Species Spotlight


Names: Axolotl or Water Dog (Ambystoma mexicanum)

Size: Think of a small portion of fruit or a bag of spinach, anything, really, that weighs 2 to 8 ounces. Lengthwise, these guys grow as long as a subway sandwich.

Favourite hangout: Given their feathery gills, which they use for breathing and not just to cultivate their signature look, axolotls need water. Those that remain in the wild hang out where they’ve always hung out, in the lakes and canals of Xochimilco, in Mexico City.

An axolotl swimming in water

Favourite snack: Alongside worms and insect larvae, they’ve got a thing for shrimp, molluscs, and fish. They’d be in heaven at the local fish and chip shop!

Love language: Several times a year, frisky males seek out females to watch their courtship boogie, or ‘hula’. Their transfixed audience of one grabs the sperm capsule they drop and, in the fullness of time, lays 100 to 1,000 eggs. Wow.

Red flag: With millions in captivity, and their superstar status among gamers, it would be easy to think axolotls were doing OK. Fact is, with only 50 to 1,000 left in the wild, these super-powered amphibians need help. Their pet peeves? New roads, urban sprawl, and polluted water that leaves them nowhere in Xochmilco to live!

An Axolotl salamander

Glow-up: Here’s the amazing bit: axolotls don’t! They grow legs, but they don’t abandon their larval stage. They stay like kid salamanders their whole lives. That’s why, as ‘adults’, they have lungs and working gills, those round eyes, blunt snouts, and big mouths some find so cute. It’s also why – unlike other salamanders – they live their whole lives in water. So if you meet one, don’t ask for ID!

Facts: From Aztec creation myths to TikTok, axolotls have been characters in stories with the glamour of the permanently young and famous. Like youth everywhere, they can be quick-tempered: hungry newborns aren’t above munching on siblings, and slightly older axolotls can lose gills, feet, or tails in brawls with mates. It’s not a big deal: these lifelong juveniles can regrow legs, livers, hearts – even parts of their brains!

Personality type: The Regenerator! The eternal beauty!

How at risk is it? Critically Endangered (CR).

Learn more about the Axolotl

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