Everything Axolotl-A Basic Guide for New Owners
Lots of wrong information out there.
I wrote this blog because there is so much wrong information about Axolotls online. I'm upset by how many pictures and information I see that is so bad. I'd like to say it's animal abuse. However, I think most people were probably mislead or didn't do enough research before getting one. I'm here to save a lot of Axolotls from dangerous, unhealthy lives.
Even most pet stores do not know how to properly care for them. I could tell you horror stories, but I'll skip that.
So please spread the word to anyone you know who owns or plans to own one about my blog.
The Basic Info about Axolotls
First, I think it's important you learn where the Axolotl came from. Axolotls in the wild are only found in high altitude cold lakes and canals close to Mexico City, Mexico. However, today, these lakes have diminished. Only small bits and pieces of the canal can be found and it's very rare that one would ever find an axolotl there. Therefore, Axolotls are on the endangered species list. luckily for us, there are tons bred in captivity.
Secondly, I think you need to understand that this wonderful Amphibian is kept in it's larva form. In other words, it hasn't completed metamorphosis like most Amphibians do. I will use a frog's life cycle to explain metamorphosis. A frog starts out as an egg, the egg hatches and out pops a tadpole. The tadpole transforms as it grows, and turns in to a frog. The larva form of a frog is a tadpole. So, an Axolotl is a type of water salamander that is stuck in it's larva (tadpole) form, never growing up to be an adult (frog). In the wild, many did grow up to be adult water salamanders completing the cycle.
In captivity, it is very, very, very rare for an Axolotl to fully complete metamorphosis. Most die trying, and those that survive don't usually survive for long. So it is very important to NEVER let your Axolotl grow up, don't let it go past the larvae form. You do this by keeping it in water fully submerged at all times.
Did you know Axolotls can rejuvenate themselves? Meaning, if they lose a limb or a piece of their tail or gills they are able to regrow them.OK. Now that you know those very important basics, let's get to providing the proper care for an Axolotl. Axolotls have very fragile skin, very, very delicate, paper thin.
Proper Habitat (Housing)
You will need an aquarium.
Proper aquarium size for one adult Axolotl is a 20 gallon long tank. There is quite a difference in size between a standard 20 Gallon and a 20 Gallon Long, make sure you get the long version. The long version gives them much more floor space, which is where Axolotls spend most their time, on the bottom of the tank.
If you want more then one, you will add 10 gallons or more per Axolotl, the more space the better. So for two you want at least a Long 30 Gallon. And in case you're wondering, most pet stores do carry both types, standard and long.
Axolotls aren't social beings, they don't mind living alone, and no they wont be lonely or bored.
If you do plan to get more than one, it is important that you know that Axolotls are cannibals, not on purpose, until they reach 6". So if you're getting more than one, they can NOT be housed together until they reach that size. They will hurt each other by attempting to eat each other. They will bite off gills, fingers/toes, and nip tails, thinking it's food. They have very poor eyesight.
Inside the Aquarium
The bottom of the tank is best if left bare. This is the number one problem and risk I see everywhere. People and pet stores having Axolotls on gravel, tiny pebbles, or putting pretty little glass rocks/gems inside for decoration. These are huge "no-nos".
Axolotls inhale their food by strongly sucking in. These guys can open their mouths as big as their entire head. So it is important to not have anything in your tank that is smaller than two times the size of your Axolotls head to be safe. As your Axolotl grows so does it's mouth, so remember sizes of items get larger as they get larger. Picture a vacuum hose, it sucks up anything in it's path, just like Axolotls.
If you do a simple Google Image search for Axolotls, you will see half the photos show Axolotls living in aquariums that have gravel. I get so mad. They don't understand how dangerous/deadly this is to Axolotls. And chances are a pet store sold them the gravel knowing it was for an Axolotl. Either they just don't know, or they know, but are more worried about making money than the proper care.
What happens if an Axolotl inhales gravel? It gets stuck in their belly. It obviously can't be digested (be broken down by stomach acids) and it's usually to big to poop out. If the gravel is small enough some have been known to pass it, however who knows what damage it has caused internally on it's way out. So most live with the gravel inside them, slowly making them sick. Eventually they'll stop eating and therefore die. Trust me, the risks are not worth the look of gravel.
There are a few other substrates people use that are ok. Play sand, like you find at hardware stores or toy stores that is meant for kids sandboxes. However, you have to rinse it thoroughly, I'm talking a very long and tedious process. You put the sand in a large bucket, run water with a hose in to the bucket, constantly stir the sand with the water running until the sand is no longer cloudy. I did this once for over 40 minutes. Seemed clear. I put in my tank and it was still cloudy. I let it sit for several days and it still looked cloudy. I removed the sand and stuck with a bare bottom until I put in tile. Some use fake aquarium grass, but to me it looks like it would be uncomfortable to their feet. Large smooth river rocks are good too, but a pain to clean under. I personally used ceramic tiles from the hardware store that look like like slate. I sealed it in so nothing can get under it using a safe silicone for aquariums. Again, there are other safe substrates for the bottom of the tank, however these mentioned are most common.
Whatever you decide, remember u have to clean the tank often and some substrates are harder to clean like sand and rocks.
Axolotls do NOT have eyelids making them very sensitive to light. You will need several places for them to hide to escape unwanted light. Some great examples are, large pvc pipes, small terracotta clay pots, and caves. I bought my hides in the reptile section in the pet store. My Axolotl prefers hiding in the plants to get away from light. I do have tall leafy silk aquarium plants,they are much softer than the plastic plants. Some of the plastic ones seem to have sharp edges on the leaves or stems which in my opinion could cut their fragile skin.I use the silk but you can use real plants as well. I didn't research which types are best since I knew I wasn't going to use them. I do have a Marimo Moss ball in my tank, which most use. It helps filter the tank. I know many people use live plants with special lighting and they do great with them, but I think they are happier without any light, but that's my opinion.
And don't forget, an Axolotls skin is very delicate, more fragile than a fish. So make sure anything you put in the aquarium is not rough or sharp.
Axolotls are strictly Carnivores (meat eaters). Making sure your Ax is getting enough nutrition is very important. Earth worms are the best food source for them.
When Axolotls are small juveniles feeding them frozen blood worm cubes are recommended.You can also buy Earthworms and other worms listed below and cut them up in to small pieces. I didn't have the heart to do that, it grossed me out, so I fed only frozen Blood Worm Cubes. If you can cut up worms in to small pieces and feed them to your Ax, they do have better nutritional value. Blood Worms do not have enough nutrition for an adult Axolotl but can be given as a snack on occassion. Below is a list of foods that are great for them. Again, Earth Worms are the best.
What to Feed Your Axolotl
Frozen Blood Worm Cubes
Small Ghost Shrimp
Cut up Worms (see Adults for types)
How Often Do They Eat
Axolotls do not need to eat every day. Since they are kept in cold water their digestion is slower than other aquatic species. Feeding every 2-3 days is normal. And some actually feed every day. Others feed one or two large Earth worms every day or every other day. It really depends on your Axolotl. After a while you will figure out how much they eat. You do not want to leave uneaten food in the tank as it will decompose and mess up the water parameters. To remove uneaten food use a Turkey baster and suck up the left overs. I was feeding my Ax every day, but she got pretty fat, and is still thick, so I now feed here every other day. Axolotls stomachs should be about as wide as their shoulders. Females are rounder, so don't think your male is underweight if his body isn't as full as wide as others. You just want to make sure they aren't to skinny.
Is Your Axolotl a Boy or Girl
Telling the gender of an Axolotl is impossible until they are at least a year old. Some even longer. They all look like females until a large bump appears underneath, right by the base of the tail. Right where the butt hole is, lol. That whole area becomes a large bump. Females do develop a small bump there as well, but a males is much, much larger. Please see photos below.