Axolotl Care Sheet, Diet, Food, Tank Set Up & Health

Are you looking for a unique pet amphibian?

There is nothing more interesting and exciting than the Axolotl!

Axolotls are loved by keepers everywhere for their fascinating appearance and behaviors. As adults they keep their juvenile traits like gills, webbed toes and a dorsal fin.

These amphibians are actually a type of salamander, though they may not look like most species. They are called the Mexican Walking Fish! Many keepers love watching them walk along the bottom of their tanks.

Axolotls are perfect for people that want a beautiful amphibian that is simple to care for. This care sheet will make sure you know everything about Axolotl care and are ready to look after one…

What Is An Axolotl?

Axolotl Care Social

Axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) are a very unique species of salamander. They are members of the Ambystoma genus which includes 33 different species that are also known as mole salamanders. In particular they are closely related to the Tiger salamander.

Salamanders are a type of amphibian that are similar to frogs, but look more like lizards. They have four legs, a long tail, permeable skin, and are usually found in moist areas.

Axolotls are native to high mountain lakes near Mexico City. In fact, Mexico City is the only place in the wild you will find them. Habitat degradation and destruction has decimated wild populations and it is thought there are less than 1,000 wild individuals left. Because of this the Axolotl is actually considered critically endangered.

Their endangered species status makes them illegal to own in some states, including California, New Jersey, Maine and Virginia.

One thing you need to think about before deciding if this species is right for you, is to make sure they are legal to own in your state.

Axolotls first entered the pet trade in 1864 when they were taken from Mexico City to Europe for breeding. They are now easily found as pets in many different colors.

These salamanders quickly won the hearts of keepers across the globe. They are unique, very simple to keep and low maintenance. Their care is easy if you have some knowledge of water cycling and aquariums. They are ideal for any keeper that wants a pet that can bring joy to their lives without requiring a high level of care.

Axolotls are also adorable thanks to their feather-like gills and webbed toes!

They are paedomorphic so stay in their aquatic juvenile phase throughout their entire lives. This means that they will keep their gills, dorsal fin and webbed feet as adults. These interesting characteristics make them look a little different from a typical adult salamander.

Most juvenile salamanders are aquatic and then undergo metamorphosis, losing their gills, webbed feet and dorsal fin. At this stage they are considered adults and usually live near water or on moist ground. This is very similar to how tadpoles start out as aquatic juveniles and then metamorphosize into adult frogs!

Axolotls are not only kept as pets, but this species is frequently used in scientific studies because of their ability to regenerate limbs.

Scientists have been using Axolotls for over 100 years to study their regenerative capabilities and understand how organs function and develop. It is thought that we may unlock the secret to tissue regeneration with the help of this species.

Species Overview

  • Common Names: Axolotl and Mexican Walking Fish
  • Scientific Name: Ambystoma mexicanum
  • Family Name: Ambystomatidae
  • Range: Mountain lakes south of Mexico City
  • Size: 6 to 18 inches long
  • Color: Wild type is green with brown and gold flecks
  • Lifespan: 10 to 15 years
  • Diet: Carnivores- worms, shrimp, and meat
  • Tank Size: 20-gallon tank for one adult
  • Temperature: 60°F to 70°F
  • Water pH: 5 to 8
  • Price: $40 to $100

Are Axolotls Good Pets?

Pros Cons
Extremely unique, cute amphibians that will easily capture your heart. Illegal in certain states like California, New Jersey, Maine and Virginia.
Relatively simple and easy to care for once their tank is set up. Knowledge of aquariums, water cycling and water parameters is needed.
Can be housed in small 20-gallon tanks that do not take up a lot of space. Easily stressed if the right tank conditions are not met.
Perfect for someone who wants a unique pet to sit back and watch. Not great for kids or keepers that want to be hands on with their pet. They cannot be handled because they have a mucus layer that can be rubbed off and lead to skin infections.
Adults only need to be fed once every three days so they are low maintenance. Not very active during the day and will usually sit around at the bottom of their tank.
Cheap price with individuals only costing between $40 and $100. Also very cheap to feed with an annual cost of less than $50.

Appearance

Two Axolotls

There are many cute axolotls out there, they are actually one of the most adorable amphibians. They have a round elongated body with stubby legs and colorful gills. They are also known for their “smiling” expression which gives them a happy appearance.

Axolotls have a cylindrical body with relatively small eyes and a large dorsal fin that extends back to the tip of their tail. They generally have three external gill stalks behind their head that they use to breathe under water.

In the wild they are usually a mix of green, brown and gold with speckles throughout their body. Their eyes are usually dark black with a gold iris and their gills are purple.

Things get a little more interesting when you look at the different morphs available. Axolotls come in a variety of interesting colors including fluorescent green! Some popular morph colors include:

  • Golden Albino are a gold metallic color with pink gills.
  • Melanoids are a very dark, almost black color with black or red gills.
  • Leucistic morphs are white or a light spotted color with dark eyes and red gills.
  • Albinos are white with pink eyes and gills.
  • Green Fluorescent Protein Transgenics glow bright green under a black light. When not under a black light their skin lacks pigment so is white.

No matter their color all males have vertical grooves on the side of their bodies. These grooves can help you to determine the gender of your pet.

Size

Axolotl Tank

Most axolotls will grow to between seven and nine inches long as adults, but they can have a fairly large size range of anywhere between 6 and 18 inches! However it is more likely that pet species will be less than ten inches.

They grow slowly and normally reach adult size in two years. Females are usually heavier and longer, but both genders weigh between 5 and 12 ounces. This is about five times heavier than a goldfish!

Axolotl Price

Axolotl Close up

How much do axolotls cost depends on two factors, their age and color.

For a wild type juvenile Axolotl you should expect to pay somewhere around $40 or $50. On the other end of the spectrum exciting morphs like the Green Fluorescent Protein Transgenic can cost between $80 and $100.

If you are looking to buy an adult they will usually cost you more than purchasing a juvenile. This is usually true of most reptiles and amphibians because the likelihood of survival is much higher as an adult. Adults have also already had money spent on their diet, health, and enclosure that will also raise their price.

The cost of an Axolotl will also depend on what morph you decide to buy.

Their popularity as pets means there are quite a few interesting morphs that have been bred such as the leucistic, golden albino, melanoid, and even Green Fluorescent Protein Transgenic. Golden albinos and Green Fluorescent Protein Transgenics will be closer to $100.

The axolotl price itself is not the only price to consider. Their tank setup can easily cost between $150-$200 for a 20-gallon tank, pump, lights, water testing equipment, décor and artificial plants. You will also need to feed them a few times each week which usually costs less than $50 each year.

Before you buy an Axolotl you will need to make sure you have all the gear to make their new home a comfortable one. This will include a tank set-up, pH testing, water testing, a pump and a filter setup. Below we share our care sheet which will teach you how to take care of an axolotl.

Axolotl Care

Feeding Axolotls

Many beginners want to know how hard it is to take care of an axolotl.

The answer is that axolotls are relatively low maintenance and easy to care for. They can be housed in small 20-gallon tanks that do not take up a lot of space and adults only need to be fed once every three days so they are convenient.

The hardest part of keeping axolotls is that you do need to have some knowledge of aquariums and water cycling. If you have not kept pet fish or are not familiar with water cycling, you will need to do a bit of research before bringing one home.

Axolotls are usually recommended for adult beginners who have experience of keeping pet fish or aquariums. They are not a great choice for kids or keepers that have not had any aquatic pets before.

Habitat

In the wild Axolotls are considered lentic. Lentic means they are found in still-water lakes. The opposite of lentic is lotic which means animals that live in moving water like creeks, streams, brooks and rivers.

For the Axolotl these still-waters are high-altitude lakes near Mexico City.

These lakes are created from mountain stream runoff and are therefore very clear and cold. These still-water lakes have very little currents and Axolotls spend most of their time on the bottom. They are also known to walk along the bottom of these lakes.

It is important to try to copy their natural habitat as much as possible in your axolotl tank setup.

They are very particular about their environmental conditions and are easily stressed if suitable conditions are not maintained.

Tank Setup

The first thing you will need for your Axolotl is a tank.

For an adult they can be housed in a 20-gallon tank. Try and find a glass tank that has plenty of walking space, something that measures 30 inches x 12 inches with a height around 10 inches works great.

This glass tank should have a mesh screen lid as they are known to jump out of their enclosure. Adults can be housed together as long as they have similar body sizes, just add an extra 10-gallons for each adult you add.

You will also need an aquarium pump and filtration system. Axolotls do best with very little water movement, remember in the wild they live in still-water lakes. A filter that gets hung on the back of the tank with a low-flow head is best. You can also put an output-reducing spray bar on your pump to reduce water flow or break up the flow with some decor or plastic plants.

In addition to the filter you will need to perform water changes and keep a close eye on ammonia spikes. For each water cycle you will remove 20% of the water in the tank and replace it every two days. These cycles become less frequent for adults.

The water you use for your Axolotl is extremely important. If you are using tap water you will need to use dechlorinated tap-water and ideally treat it with a water conditioner for amphibians that contains aloe vera.

You will also need to test your water’s pH, temperatures and ammonia content. This can be done by purchasing a water testing kit for fish. You will want to maintain the parameters suggested below:

  • pH: 6.5 to 8
  • Temperature: 58°F to 64°F
  • No ammonia, nitrates, salt or nitrites
  • Oxygen: 70% to 100%

Watch tank temperatures and try to keep them close to 62 to 64°F during the day and 58 to 60°F during night time.

Your Axolotl tank should be placed away from windows or vents that can cause temperatures to get too hot or cold. If you are having trouble keeping the temperatures below 68°F then attach a small fan on the mesh lid and blow cool air into the water. You should not need to use a water-cooling system.

Never house your Axolotl in direct sunlight, it is best to choose a room with ambient lighting instead. They are nocturnal so 10 to 12 hours of indirect ambient lighting is enough for them.

The substrate you use in the tank is also important.

Substrates like river stones and gravel are best. If you can find it go for “black sand” which is a type of gravel substrate. Larger stones that are too big to eat are the best option. Sand does run the risk of impaction, however this risk is much higher in juveniles than adults.

Finally you should also provide your axolotl tank decor that they can hang out in. Fake plants, caves, hides and rocks are all popular options. Real plants are not always recommended as they usually need UVB light to grow which Axolotls are very sensitive to.

Diet and Food

Axolotls are voracious carnivores and are known to eat anything that they can fit in their mouth.

In the wild Axolotls eat insects, fish, worms, mollusks and even cannibalize their own species. Though they have a very broad diet as pets they are usually fed worms and shrimp. Some of the best axolotl foods include:

  • Earthworms
  • Bloodworm
  • Ghost shrimp
  • Raw meat

How much and how often you feed your Axolotl will depend entirely on its age:

Axolotl Feeding Chart
Size Frequency Amount
Hatchling (<1 inch) 3x per day 1-2 worms
Baby (1-3 inches) 2x per day 3 worms
Juvenile (3-9 inches) 2x per day 4 worms
Adult (9+ inches) 2-3x per week 2-3 teaspoons of worms

Juveniles under one year old usually eat the equivalent of four small worms per day. As they age and stop growing their appetite tends to decrease. Adults usually eat three teaspoons of worms every three days.

Most individuals will not overeat and will usually stop eating when full. Other amphibians like frogs will usually overeat and become obese.

Feeding Axolotls is simple.

You can feed them worms or shrimp by using forceps and a wiggling motion to entice them to eat. They eat using a “gape and suck” feeding technique which vacuums prey into their mouth.

Safe foods
Blackworms Cheap and great for juveniles, but messy
Blood Worms Can be kept frozen but not as nutritious
Live Earthworms Nutritious and available everywhere
Live Brine Shrimp Great for babies, but messy and can sometimes spread diseases
Ghost Shrimp Great treat that helps to maintain tank ecosystem
Raw lean beef Great occasionally as a treat
Unsafe foods
Processed or preserved meat Animals with hard exoskeletons like mealworms, crustaceans and shellfish
Feeder fish Fish food

Lifespan

Most pet axolotls will live a long and happy life with the right care. Their natural lifespan ranges from between 10 and 15 years, but some have lived up to 17 years old. The main factor that will influence an axolotl’s lifespan will be their environment.

The most common illnesses are related to poor water quality and stress.

They can suffer from a variety of illnesses such as bacterial infections, chronic stress, and parasites.

If your Axolotls water has the incorrect pH or temperature this can cause them to get extremely stressed. Bright lights, dirty water and overcrowding can also be causes of stress. Chronic stress can be extremely bad for their health and can even cause them to refuse to eat.

They are also very sensitive to things like nitrates, nitrites and ammonia because of their permeable skin. The presence of these compounds in their tank can cause skin burns and lead to death if untreated. Dirty tanks can also cause skin issues like bacterial infections.

Sensitive skin and their protective mucus layer are also two reasons why you should never handle one. If their protective mucus layer is disturbed it can lead to skin infections.

Other signs of illness include a thin body, stiff movements and pale gills.

They should always have clean, clear water, cool temperatures, low light and plenty of artificial plants and hiding places to stay happy and healthy.

Baby Care

Baby axolotl care is a little bit different from caring for an adult. There are a few things you will have to change about their care depending on their age.

Firstly babies are extremely cannibalistic and should not be kept in the same tank together. Adults usually do fine together, but if they are very different sizes they should not be housed together either.

Their tank setup is also a bit different.

Baby axolotls need slightly warmer water and the temperatures should not drop below 64°F. Adults can be comfortable anywhere from 58 to 64°F. Also you should not include substrate in a baby’s tank. Gravel and sand may be okay for adults, but babies can eat it and suffer from impaction. Wait until they are five inches or bigger to put any substrate into their tank.

Babies also need to eat more frequently than adults. For the first two years they will be fed daily, but this will eventually slow down as they stop growing.

Finally younger individuals are much more sensitive and can easily become stressed or injured. Because of this they should have more hides and artificial plants.

Fun Facts

  • Axolotls are amphibians! Though they look a little different from other pet frogs or salamanders, they are still considered amphibians. In fact they are a type of paedomorphic salamander that keeps their juvenile characteristics.
  • They can regenerate limbs, spinal cords, heart tissue and even brain tissue without any scarring. Their regenerative capabilities are one of the reasons why they are studied by scientists.
  • This species is also known as the Mexican Walking Fish. They were given this name because they walk along the bottom of the lakes where they live.
  • These amphibians are aggressive carnivores and cannot live with fish. They will eat anything that is smaller than they are including fish, worms, insects and they will even cannibalize their own species.
  • They typically cost between $40 and $100. Their price is usually determined by color and how old they are. Juveniles are much cheaper than adults.
  • Axolotls can still metamorphosize, but they don’t naturally undergo metamorphosis in the wild. When given the right conditions they can still lose their gills and webbed toes. Axolotls in a lab that were exposed to the thyroid hormone called Thyroxine lost their juvenile characteristics and became “adult” salamanders.
  • Their life cycle can be broken down into five phases. Phase one is embryonic, two is pre-hatch embryo and phase three is young larvae. During phase three they have see-through skin with the organs visible! Phase four is where the legs begin to develop and finally in phase five, they are considered an adult.

Behavior

Mexican Walking Salamander

In the wild Axolotls are very slow moving and are only active at night.

They will often choose to spend most of their time sitting in one spot at the bottom of a lake until they begin moving around in search of prey at night. They are not what you would call an active hunter and usually sit and wait or slowly walk around to find food.

Because they live in cold waters and are ectothermic they tend to have a very slow metabolism.

As pets their behaviors will remain about the same. They are nocturnal and so will only move around their tank at night.

You will likely see your Axolotl spend long periods of time in one spot. You may also see them digging in their substrate occasionally. Some individuals are very motivated by food and will even begin to associate their keeper with food. Over time you may see them come up to the glass and start moving around as soon as they see you.

If your Axolotl is hiding in caves or rocks for long periods of time this could be a sign of stress.

Summary

Axolotls are one of the most interesting pets you can keep.

They are simple to care for, low maintenance and cheap to buy.

Getting started with Axolotls can be daunting. But with some research on their water temperature, pH, and water cycling needs their care is easy to get the hang of.

These adorable amphibians come in a wide variety of interesting colors and patterns. They are also readily available from reputable breeders and most pet shops.

Axolotls make great pets for someone who has experience keeping pet fish and wants to care for a beautiful amphibian. They are not a good choice for kids or beginners who want to handle their pet.

Before you decide that an Axolotl is right for you, keep in mind they are endangered in the wild so make sure they are legal to own in your state.

Ambystoma mexicanum

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is a lifelong reptile lover and has kept pet lizards since childhood. His first was a pet Leo which was shortly followed by a Beardie named, Rocky. For the last 10 years he has kept over 20 different species but his favorite is his Banana Ball Python, Monty.

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