Nature is filled with such diversity that it is simply astounding, but so much of our attention is dedicated to the same few species of animals over and over again. There are so many other curious creatures out there to discover…like the Mexican Axolotl.
Out of the “things called fish that aren’t fish” category comes this little guy who is incorrectly named a Mexican walking fish despite the fact that it is a salamander (the tiny legs should have been a pretty good hint). Right from the very start, the look of the axolotl is quite unique due to the feathery pink external gills displayed by most adults.
Normally, this is not something that you would expect to find in salamanders, but the axolotl has this really cool feature called neoteny (or juvenilization) which basically means that the adults keep the physical traits of the young. We humans don‘t do this, for example. If we did, adults would retain the body proportions of babies – meaning that our legs would be shorter and we would all walk around with Mr. Mackey-sized heads.
Neoteny is quite common in salamanders, however. It is simply a survival skill which allows them to retain a larval stage which is less demanding in terms of resources. For most of them, if the resources are sufficient, they can begin the metamorphosis process and turn into the full-grown adult version (who usually prefers land to water since they actually grow lungs). As it stands, though, the axolotl is quite happy to keep its gills and live in the lakes around Mexico City.
Actually, this might not be entirely true because these critters are critically endangered. Surveys done since 1998 revealed that the population in the wild of axolotls and it is in a sharp decline. This is mostly due to the urbanization of its natural habitat combined with the fact that, apparently, it is pretty tasty to Mexicans. There is also a scientific interest in it as the axolotl is quite adept at growing back lost limbs.
Finally, we get to the question you had since you first saw a picture of it – can you get one? Actually…yes. Axolotls might not be the most usual pet, but it is available. It’ll need a sizable aquarium which is kept cool and plenty of worms and shrimp to eat. One lives for around 10 to 15 years so it requires a long commitment and be sure not to keep juveniles together as they may occasionally try to eat each other.
Featured image courtesy of Luis Estrel via Flickr.