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CRITTER SPOTLIGHT: Axolotl: Ambystoma mexicanum

Good Morning Watershed Explorers,

I hope that you had a fantastic vacation and that you were able to get outside and explore. Please share your stories and adventures with me at

Today's critter spotlight features a fascinating critter, the axolotl. The axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum is also known as the Mexican walking fish. However, the axolotl is not a fish at all, it's an amphibian. Unlike most amphibians who transform from aquatic with gills, to terrestrial with lungs, axolotls stay aquatic with feathery gills their whole life. They do develop lungs, but they rarely use them.

Axolotls are found wild in only one place in the world, Lake Xochimilco in Mexico. This lake is located in southern Mexico City. At one time, Lake Xochimilco was part of a system of 5 lakes. Over time, due to a variety of reasons the other lakes disappeared and only Lake Xochimilco remains. Sadly, Lake Xochimilco suffers from pollution which has greatly impacted the axolotl population.

Axolotls are a species that is doing better in captivity than in the wild. Ambystoma mexicanum is considered critically endangered in the wild, with less than 1000 individuals remaining, yet it is sold in abundance in pet stores around the world. The main problem with having so few species in the wild is that it is more difficult for them to breed naturally. Natural breeding allows species to create a self-sustaining population. This means that the species can survive on its own without human interaction. There have been many scientific studies that prove that wild breeding is significantly better than captive breeding and animals should not be taken from the wild to breed. The best way I can describe this is to relate it to feeding wild animals. If humans feed wild animals, the animals stop finding their own food. They then rely on humans for food. If the humans then decide to stop feeding the animals, the animals don't find their own food and can die. If a species is only bred in captivity, under certain conditions, it can impact its ability to then breed in the wild. It is important for wild species to remain wild, when at all possible.

Scientists are considerably intrigued by axolotls for their power to regenerate. In scientific studies, axolotls are able to regenerate everything from limbs, to eyes, to even parts of their spine and brain. AMAZING!

Axolotls like most other amphibians are carnivores. They are a top predator in their environment. They eat worms, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and even fish. The only known predators of axolotls are large birds and a few types of introduced fish.

As always, I encourage you to ensure that pollutants stay out of our watersheds. The axolotl may only live in Mexico, but Rhode Island is home to many amphibian species that need our help. All amphibians have permeable skin that allows them to absorb water, unfortunately, this means they absorb pollutants too. Let's help our amphibian friends by keeping pollution out of our watersheds.

If you would like to learn more about the axolotl, check out this neat website

Happy Exploring Watershed Scientists!

Much love,

Mrs. Morissette

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