The Story of the Axolotl

Sea dragon or curious salamander? The axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum, has made quite a name for itself based on its appearance alone. These adorable amphibians are only found in the wild in one lake in the entire world. That lake, called Xochimilco and is located just south of Mexico City. Weighing in at about eight ounces, and just a foot long when fully grown, these little critters are hard to resist.

Yulianto, Kevin. An Axolotl Swimming. Getty Images

For more information about the axolotl, follow the links below. Even more, the axolotl is unique in that they retain some of their juvenile traits through their life. Unlike how we lose our baby teeth, the axolotl keeps its feathery gills and tadpole-like dorsal fin for its entire life. Since the axolotl keeps its gills, they live their entire lives underwater, making them stand out among their other amphibian friends. Scientists use the word neoteny to describe this unusual and rare trait. In part due to their small size, the axolotl has become critically endangered. About twenty years ago the census concluded that there were 6,000 axolotls for every kilometer squared, now that number is down to just thirty six. Xochimilco has experienced a lot of change in the past sixty years, the water quality has decreased, new fish predators were introduced, and the city has grown a lot. All of that makes it much harder for the axolotls to live there. There is hope for the axolotl yet, conservationists are making it their mission to protect the species by starting a program called Chinampa Refugio. This program uses chinampas (floating islands that are traditionally used in Mexico to grow food) to create protected habitats for the axolotls. These islands are protected from predators, have special systems that make the water quality safer, and are used to grow better food for the farmers. To raise awareness for the little axolotl, Mexico has also decided to make the animal the face of their 50-peso bill beginning in 2022.