What is an Axolotl and Is It Suitable for your Aquarium

Popular in both aquarium trade and research, Axolotls are amphibians that refuse to go through metamorphosis and spend their whole life in the larvae stage. Although some Axolotls mature to leave the water to become Mexican Salamanders, they’re rare.


We’ll talk more about these smiling “water dogs” and go through every important detail about these fascinating creatures in this article.  

Axolotl Overview

Owing to their regenerative capabilities and vibrant colors, Axolotls are pretty popular among aquarists. But, due to their need for colder waters, their demand is mostly limited to areas with lower average temperatures.

Today, most Axolotls in artificial waters are captive-bred with their wild population constantly being threatened by pollution, habitat destruction, and introduction of non-native species.  

Information ChartAxolotl
Scientific Name:Ambystoma mexicanum
Care Level:Intermediate
Temperament:Generally peaceful, but can be cannibalistic
Color:Olive-green, pinkish, golden albino, and more
Lifespan:10 to 15 years
Size:9 to 15 inches
Diet:Carnivorous diet of invertebrates and small fish
Minimum Tank Size:20 gallons for a single adult Axolotl
Temperature:60 to 68F
WaterConditions:pH 7.0-7.5Soft water hardness
Tank Mate CompatibilitySolitary, other Axolotls of similar size

Axolotl Appearance

Appending to their physiological traits, Axolotls are also fascinating in the decorative department. Their feathery external gills and begging eyes are pretty eminent in enchanting the keepers. Their short and stubby limbs with webbed toes allow them to gently swim or move around the tank. 

On the other hand, Axolotls have streamlined bodies with a tail fin for aquatic maneuverability. Their smooth, slimy skin gives them a wet look and helps them exchange gasses in the water. Despite functioning lungs being absent, they have two nostrils to probe the environment for chemical and temperature changes. 

They have a wide mouth that looks like they are always smiling. Their mouthparts comprise a set of small teeth that help them grip onto their prey and feed.

As for coloration, wild Axolotls are mostly olive-green with dark spots. Their domestic counterparts, however, are bred to demonstrate pinkish (leucistic), golden, and other color tones. 

Types/Varieties of Axolotl

Depending on their lineage, Axolotls can be of many types of colors. The more prominent ones include:

  • Leucistic (Pale pink and black eyes)
  • Golden Albino (Golden with golden eyes)
  • Xanthic (Grey with black eyes)
  • Albino (Pale white with red eyes)
  • Melanoid (Black or dark blue) 

Apart from the color variations, most Axolotls are similar in genetic structure and physiology. However, if salamanders are concerned, many other matured and Paedomorphic (like this one) salamanders exist in the wild and pet trade.  

Lifespan of Axolotl

A healthy Axolotl can live up to 15 years in captivity with proper nutrition, environment, and space. You have the responsibility to provide them with the safe aquatic environment they deserve. Here are a few tips to achieve that: 

  • Avoid enforced transformation

With iodine or thyroxine, Axolotls can grow up to become salamanders. But, that drastically reduces their lifespan and ability to regenerate. Unless you are involved in scientific research, it’s best to avoid breeders who perform such altercations.

  • Ensure a proper habitat

A proper habitat suitable for your amphibian friend can maximize their lifespan. While the details of what an optimum habitat is are discussed later, it should be clean, chemically stable, and have lots of space to explore for your Axolotl. 

  • Provide adequate nutrition

Axolotls are strictly carnivorous and rely on protein-based diets consisting of small fish, invertebrates, and other aquatic creatures. Proper nutrition and a routine feeding cycle are necessary to ensure a maximized lifespan.         

  • Water quality

Ammonia, nitrites, and harmful metals can get inside and harm an Axolotl’s sensitive skin—reducing their lifespan to a great extent. Ensure proper filtration and nitrogen cycle to help your Axolotl live a fulfilling life. 

  • Tank stress and mates

Axolotls are best kept solitary without any other fish or Axolotls accompanying them. As your Axolotl may try to prey on the smaller creatures, it introduces stress and infections in the tank, which doesn’t promote a healthy, long life. 

Axolotl Size

Axolotls grow to an average size of 9-12 inches, with some of them growing even up to 15 inches in captivity. They often grow more than most salamanders living on the land. Nevertheless, their growth often gets restricted because of smaller tank sizes and lack of a balanced diet. 

Tip: Keeping the water a little warm promotes growth.

Natural Habitat and Origin

Axolotls are only native to Lake Xochimilco in the Valley of Mexico, but they also are found in the canals and waterways of Mexico City. As for their popularity in trade with their habitat being quite limited, wild Axolotls are on the verge of extinction. 

Thanks to the increasing fascination of researchers and aquarists, captive-bred Axolotls have seen a significant growth in numbers in recent years. However, captive breeding is equally challenging; for they need a pretty low water temperature to survive.

Axolotl Care & Tank Set-Up

Axolotl Care

We mentioned giving your Axolotl a proper environment. We’ll dig deeper into the aspect in this section and discuss the tank set-up and proper care points. 

Axolotl Tank Size and Specifications

Tank specifications are one of the most critical elements in Axolotl care that most aquarists fail to address. Although Axolotls aren’t fish, don’t ignore their space and filtration requirements. 

– Optimum Tank Size

In our experience, a 15 to 20-gallon tank is adequate for keeping a single solitary Axolotl. As they don’t socialize and can be cannibalistic towards their own species, 30-40 gallons are at minimum required to house a pair of Axolotls so that they don’t fight for space or resources. 

You can house a male and a female Axolotl together with proper housing conditions and nutrition, but they might end up breeding.

– Tank Shape for Axolotl

Axolotls aren’t great swimmers. They may stroll around the tank or leisurely swim to the surface and back, but they usually stay at the bottom and monitor their environment. The tank shape, therefore, doesn’t really matter much. 

Horizontal tanks with adequate bottom space for your Axolotl to move around are optimum, but you may choose any shape, as long as the surface area suffices. The optimum dimensions for a 20-gallon Axolotl tank should be 30″ x 12″ x 12″. 

Tip: Well-oxygenated tanks are critical for Axolotls to survive. Focus on having more surface area than height. 

– Filter Type

Axolotls require fresh, well-oxygenated water to thrive. Nevertheless, being carnivorous, they also make a lot of organic waste that needs to be removed. Consider employing both mechanical and biological filtration to maintain water health. 

In addition to having a sponge filter, an HOB or canister filter should be optimum to remove the organic waste. For a 20-gallon tank, internal filters could also be viable alternatives. 

However, Axolotls can’t tolerate high water currents. Consider keeping a gentle flow, both in and out of the filter, to not stress your Axolotl.    

– Substrate

The second best substrate for your Axolotl tank is sand, the first being fertilizer-free soil to grow plants in the said tank. Gravels and small stones are best avoided to prevent them from ending up in the Axolotl’s digestive system. 

An inch or two of fertilizer-free soil, covered with a layer of sand is optimum for planted Axolotl tanks. As for fertilizers, avoid them. Fertilizers can be absorbed by your Axolotl’s skin and cause fatal issues.  

– How many Axolotls in 20 gallon tank

A large single Axolotl or 2 small similar-sized Axolotls can be kept in a 20-gallon tank.

Water Parameters for Axolotl

Being an amphibian and adaptive to cold weather, Axolotls have specific requirements that deviate a lot from water parameters for tropical fish. 

– Water Temperature

Your water puppies need a colder water temperature between 15 to 20 degrees C or 60 to 68 degrees F to survive and thrive. While they can survive a bit colder waters, warm waters increase their metabolism and leave them pretty exhausted. 

To maintain a cooler environment in your tank, place it in a shaded area inside your house. Keep the windows closed and curtains down during heat waves to avoid overheating the water. Cool the water by using a fan over the tank to increase evaporation. Furthermore, don’t hesitate to use ice bags or ice cubes if the mercury hits the extremes. Water changes with colder water will also reduce the temperature. 

– Water Flow Rate

A water flow of not more than 100 GPH for a 20-gallon tank is sufficient for Axolotls. The rule of thumb is to have a water flow of 4-5x the volume of the tank. 

– pH Level

Keep the aquarium pH as close to neutral as possible with a leniency towards basicity. The optimum pH range for Axolotls is 7.0 to 7.5. 

Acidic water with a pH below 7.0, can cause excess mucus production, discomfort, and listlessness in your Axolotl. 

To maintain the pH levels, follow the tips: 

  • Use RO/DI water with pH buffers to maintain the desired pH levels in the tank.
  • Add driftwood and crushed coral to the water to adjust pH levels. 
  • Do regular water changes to maintain pH levels

Tip: Massive water changes can cause pH spikes. If you’re using RO water, make sure to use commercial pH buffers. 

– Water Hardness

As their natural environment is sourced from springs and snow, Axolotls prefer moderately hard water of 7 to 14 dGH. Soft water isn’t the best for Axolotls in the long run and may develop physiological issues. 

Axolotl Tank Landscape

Axolotl Tank Landscape

In the wild, Axolotls prefer hiding behind dense vegetation, driftwood, and other submerged structures during the day to perform their nocturnal activities. In that sense, tank landscapes play a significant role in maintaining a healthy Axolotl environment.  

Best Plants for Axolotl Tanks

Plants in the Axolotl tank reduce stress and allow it to stay dormant during the daytime. The best plants for Axolotl include: 

Worst Plants for Axolotl Tanks

Most plants that aren’t included in the previous list are unsuitable for Axolotl tanks. Any aquatic plants that are toxic to the Axolotls shouldn’t be experimented with and avoided at all costs. 

On the other hand, Invasive plants, such as Water Hyacinth, can quickly take over and block out light and oxygen. 

Plants that require a high amount of light should also be avoided because of the dim lighting requirement of the Axolotls. 

Some plants with loose small leaves may also get ingested by the Axolotl and cause trouble. Moreover, most of them may also be incompatible with the tank parameters required for Axolotls.  

Decorations for Axolotl Tanks

Safe hiding spaces, where your Axolotl can move freely, should be included as decorations in the tank. The most common decorations for Axolotl tanks include: 

  • Driftwood
  • PVC pipes with file edges
  • Decorations with caves
  • Rocks
  • Soft silicone toys

Lighting for Axolotl Tanks

Axolotls don’t need a lot of light for their tank. They don’t have eyelids and heavy lighting can be very discomforting. Dim lighting during the day, for 8-10 hours, should be adequate for the plants and the Axolotl. Blue moonlighting can help them navigate the environment at night.

Feeding Axolotl

Feeding Axolotl

Strictly carnivorous Axolotls need a balanced diet to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. Let’s discuss the best diet and feeding routine for them.  

Best Diet for Axolotl

Live insects, worms, and crustaceans are the best food sources for Axolotls. While they may occasionally prefer frozen food or commercial pellets, those shouldn’t be included in their staple. The most popular Axolotl foods are:

  • Bloodworms
  • Blackworms
  • Red Wigglers
  • Night Crawlers
  • Occasional Pellets

How often should you feed Axolotl?

In their juvenile stage, until they’ve grown to 5-6 inches, feed them 2 to 3 times daily. After that, you may reduce it to once per day. When they’ve stopped growing, feed them fat, juicy worms once every 2 days. 

While it’s mostly accurate, the feeding routine should depend on your and your Axolotl’s preference. 

Axolotl Behaviour and Temperament

Typically, Axolotls are peaceful aquatic creatures that may get territorial and aggressive towards other Axolotls, especially if hiding spots and food are limited. They have a slight tolerance towards handling, but it’s mostly discouraged to prevent them from absorbing oil and other chemicals from your hand. 

They also are pretty curious creatures who love to explore the tank, decorations, and the outside. They may also identify you as their caregiver and occasionally “beg” for food. Although Axolotls exhibit slow and casual movements, they may get more active if the water temperature is in the warmer zone.   

Similar to other Salamander larvae, Axolotls occasionally engage in burrowing behavior to hide themselves among the plants and decorations. They may also cannibalize other smaller Axolotls if given the opportunity. However, their cannibalistic behavior reduces after growing all the limbs. 

Axolotl Tank Mates

No other species of aquatic creatures—fish or salamanders—are suitable to be Axolotl tank mates. As discussed, you may keep similar-sized Axolotls together if the tank is large enough, but it’s not a commonly accepted practice. Only a few aquarists are experienced enough to sustain multiple Axolotl in a single tank.  

Breeding Axolotl

Axolotls reach their sexual maturity at 6 to 12 months. Yet, healthy breeding should only be facilitated after they’ve reached 2 years of age. During colder months, your Axolotls will naturally mate and lay eggs during the colder months and upto 3 times a year. 

Contrary to most other aquatic creatures, their fertilization process happens internally. The female collects the sperm of the male in her cloaca to fertilize and lay the eggs. Female Axolotl can lay between 50 to 100 eggs at each spawn.   

Axolotl Breeding Level – Easy to Intermediate

Axolotl Sexual Dimorphism?

Male and female Axolotls can be identified by the size of their cloaca. After reaching sexual maturity, male Axolotls develop a larger cloaca than the female. During breeding seasons, the female may appear a bit oval-shaped if seen from above. 

Axolotl Common Diseases and Their Treatment

Axolotl Common Diseases


Caused by gram-negative aerobic bacteria found in freshwater, it’s identified by cotton-like growth on the gills and body. The common symptoms include lethargy, damaged gills, and kidney failure. It can affect internal organs if left untreated. 

Usual treatments include: 

  • Most often identification of the cause and correction takes care of the issue. If willing, you can set up a hospital tub to provide clean water. 
  • Indian Almond leaves or other tannin-releasing agents can work positively. 
  • A methylene blue bath can be useful if your Axolotl is weak. 
  • Furan 2 can be administered.


The most common fungal infection of Axolotls, Saprolegnia, is identified by fluffy infections and patchy film on the skin and not the gills. The usual symptoms include lesions on the skin, watered-down blood, and septicemia. 

Usual treatments include:

  • Isolation and preparing a hospital tub.
  • Methylene blue baths can be beneficial. 
  • Antifungal medications like Itraconazole can be used.
  • Salt baths can be performed. 

Facts about Axolotl

  • Axolotls are aquatic salamanders who refuse to go through metamorphosis. 
  • They’re also known as the “Mexican Walking Fish”
  • They exhibit remarkable regenerative abilities. They can regenerate limbs and even parts of their brain.
  • Axolotls are carnivorous and nocturnal. 
  • They’re sensitive to water quality and require clean, dechlorinated water. 
  • Axolotls are critically endangered in the wild. 


Q: Are axolotls good pets?

Yes, Axolotls can be good pets if you properly care for them. They’re easy to maintain and are intelligent enough to identify you. 

Q: Is it OK to touch an axolotl?

It’s okay to touch your Axolotl for a short time. While there isn’t anything on its body to harm you, your touch can cause them discomfort. 

Q: Can axolotls bite?

Axolotls have small teeth to grip onto their prey, but they aren’t able to bite you in the general sense.

The Bottom Line

Axolotls are good pets with many color variations and unique behavioral traits. They’re pretty interesting to observe and don’t require a very high level of care to thrive. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take proper care of them after going through this article. 

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.