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Axolotl facts for kids

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Ambystoma mexicanum 1zz.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Axolotl distribution map.svg
Its distribution is marked in red.
  • Gyrinus mexicanus Shaw and Nodder, 1798
  • Siren pisciformis Shaw, 1802
  • Siredon axolotl Wagler, 1830
  • Axolotes guttata Owen, 1844
  • Siredon Humboldtii Duméril, Bibron, and Duméril, 1854
  • Amblystoma weismanni Wiedersheim, 1879
  • Siredon edule Dugès, 1888

The axolotl (from Classical Nahuatl: āxōlōtl), Ambystoma mexicanum, is a salamander closely related to the tiger salamander. Axolotls are unusual among amphibians because they reach adulthood without undergoing metamorphosis. They keep their legs and gills. The species was originally found in several lakes near Mexico City. Spanish settlers drained the lakes, destroying much of the axolotl's natural habitat.

Wild axolotls are listed as critically endangered. Captive axolotls are studied because of their ability to regenerate limbs, gills, and parts of their eyes and brains.


A captive leucistic axolotl
Axolot's head (Ambystoma mexicanum)
Face of a dark axolotl
Axolotl ganz
Speckled form
Axolot's gills (Ambystoma mexicanum)
Axolotl's gills (Ambystoma mexicanum)

An axolotl does not go through metamorphosis like most amphibians do. Most amphibians lose their gills, develop lungs, and live on land when they get older. Axolotls keep their gills, which look like delicate feathers, and they live in the water. However, they do develop lungs, which they use when they go above the water's surface.

At age 18–27 months, a mature adult axolotl ranges in length from 15 to 45 cm (6 to 18 in). Their heads are wide, and their eyes are lidless. Their mouth is shaped in a way that makes it look like they are always smiling. Males are wider in the rear, and females are wider in the middle, where they carry their eggs.

Three Colors of Axolotl
Axolotls displaying variations in color

Axolotls have four pigmentation genes. They vary in color from pinkish to brownish-green. Pet owners like the white/pink colors most. Axolotls also have some ability to change their color to provide better camouflage.


Sunrise in Xochimilco (Amanecer en Xochimilco) 2
Lake Xochimilco, Mexico City (Amanecer en Xochimilco). The native habitat of axolotls is important to the study of preservation and conservation.
Axolotl Wild Type
Wild form

In the wild, axolotls are only found in one lake, Lake Xochimilco, outside Mexico City. The water temperature in Xochimilco rarely rises above 68 °F (20 °C), although it may fall to 43–45 °F (6–7 °C) in the winter, and perhaps lower.


Axolotls can reproduce up to three times a year. The mating ritual looks like a dance. Afterward, the female lays 100-300 eggs. In 10-14 days, the eggs hatch, and the babies are left alone.

Diet and predators

In the wild, axolotls eat almost anything they can catch with their vestigial teeth, including mollusks, worms, fish, and even insects on the water's surface. In captivity, they eat similar things: trout and salmon pellets, frozen or live bloodworms, earthworms, waxworms, and feeder fish.

The axolotl does not have many predators. Storks, herons, carp, and tilapia are the predators that eat axolotls the most.

Conservation Status

The largest threats for axolotls are urbanization and pollution of the water where they live. The wild population of axolotls is very small, with less than 1000 axolotls left. They are considered critically endangered.

Use as a model organism

Scientists are interested in studying axolotls. They are easy to breed, and the embryo is large, which helps scientists see the full development. Axolotls can regenerate body parts and go through metamorphosis differently than other amphibians.


The axolotl does not heal by scarring and can regenerate entire lost appendages in months. Sometimes they can regenerate more important structures, like parts of the central nervous system and tissues of the eye and heart. They have also been able to grow an extra limb when they are repairing a damaged one. Pet owners like axolotls with an extra limb.


Axolotls do not have enough thyroid-stimulating hormone to go through a full metamorphosis: they keep their gills and live in the water. Although they use their gills to breathe, sometimes they use their newly developed lungs if they go above the water. One way to help the axolotl go through a full metamorphosis is to give it an injection of iodine, but this can hurt it. They are cute and unique in the way they are created.

Captive care

The axolotl is a popular exotic pet. Pet owners must be responsible in their care. Chlorine, including what is normally in tap water, should not be put in the tank. Salts, such as Holtfreter's solution, are often added to the water to prevent infection. The tank's temperature should be kept at approximately 61 °F (16 °C) to 64 °F (18 °C). A single axolotl typically requires a 40-gallon (150-liter) tank. Axolotls spend the majority of their time at the bottom of the tank.

The material at the bottom of the tank is important. Axolotls sometimes eat their bedding material, and it can become stuck in their intestines and cause them to die. Pet owners should use items that have a diameter of 3 or more cm (or approximately the size of the animal's head) to put at the bottom of the tank.

Cultural significance

The species is named after the Aztec deity Xolotl, who transformed himself into an axolotl. They continue to be an important role in the culture of Mexico and can be seen in cartoons and murals.

In 2020, it was announced that the axolotl would be shown on the new design for Mexico's 50-peso banknote, along with images of maize and chinampas.

Interesting facts about the axolotl

  • The axolotl is sometimes called the "Mexican walking fish."
  • Legend says the axolotl is the Aztec god of fire and lightning, Xolotl, who disguised himself as a salamander to avoid being sacrificed.
  • Axolotls look like babies for their entire lives. They do not go through a full metamorphosis.
  • They can reach top swimming speeds of up to 10 mph (15 km/h).
  • The axolotl can live for up to 15 years.
  • Axolotls have the ability to detect electric fields.
  • They usually live alone and only interact with other axolotls to mate.
  • Axolotls can accept organ transplants and quickly restore the organs’ functions.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Ambystoma mexicanum para niños

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