Today’s endangered creature hails from Mexico City. Specifically a lake called Xochimilco (prounciation: So-chee-mill-co). Axolotl (pronounced: ack-suh-lah-tuhl) are very unique in the marine world. They are often referred to as walking fish but they’re actually amphibians. If you think of frogs and how they have different larval stages, the axolotl is basically an adult amphibian that keeps its larval stages throughout adulthood and unlike frogs that go from water to land, the axolotl stays in the water, retains it’s tail and gills even though it develops fully functioning lungs. The technical term for this is called neoteny. It’s like an adult who always looks like a kid. Axoltol were named after an aztec God who was known to be a water monster that turned himself into a salamander to avoid sacrifice.
Axoltol range in color from dark brown or blackish to albino although the albino ones don’t occur naturally. They have four stumpy limbs and their gills resemble a feathery shape on either side of their head. They become sexually mature around 12-18 months. Males do a little jig and then deposit their sperm packets on rocks and other sea plants. Then the female comes along and takes the packets up through her cloacea (yeah, this is a thing) and inititates fertilization internally. Up to 400 eggs are laid within 24 hours and they hatch in about two weeks. The young will feed primarily on algae but adults are carnivores feasting on small mollusks and crustaceans. Axoltol live about 10-15 years in the wild.
One of the most unique features an axolotl has is the ability to regnerate parts of it’s body. Usually when an animal gets wounded, it forms scar tissue. When axolotl’s are wounded, they regnerated whole body parts and even organs. They are known to regrow whole pieces of tissue, limbs and even organs. In fact, a study showed an axolotl able to regrow parts of of its brain. Astounding!
Unfortunately, axolotl are listed, and have been listed since 2006, as critically endangered. The exact population size is not known but the last known area study only produced 42 individuals. The channels of the lake with its brackish water is their only home but they are severely threatened by lake contamination due to sewage dumping, exotic pet trade and being captured by the natives who consider the axolotl a delicacy.
The species is currently under special protection by the government of Mexico. Steps have been taken to increase awareness of the axolotl through eco-tourism and the lake has undergone bio-restoratoration. There are many captive-bred colonies around the world due to the pet trade but they can not be introduced back into the wild until testing has been done to determine if the genetic pool won’t affect the wild population in a negative way. Hopefully this combination of things are able to stop the rapid fall into extinction that the axolotl are currently up against.