- This extraordinary creation of Nature and evolution is a species of amphibian best known by the simple term of Axolotl. This actually derives from an Aztec word meaning water dog. For the moment, this natural marvel has no other general name.
- Within scientific circles, however, the creature remains better known by its technical title. Like many such terms, though, it’s somewhat hard for the layperson to pronounce. That’s because the wonder holds the formal moniker of Ambystoma mexicanum.
- The English zoologist, George Shaw, and the English illustrator, Frederick Nodder, hold joint credit for this name. The pair accomplished the first acknowledgement of it as a separate and distinct species. This notable action occurred in the year 1798.
- No matter which term one chooses to use, however, it’s a fascinating creation of evolution. It’s often confused with a related species, the tiger salamander. Today, it represents a frequent and intense subject of study due to its regenerative abilities.
- Sadly, the remarkable Axolotl appears to be rapidly declining in numbers. This unfortunate trend further seems to hold true throughout the entirety of its known, and limited, range. The IUCN therefore presently lists the animal as Critically Endangered.
- Its own habitat range limits its potential for maintaining a stable population base. Yet it also faces other threats as a species. Many of these are due directly to the actions of man. They include habitat loss, and of course, now the effects of climate change.
Axolotl Physical Description
The remarkable Axolotl possesses a truly extraordinary physical appearance, to say the least. It’s the characteristic that first catches the eye of any observor. Even the fully mature adult specimens display physical characteristics that are typical of other salamander larvae.
Despite this highly unusual trait, the animal does follow some patterns of growth common to its relatives. That’s true since the amphibian displays a fairly moderate degree of the anatomical trait of sexual dimorphism. In its case, this manifests in physical measurements.
Females of the impressive species tend to have wider body shapes. This occurs due to the presence of large numbers of eggs within their bodies. Males, meanwhile, obviously lack this. Otherwise the genders are virtually indistinguishable without much closer examination.
Mature adults attain roughly the same growth. Although this varies significantly, it occurs on an individual basis, entirely regardless of gender. The average length equals between 6 – 18 in (15 – 45 cm). Most typically reach 9 in (23 cm), with greater sizes being quite rare.
The head of a mature Axolotl develops as relatively broad, and the eyes remain lidless. When young, individuals often show an almost translucent shade. Among adults, their colors vary widely. These hues run from dark gray to green, brown, and occasionally even black.
Yet probably the most captivating physical feature of the animal is its gills. Among all other known salamanders, these disappear following maturity. With this creature, they remain. These six feather-like structures protrude from just behind each side of the head.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Amphibia
- Order: Urodela
- Family: Ambystomatidae
- Genus: Ambystoma
- Species: A. mexicanum
Axolotl Distribution, Habitat, and Ecology
The almost unbelievable Axolotl evolved as native to a region of the world that might surprise some people. One might expect such a marvel to be tropical in nature. It actually developed as native to a very specific portion of the continent of North America.
Within those boundaries, though, the amphibian appears in only one extremely tiny zone of habitation. That limited region lies inside the national boundaries of the country of Mexico. More exactly, it’s only known to exist in the immediate area of southern Mexico City.
Its entire known habitat comprises the waters of Lake Chalco and Lake Xochimilco, in the Valley of Mexico. The former now no longer exists, due to draining as a form of flood control. The latter still exists, but only as a shadow of its former self, limiting it further.
The species is adapted to the very specific environmental conditions found here. That includes a precise range of temperatures for the water they frequent. This falls to as low as 43 – 45F (6 -7 C) in winter. During summer, however, it rarely rises higher than 68F (20C).
The Axolotl also evolved as carnivorous in nature. In the wild, individuals consume various small prey locally available. These most typically include worms, insects, mollusks, and other arthropods. They also often feed on small fish. The species hunts via its sense of smell.
Subsequent to mating, females lay eggs individually, usually on various plants. In the wild, most live between 5 – 6 years. It’s their regenerative abilities that most distinguish them, though. They’re known to replace lost limbs, eyes, and even parts of the brain!