Axolotls look like salamanders from outer space. (Shuttersto

AXO-WHAT-L?

Axolotls are bizarre: what they look like, how they exist, where they come from, and how and why they recently became so popular. Never heard of them? No worries, you will soon, as these strange amphibians have captured the hearts of pet owners because they are low maintenance, easy to keep, and fascinating to look at.

Axolotls are actually members of the salamander family, and like all amphibians, are born in the water and go through a metamorphosis. Starting as eggs, on to gilled tadpoles/larval stages, then to air-breathing adults. But not the axolotl!

These animals that are native to only two small lakes in the Valley of Mexico take a shortcut. Their metamorphosis takes an abrupt stop at the larval stage; they keep their dangling external gills and spend the rest of their adult days in the water, taking their oxygen from the water like a fish rather than forming lungs and living on land like salamanders. 

These appendages are what attracts axolotl keepers as axolotls look like they are from another planet. But wait, there’s more!

Axolotls are carnivores, and although they have small teeth and can bite, they literally suck their prey down their throats like a vacuum. They are such aggressive eaters that they sometimes nip off their siblings’ feet, legs, or worse.

But no worries, again! The axolotl has unworldly regenerative powers and can quickly grow back feet, limbs and tails, making them highly prized by scientists and in the medical community.

Sadly, overpopulation in Mexico City has led to the depletion of the water levels in these lakes and axolotls have virtually disappeared from the wild. Now considered critically endangered, there are few reports of living wild specimens in recent years.

Thankfully, our fascination with them has kept the species from extinction. Axolotls can bear young at an early age, live up to 20 years and have hundreds of babies at a time. The pet industry is steadily increasing their numbers and hopefully the species will continue in captivity where it can be studied further.

It remains to be seen what can be learned from this amazing animal!

Jungle Bob’s Reptile World is located at 984 Middle Country Road in Selden. It can be reached at junglebobsreptileworld.com 631-737-6474.

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