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An axolotl care guide

Axolotl care guide

Hi fishlore. This is an article I've written from my own experience of keeping an axolotl and Internet research.


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What is an axolotl?

Ambystoma Mexicanum.

Axolotls are a species of salamander. Unusual for amphibians they do not undergo metamorphosis into land based adults such as frogs. Adults remain in a larvae stage with gills, like a tadpole. It is possible for an axolotl to metamorphosise into a land based salamander under adverse conditions. They also have the ability to regenerate limbs making them heavily tested upon for science research.

Originally these creatures inhabited lakes in Mexico often from high elevations but also lake xochimilco underlying Mexico City. Due to pollution and invasive species they are now endangered in native habitats. They have however become a popular pet for home aquariums.

Adult size: 6-18 inches long.

Lifespan: 10-15 years (long commitment if you choose to keep one)

Sexing an axolotl: Females tend to be more heavily built. Males have visible sex organs and deep vertical ridges on the flanks.

Picture of mature male.


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Water temperature:


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It is stated widely that axolotls should be kept between 60-65f. Personally I've not had any issue with mine in a cool room temperature of around 70f average. In the wild the lakes they inhabit are fed from glacier water run off so they have evovled to live in cold water.

Aim for low to mid 60s Fahrenheit. Use a chiller if you can afford one

If not In warm weather or heated rooms then frozen bottles of water/ freezer packs floated in the tank combined with a fan blowing across the surface will help to keep axolotls comfortable.

Parameters:

A neutral PH is preferred but can adjust between 6.5 to 8.0. KH 3-8° GH 7-14°. Just like fish, ammonia and nitrites can not be tolerated. Nitrates are suggested as a max of 10ppm from many resources. Mine has been fine going up to 20ppm before a water change.

Tank setup.

In my opinion the absolute bare minimum tank size for an adult axolotl is a 15 UK gallon long. Dimensions of 80cm x 30 x 30. This is what my boy is currently in and as he's pushing 12 inches I am looking to upgrade.

For those in America a 20 gallon long would be the equivalent I'd have to reccomend.

Water level is advised to be half full. For juveniles especially a deep tank can be a struggle for them to reach the surface which they will do time to time to take air. Adult axolotls can deal with deeper water, I go for a little over 3/4 full.

Substrate:

sand is often suggested as a good substrate. For me however I've not tried it. When axolotls eat they create a suction of water by gulping and will ingest sand. This will pass through digestion so long as its fine sand in theory.

Gravel is a definite no. Consuming gravel can kill by impaction.

Slate is an option I've used. Large flat pieces can be placed on the bottom or fitted with silicone. Looks nice and gives some grip for the animal moving. I had slate pieces loose but removed recently. The larger my axolotl got the more force he had to move these pieces.

Bare bottom tanks are probably the most popular option. No risk of ingestion, easy to clean. The downside is its slippery and axolotls like to walk on the bottom. This can be a stress issue. A bare bottom tank is what I have now.


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Lighting:

it really doesn't need to be anything special. Being primarily nocturnal axolotls will prefer dim lighting so it's more for you to be able to appreciate the tank. I use a cheap l.e.d with adjustable colors. If you want live plants then go for low light species and the minimum power you can for the light. I turned up my light for in pictures.

Decor:

Resin or stone hides/terracotta pots are nice for axolotls to retreat too. Just bare in mind a large adult will outgrow allot of the premade hides. I've had to remove mine. In a large tank smooth stones or bogwood would be the best I think. Nothing sharp. Fake plants are fine so long as they are quality ones without sharp plastic or pieces that could break off and be eaten.

Filtration:

In principle this is the same as any fish tank with a few notes I will add. Feeding axolotls is messy, bioload can be high as well as waste particles. Sponges will probably need to be rinsed more often than standard fish setups. Of course if you want to over filter with multiple units it won't hurt.

A strong flow can cause stress so a diffuser on the outlet or directing to the side of the glass/decor might be needed. I like to have some surface agitation to oxygenated the water and break up any biofilm. An air stone powered sponge filter could work as well as internal or HOB/canister. I am currently using 2 small internal filters with no issues. Fair bit of room for media, one with flow baffled the other creating agitation the length of the tank.


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Diet:

These salamanders are carnivores and will accept live or thawed frozen. If feeding non live foods it may be necessary to wiggle it to entice interest and a strike.

Possible foods include:

Earthworms
Bloodworms
Brine shrimp
River shrimp
Mysis shrimp

I primarily feed earthworms which I collect from a compost area and culture in a container for easy access. Collecting worms from the garden is possible but there is a risk of fertiliser or pesticides being in the worms. I know where I live it's very secluded countryside with no gardens or fields using chemicals so I take the risk. Packs of worms are readily available at most stores, a starter worm culture can be obtained online. A quick tip I have is to dip worms in dechlorinated water before feeding. This removes dirt and debris that will otherwise enter the tank.


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If you have just one adult axolotl it is easy to target feed worms with forceps. This ensures it is eaten and isn't left in the tank to crawl off and die later under decor. With smaller or multiple axolotls per tank then it becomes harder target feeding so live bloodworms dispersed on the tank bottom will help feed them all. Be sure to remove any uneaten food within 24 hours to prevent water spoiling... Thawed frozen especially.

An adult needs 1 or 2 extra large earthworms worms ever 2 days or a teaspoon or two of live bloodworm. Juveniles will eat around 4 small earthworms every 2 days or a teaspoon or two of bloodworm. An axolotls appetite should decrease with age and will stop eating when full. I feel mine is greedy and would eat more though!

Live river shrimp are a really good food if you can source them from a LFS. They will survive in the tank for a few days whilst being hunted down.

I have heard pellet food can be offered and accepted but have no experience.


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Keeping multiple individuals:

I advise to only keep 1 axolotl per tank but it is possible to house multiples. The rule most widely recognised for tank space is 2 square feet per animal or 15 uk gallon/20 us gallon for first animal and an additional 10 UK/15 US gallon for the next animal. Juveniles housed together can bite off feet or gills and nip. Not always intentionally but as clumsy eaters it's a risk. I have no experience mixing adults but I'd say the risk is still there. Putting a juvenile with an adult is likely to end up with the smaller one becoming a meal.

Tank mates:

Honestly there's none I would be confident to add. African frogs have different temperature requirements.. Dwarf frogs would be eaten, clawed frogs could both be injured or dish it out anyway. Diseases spread between amphibian species easily, not worth even trying.

Cold water fish such as WCMM may work short term but the axolotl will eat them eventually. Larger cold water fish such as goldfish will likely end in injuries either way. The gills of axolotls are tempting targets for fish to nip at so I'd steer clear of danios too.

Handling:

Here is where I have heard conflicting information. My partner picked up my axolotl when we have moved his tank and put him in. I have been told by knowledgeable people such as where I work that handling is better than using a net so I've not questioned it.

Upon further research however handling is not reccomended. The skin has a layer of protection that can be removed. Gentle netting is advised. I will say however I've noticed no ill effects from the one or two time handling.

Conclusion: if your looking for an interesting aquatic alternative to fish then consider the axolotl. The care is as easy as fish really. The cost around the same and maintenance is similar. Siphon up waste with weekly water changes, a little more time feeding. Fascinating and personable creatures i have a soft spot for.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article and please feel free to comment and contribute any constructive criticism. I am by no means an expert but wanted to share my knowledge with others. Special thanks to burt my axolotl for posing :)


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A lot of incorrect information mixed with correct information. Lots of missing information. I have four axolotls. I would recommend taking this info with a grain of salt and keep googling to find more info.
WRWAquarium
WRWAquarium
Thank you for your review. The last thing I want to do is offer bad advice so please let me know what is wrong and missing. Things like temp and substrate, yeah I know my setup could be better. I'm not paying for a chiller to achieve mid 60f when up to 70f I have never seen issues. Same as bare bottom, doesn't stress my axo but if it did I would address it. Your right take it with a pinch of salt.

In hindsight I regret writing this article now, I researched extensively creating it and have allot of experience keeping healthy axolotls but it seems I have much still to learn.
great review! just wanted to add a few things,

I think you mentioned the water should be at 70 degrees, I would advise that the water be at 66-68 degrees instead. while I may have forgotten, after 72 degrees or 70 or somewhere around, the risk of fungus greatly increases. 68 allows for a little bit more leeway incase say your power goes out, you have a little more time to work with until you can find a fix.

and second, you said bare bottom is the best option but it causes stress due to nothing for the axolotl to grip onto. a simple solution could be tile from a hardware store like home depot. tile is easy to clean and gives the axolotl something to grip onto, so win-win.

other than that great article!
Very good quality article. Gives the basics of what you need to know.
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