What is an Axolotl?
Also known as the Mexican walking fish this neotenic salamander is an amphibian. Unlike other amphibians, the axolotl spends its entire life in the water. Unlike other species of salamanders, the axolotl does not go through metamorphosis. They are found in Mexico in Lake Xochimilco, Lake Chalco and in the Valley of Mexico.
Like other salamanders, the axolotl does not scar when it is injured. Instead it uses it’s regeneration ability to re-grow entire appendages in a few months. They have even been known to regenerate less vital parts of their brain! As if that wasn’t an awesome enough ability, they can accept transplants from one another including eyes and parts of the brain.
Why are they critically endangered?
They are only found in the bodies of water in Mexico pictured below.
One of these lakes – Lake Chalco – no longer exists because it was drained as a flood control measure. Small canals are all that are left of this lake and still provide a habitat for the axolotl – but a much smaller one. Lake Chalco was drained in order to prevent flooding of Mexico City as it’s population grew.
In addition, non-native species of fish such as African tilapia and Asian carp were introduced into the bodies of water where the axolotl live. These invasive species thrived off of their new found food source – the axolotl – and decimated their population.
How the Axolotl is Making a Comeback
Due to it’s unique regeneration abilities it was studied for medical research and from there made available to the pet industry. Nowadays this species is readily bred in captivity and they are absolutely thriving thanks to passionate axolotl enthusiasts!
Meanwhile in Mexico, a biologist named Luis Zambrano who specializes in axolotl research at the Instituto de Biología at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México is working to restore their natural habitat.
In 2006 the axolotl was declared critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. In 2014, Zambrano reported that the population had decreased even further after an attempt to repopulate the species with 2,800 axolotls released back into the wild.
In 2015, the environment and natural resources ministry, released 500 axolotls from CIBAC in the water channels south of Mexico City. Of the 500, 225 of them were wearing a chip that monitored their behavior. The research further proved that something had to be done in order to restore their habitat or they would not be able to make a comeback.
Restoring their habitat is currently underway and several “axolotl shelters” are being regrown and monitored.
The pet trade breeders have helped keep the species alive and provided the necessary specimens to the researchers which is enabling them the ability to figure out what this species needs in order to thrive in the wild once again!