What is Frankie?
Frankie is an axolotl (Ambystoma Mexicanum), also commonly called a Mexican Walking Fish. However, despite the similar watery environment, Frankie is not a fish. He is also not a reptile or lizard. He is actually a salamander, which is a type of amphibian, like frogs and toads.
Axolotls are native to Mexico in South America. They were found in the wild in two high-altitude, fresh water lakes – Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco. Unfortunately, the development and expansion of Mexico City means that these two lakes no longer exist, and the wild axolotl is now critically endangered. However, huge numbers of these animals are bred in captivity every year and they are readily available for purchase as pets worldwide. Axolotls are available in a wide range of colours including grey, brown, white with black eyes, albino (white with red eyes), gold and black. They can be one solid colour, stripped or spotted.
What does Frankie eat?
Commercial axolotl food is available as small pellets. This makes up the majority of Frankie’s diet as it is nutritionally balanced and a complete food source for axolotls. We give Frankie frozen bloodworms (midge larvae) as a treat; they are by far his favourite! Feeding axolotls is easy and hand-feeding can be a fun activity for children and adults. Despite being carnivorous, axolotl teeth are designed for gripping rather than biting, and so they swallow their food whole. Because axolotl’s are unable to chew or break up their food into small pieces, they cannot eat anything that is larger than their head. Consequently, you should not be afraid to hand-feed your pet – if they do bite, it is not at all painful!
I want to have a pet axolotl. What sort of tank would I need?
Adult axolotls grow to 18-35cm in length. Consequently, the minimum tank size for a single adult axolotl is 45cm in length and holding 38 litres of water. Tank set ups for axolotls can be very basic. Some gravel or pebbles to cover the bottom, somewhere to hide, a plant, a thermometer and something to aerate the water is all that is needed. A light source, many places to hide and a filtration system are ideal but not a necessity. If you do not have a filter in the tank, you will need to clean the tank more frequently, as axolotls produce large amounts of waste. Maintenance of the tank environment is similar to the level of care required for keeping tropical fish. As with fish, if tap water is used it must be dechlorinated before it is added to the tank, as the chlorine in tap water is fatal to axolotls.
For tanks that are using a filter, 10-20% of the water in the tank can be removed and replaced with fresh water once a week. If a filter is not used, up to ¾ of the total volume of water can be replaced weekly. It is also advisable to remove any solid waste material and leftover food that has built up on the bottom of the tank with a siphon twice a week. If this level of care is maintained, your tank will not require extensive cleaning
Standard gravel used for fish in home tank set ups should not be used for axolotl tanks as it is common for the animal’s to ingest the stones, which can be fatal. Gravel stones that are larger than the animal’s head, sand or slate rocks are ideal for covering the bottom of the tank.
It is important that axolotls have somewhere to hide in their tank. This can be a purpose built aquarium feature, or simply a piece of pipe. Plants should also be added to the tank. Synthetic plants will do the job, but live plants are a great option as they oxygenate the water and help to filter out the nitrate in the waste produced by the animal. Axolotls typically like to uproot live plants in their tanks, but floating options will do well.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Overall, the level of care needed for axolotls is similar to that of fish; however, there are additional considerations. The water temperature in the tank must be kept between 10-20 degrees. Below 10 degrees, an axolotl’s metabolism slows down significantly. The animal will be inactive and may refuse food – if prolonged this can be fatal. In temperatures over 24 degrees, axolotls become stressed and will develop disease if prolonged over several days. To minimise stress, temperatures should not vary more than a few degrees over a 24 hour period. Heating/cooling devises for aquariums are readily available and should be used.
I have a tank with fish in it at home, can I add an axolotl to it?
No. Axolotls should not be housed with fish and axolotls of different sizes should be kept in separate tanks. Young axolotls are cannibalistic and will eat each other if kept together. Axolotls will often bite each other and can cause serious injuries to one another so it is best avoided altogether. Where more than one axolotl is kept in a tank, a lot of space is needed to minimise the risk of fighting. Fish housed with axolotls will often be eaten if they are small or will actually cause injuries to the axolotls gills and feet regardless of the species.
- Most mammals and reptiles have four-chambered hearts, but amphibians only have three chambers!
- Axolotl’s can regrow entire lost limbs. Unlike most animals who produce scar tissues during the normal healing process, axolotl’s produce tissues that match the original, lost cells.
- Axolotl’s are aquatic animals, meaning they live entirely under water and have gills; however, they do have a rudimentary set of lungs.
Frankie lives on the reception room desk and is always happy to greet our clients and show off his home, so please do say hi next time in your in the clinic. If you have any questions regarding the care of axolotls or other aquatic animals please give us call on 6778 3133 or drop into the clinic at 116 Bridge St, Uralla.