Zoo Animals

Mexican axolotl

Ambystoma mexicanum

At the Detroit Zoo

The Mexican axolotl is a freshwater salamander that spends its entire life underwater. This highly intelligent amphibian’s behavior can range among individuals from social to solitary and active to dormant. It can be seen at the award-winning National Amphibian Conservation Center – a leader in amphibian conservation and research – which houses a spectacular diversity of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians.

Description

Mexican axolotls have long tails, external gills, four legs and large, flat heads. Like their personalities, the color of axolotls depends on the individual. The most common colors are gold, albino and dark – ranging from black, brown or gray, accompanied by small spots all over their bodies. The Mexican axolotls skip the metamorphosis stage during their growth process and maintains their larval features – external gills and tadpole-like dorsal fins. This phenomenon is called neoteny. Due to habitat destruction and invasive species, there are less than 100 Mexican axolotls left in the wild. The Detroit Zoological Society assists conservation of this species in Mexico through breeding consultation and research.

Fun Facts

  • In the wild, this species of freshwater salamander can only be found in Lake Xochimilco, Mexico City’s primary water source.

  • The Mexican axolotls can regenerate almost any lost body part faster than any other species. In fact, it is used in research to apply this ability to human nerve cells and organs.

  • The Aztecs saw axolotls as the earthly servant of the dog-headed god, Xolotl.

  • Although Mexican axolotls are primarily active at night, the behavior of these amphibians is so unpredictable that they cannot be classified as nocturnal.

  • Even though the exact number of Mexican axolotls in the wild remains unknown, the species has been thought to have gone extinct a number of times, only to be found again on surveys – maintaining the species’ Critically Endangered status.