. Their wide heads, small eyes, and smile-like mouths contribute to their distinctive appearance. Axolotls also have a lateral line system for detecting movements and vibrations in the water.

They can grow up to 12-14 inches in length and have external gills that allow them to breathe underwater. As larvae, they have gills and transition to adulthood without losing their external gills.

Size and Appearance

Axolotls, fascinating creatures with unique characteristics, can vary in size from 12 to 14 inches, occasionally reaching even larger sizes. Factors like genetics, diet, and environmental conditions influence their size. Their adorable appearance is marked by a wide head, small eyes, and a smile-like mouth. These remarkable amphibians come in various colors, including albino, golden, and wild-type, each displaying its own visual appeal. Notably, their defining feature is the presence of feathery tendrils, known as external gills, setting them apart from other amphibians.

They also possess a lateral line system for detecting movements and vibrations. Their skin can vary in color, from albino to golden with wild-type patterns, while their streamlined body shape is adapted for their aquatic lifestyle.


Axolotls are native to Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City, where they thrived in the past. They require a specific aquatic habitat with clean water, moderate temperature, and plenty of hiding spots. This lake provides the ideal environment for them, with its canals, vegetation, and abundant food sources. They primarily reside in water but can occasionally venture onto land. However, due to pollution and urbanization, axolotls are now critically endangered in their natural habitat.


Axolotls thrive in the unique and biodiverse habitat of Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City. With its network of canals, floating gardens, and lush vegetation, it provides an ideal home for these fascinating creatures. In the shallow waters of the lake, they find a rich abundance of crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish to feed on. However, this natural environment is under threat due to pollution, habitat destruction, and the presence of invasive species.


In the wild, they primarily feed on small fish, insects, crustaceans, and worms. They are carnivorous creatures that rely on a diet rich in protein. In captivity, axolotls can be fed live or frozen foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia. Commercial pellets also provide a convenient and balanced diet.

Feeding Habits in the Wild

Axolotls in the wild rely on their keen sense of smell to locate and capture prey. Employing a sit-and-wait hunting strategy, they remain motionless until their prey is within striking distance. These opportunistic feeders will consume any small animal that fits in their mouth, taking advantage of their ability to regenerate body parts to recover from injuries sustained during feeding or predation. The range of prey consumed by wild axolotls varies depending on availability and habitat conditions.

Family Life

During the breeding season, male and female axolotls come together for mating, engaging in intricate courtship displays and physical interactions. Female axolotls lay hundreds of eggs attached to aquatic plants or surfaces, and it is the male’s duty to guard them until they hatch.


Axolotls engage in elaborate mating behavior, including swimming dances and tactile interactions. The male deposits spermatophores near the female’s cloaca, which she picks up to fertilize her eggs internally. Multiple clutches of eggs can be produced throughout the breeding season, influenced by environmental factors like temperature and water quality.

Once the eggs are fertilized, they develop into embryos within protective gel capsules. After hatching, the larvae emerge with external gills and require a separate rearing tank with optimal water conditions. Adequate food and water quality are essential for the growth of young axolotls. As they mature, they undergo metamorphosis, transitioning from aquatic larvae to fully terrestrial adults.


On average, wild axolotls can live for 10-15 years, depending on factors like predation and habitat conditions. However, in captivity they can live even longer. Some have been known to reach the impressive age of 20 years or more with regular veterinary check-ups and a balanced diet.

Conservation Efforts

Urbanization and invasive species pose threats to their survival. Preserving their unique genetic diversity is a priority. Conservation programs aim to restore their population in their natural habitat. Collaborative efforts between researchers, conservationists, and government organizations are crucial.

Model Organisms in Scientific Research

These amphibians are highly valuable as model organisms in scientific research. Scientists study their genome to understand the genetic basis of regeneration, making them ideal for studying tissue and organ regeneration. Additionally, axolotls serve as models for developmental biology and limb regeneration, offering potential insights into regenerative medicine and human health. Their unique characteristics and abilities make them a fascinating subject for researchers and hold promise for advancements in medical science.


Scientists are currently sequencing and analyzing their genome to gain a deeper understanding of its unique characteristics. Their genome specifically is known to be large and complex, containing valuable information for further research. Through study. scientists hope to unlock the genetic basis for their amazing ability to regenerate limbs. This knowledge could potentially lead to advancements in regenerative medicine.

The Cultural Significance

Axolotls hold cultural importance in Mexican folklore and mythology, symbolizing regeneration and transformation. They are treasured as a national symbol of Mexico and deeply interwoven in the history and traditions of indigenous peoples. Throughout the years, axolotls have inspired various forms of art, literature, and music, showcasing their enduring cultural significance.

Folklore and Mythology

In Aztec mythology, they were associated with Xolotl, the twin brother of Quetzalcoatl. The Aztecs believed axolotls had healing properties and could cure ailments. Legends claim that axolotls were humans who transformed to escape sacrifice. These aquatic creatures symbolized rebirth and renewal in ancient Mexican mythology and were used in mystical rituals.

Debunking Common Myths about Axolotls

  • Axolotls are not fish but amphibians, belonging to the salamander family.
  • While they have gills as larvae, they develop lungs and can breathe air as adults.
  • Though native to Mexico, axolotls are now bred and kept worldwide.
  • Despite their impressive regenerative abilities, they cannot regrow complex organs. 

Frequently Asked Questions About the Axolotl—Answered

How do axolotls differ from other salamanders?

Axolotls stand apart from other salamanders in several ways. Their remarkable ability to regenerate limbs and organs throughout their lives sets them apart. They also possess feathery external gills, which allow them to breathe underwater. Unlike other salamanders, they remain in their larval form indefinitely. Additionally, these unique creatures are native to Mexico and face critical endangerment in the wild.

Are axolotls commonly kept as pets and what are the requirements for their care?

Axolotls are increasingly popular pets due to their unique appearance and low maintenance. They require a tank with at least 10 gallons of water per axolotl, at a temperature between 60-68°F. Their diet consists of live or frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, or small aquatic creatures. Maintaining clean water conditions is crucial for their health.