Keeping an Axolotl as a pet is one of the most unique and enjoyable adventures an aquarist can embark on.
These creatures are a complete blast. They’re active, engaged with their owners, and unbelievably cute!
But their popularity has led to a lot of misinformation about their care requirements. In fact, most people don’t even know if they’re fully aquatic or not (don’t worry, we’ll cover that).
So if you’re interested in owning one of these pets for yourself, this guide will bring you up to speed on everything you need to know about Axolotl care. You’ll learn about their lifespan, ideal foods, tank setup, temperature, and more!
By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be very well-prepared if you decide to own one of these creatures in the future.
Table of Contents
There’s no doubt that you’ve seen these quirky creatures all over the Internet. The Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is a unique aquatic salamander with some distinct biological quirks.
Some owners view them as reptiles while others lump them in with fish. The truth is, Axolotls are amphibians.
Technically speaking, these creatures are salamanders. However, unlike other salamander species, they never truly go through that metamorphosis process to become land-dwellers.
As a result, Axolotls spend their entire lives in the water. Even with their fully formed legs, these aquatic creatures don’t need land access at all.
Axolotls are only found in Mexico. They’re often referred to as Mexican Walking Fish. Unfortunately, these animals have become critically endangered in the wild. They are available in the aquarist trade, but it’s rare to see them being sold in stores.
If you do manage to get your hands on an Axolotl, you’ll be happy to know that caring for these critters isn’t too complicated at all (although not a walk in the park).
On average, the average lifespan of an Axolotl in captivity is around 10 years. There is a chance that the salamander will live longer though.
In fact, some owners have reported lifespans of up to 20 years! However, this is quite rare.
Author Note: Like any aquatic creature, the Axolotl is quite sensitive to water conditions. Substandard care could shorten the creature’s lifespan dramatically, so it’s important to be vigilant about tank maintenance and overall care.
Axolotls are highly sought-after because of their unique looks.
The shape of the Axolotl is like a cross between a fully-formed salamander and a tadpole. They have long slender bodies complete with four thin legs.
However, their tail is still equipped to be a very effective swimming fin. It’s relatively thin, creating a nice taper starting behind the rear legs. The expansive fins on the top and bottom of the tail actually make it look much bigger though.
The head of the Axolotl is pretty interesting as well. These creatures have wide heads with small black eyes.
Unlike other salamanders, Axolotls don’t have eyelids or protruding eyes. Thus, their eyes are open all the time. When you combine this with their smiling face, you have quite the cute creature.
Perhaps the most defining feature of the Axolotl is the gills. The gills aren’t located on the sides of the body like they are with fish.
Instead, they are located on protruding crown-like appendages that branch out from the head!
Called rami, there are usually six appendages in total. They are positioned to the rear of the head, creating a very interesting look for the creature. Each appendage is covered in tiny gill filaments.
When it comes to color, there’s a lot of variety. This is especially true in the aquarium trade.
Wild Axolotyls typically take on shades of gray, brown, and green. They’re mottled, which helps the creature blend in with their surroundings.
There are several color variations available. You can get a Copper Axolotl, which has an orange hue with bright red gills. Then, there’s the Melanoid Axolotl with its black skin and dark gills.
One of the most widespread morphs in the trade is the Leucistic Axolotl. It’s an albino variant with pinkish-white skin and bright red gills.
The average size of an Axolotl is about 10 inches in length when fully grown. Some specimens will get up to 12 inches, but it’s not very common for specimens raised in captivity.
It’s been observed that Axolotls can get much larger in the wild. There’s something about being kept in captivity that tends to put a lower ceiling on their potential size.
As we mentioned earlier, Axolotl care isn’t too difficult as long as you understand their basic needs. For the most part, these creatures are hardy and unfussy.
Of course, there are still some strict care guidelines you need to follow. There’s no denying that Axolotls are a unique pet.
While they don’t have too many issues in captivity, you must provide the essentials. This includes creating a good habitat and a high-quality diet.
The recommended Axolotl tank size is at least 10 gallons. However, we always recommend going up to at least 20 gallons if you have the room.
These creatures are known to produce a lot of waste. While they can stay healthy in a smaller 10-gallon tank, you would have to be more proactive about changing the water to ensure that your Axolotl doesn’t get sick.
With a 20 or 30-gallon tank, ammonia and nitrate levels wouldn’t get out of control so quickly. Plus, it provides more room for the Axolotls to explore and play!
Author Note: It’s worth pointing out that a lot of the Axolotls that have lived the longest in captivity have been kept in a larger tank. Definitely food for thought!
One of the most important parts of Axolotl care is staying on top of the water conditions.
Axolotls have permeable skin which makes them far more sensitive to extreme changes in the water than other creatures.
They do fine as long as you keep everything within an acceptable range. But if these parameters get out of hand, they’ll become susceptible to some health issues (more on that later).
Luckily, the ideal water parameters are relatively easy to achieve. The key to keeping your Axolotl happy and healthy is to replicate the warm waters of their natural habitat as closely as possible.
Here are some parameters to follow:
- Water Temperature: 60°F to 64°F is ideal (this is a good cold water species)
- pH Levels: Between 6.5 and 7.5
- Water Hardness: 7 to 8 dKH (slightly hard)
To make sure the core parameters are in a good spot it’s always smart to perform regular water tests. This will keep you informed on the current state of the tank, and allow you to make any adjustments if a shift begins to occur.
Axolotl Tank Setup
In addition to getting the water conditions just right, you need to ensure that you have a well-decorated tank that works with the Axolotl’s needs.
In the wild, these creatures typically spend a lot of time at the bottom of the water column. So, you’ll need to pay close attention to the substrate.
The best substrate material for Axolotls is sand, and avoid traditional aquarium gravel.
These creatures are known to swallow small pieces of gravel, which can cause an intestinal blockage. If you do use gravel, make sure the pieces are bigger than the Axolotl’s head.
On top of the substrate, adorn the tank with plenty of hiding spaces. Axolotls especially like rocks and caves. You can also utilize pieces of driftwood and plastic decorations to create some safe spaces.
Live plants are always appreciated too. Axolotls do well with Anubias and Java fern.
Oh, and strong filtration is an absolute must. However, you have to be careful about the type of filter you use since Axolotls prefer still waters.
This means a standard canister filter may actually produce too much movement for their liking.
Hang-on-back filters with low-flow heads are usually the best bet. They break up the current to ensure that the water movement is as low as possible.
No matter what, make sure that you’re getting a filter that’s powerful enough to cycle the tank fully. Remember, Axolotls produce a lot of waste!
In addition to relying on your filter, you’ll need to perform 20 percent water changes every week to keep water conditions in good shape.
Author Note: Finally, make sure your tank has a lid! These creatures are notorious for jumping out of tanks whenever they get a chance.
While they do have lungs for breathing air, they are not equipped to survive out of the water. Make sure you have a tight lid with a lock to avoid any accidental deaths!
Despite their hardiness, Axolotls are not immune to stress-related diseases. Poor water conditions have been known to cause problems like bacterial infections and fungal infections.
If this occurs you may notice lethargy and a change in appetite. Sometimes, infections can manifest themselves physically through sores and irritation on the skin as well.
Another issue your Axolotl may encounter is impaction. This occurs when the salamander eats a small piece of gravel that they can’t digest. The gravel will get stuck in their system.
Both of these issues can be avoided with a proper tank setup and maintaining the habitat accordingly. Make sure to monitor water parameters regularly to avoid stress-related issues as well.
Food & Diet
It’s best to avoid live food like feeder fish and mice. While they will readily accept those snacks, they could introduce parasites into the tank and make your Axolotl sick.
Frozen woods work best.
The best way to feed an Axolotl is with long forceps or tweezers. Just place the food near the animal and they should have no problem seeing it and eating.
Axolotls should be fed two or three times a week. This might seem a little unusual at first if you’re used to a daily feeding schedule, but it’s totally normal for these creatures!
Behavior & Temperament
These creatures are honestly a complete joy to watch. They can also get quite active when they notice someone watching them!
Many Axolotls will swim around the tank and give you a little bit of a show. This is one of our favorite things about them.
When they’re not entertaining, Axolotls are quite calm and relaxed.
That is, however, unless they are kept with other creatures. Axolotls can actually get quite aggressive with fish and other animals in the tank. They have been known to attack and eat their tank mates.
Axolotls should not be kept with any tank mates. This includes other Axolotls. Some owners have seen success in keeping bonding pairs together. But, you have to be very careful and keep a watchful eye on their behavior.
These animals are known to fight among one another. Cannibalistic behavior is pretty common. You might see two Axolotls fight and lose limbs.
The good news is that Axolotls have the ability to regenerate their limbs after injury. However, you should just avoid this issue altogether and keep them apart.
Axolotls are solitary creatures that do just fine when they are alone.
Author Note: It’s worth pointing out that some owners have had success keeping certain types of goldfish as Axolotl tank mates. We still don’t recommend giving this a shot, but it’s worth pointing it out in case you hear that recommendation from someone else.
Can You Take An Axolotl Out Of Water?
Despite what their appearance may lead you to believe, Axolotls should not be removed from the water.
In fact, they shouldn’t be handled at all!
Axolotls are very delicate. Most of their body is made up of cartilage rather than bone. As a result, they are prone to injuries.
If you must remove them, exercise caution and use a fine mesh net. They can be tough to catch, but it’s much safer to use a net than it is to use your hand.
Place them in a separate water tank and don’t leave them out of the water for any more than a few seconds.
Time To Go For It!
Now that you’re familiar with all the fundamentals of Axolotl care, there’s nothing stopping you from getting one as a pet!
And trust us, it’s worth it.
There’s really nothing like having one of these interesting creatures in your tank. We’re not lying when we say you’ll be just as entertained with them on year ten, as you are on year one.
We’ve talked to so many aquarists who’ve gotten an Axolotl and never looked back. They’re like cute little water puppies!
If you’re still a bit unsure about keeping one, we’re more than happy to help answer your questions (and give you a nudge). Just reach out to us on social media and get the conversation started!