This is a guide on axolotl care. Here you can read all about axolotl and how to best keep them as pets.
Axolotls are also known as Mexican walking fish. Axolotls are actually not fish at all. They are amphibians!
They are a type of salamander. Unlike most salamanders who go through metamorphosis and evolve to live on land, axolotls do not go through metamorphosis. Instead, they keep their gills and continue living in water.
Axolotls have specific care requirements to keep them happy and healthy as pets.
Axolotl Native Habitat
Axolotls are listed as critically endangered in the wild. The only place they can be found in the wild now is Lake Xochimilco and the canals leading from the lake just outside Mexico City. Due to expansion of the city and pollution, there are very few left. It is reported the city is building axolotl shelters to help save the remaining few.
On average, axolotl live 10 to 15 years, and there are some reports they can even reach 20 years.
Adult size of axolotl
The average size of an adult axolotl is 9 to 10 inches (23 to 25 cm) in length and around 10 ounces in weight. There are reports they can reach 18 inches (45 cm) in length, but that is extremely rare.
How to tell the gender of an axolotl
It’s more difficult to tell their gender until they are more developed and reaching sexual maturity at around 12 to 24 months old. Females tend to have a rounder body and males more slim. Males will have a bulging cloaca area (the region right behind the back legs), and females will have no bulge or only a very slight bulge.
Here’s a video so you can see:
Axolotls have a good sense of smell to help them detect prey. They have poor vision, but to make up for it, they have what is called a lateral line system made up of epidermal sensory organs on their head and body which helps them detect movement.
I couldn’t find much information on their sense of hearing. It looks like they have an inner ear, but I’m not sure how much they can hear. They probably rely more on their lateral line system to sense vibration instead.
Axolotls do not make any noises to communicate with each other, but they do communicate via body language and chemicals they secrete (especially around mating season).
Are axolotl nocturnal or diurnal?
Axolotls are nocturnal, which means they are most active at night. They might seem more lazy during the day and do more hunting and exploring at night. In captivity, they aren’t as strictly nocturnal as they are in the wild though.
Can axolotl be kept together?
Axolotls are not really social, and it is actually best to keep them solo. When kept together, they may nip at each other and damage their gills and feet, so I recommend keeping them by themselves.
If you want more than one, you will need a big enough enclosure that they can get away from each other if needed. If you find them injuring each other, they will need to be separated.
You should also only keep the same gender together unless you want them to breed and you are prepared for it (they can lay over 1000 eggs at a time!).
Can axolotl be kept with fish?
They really do best kept alone. I don’t recommend keeping fish, crustaceans, or anything else with them. The biggest concerns are axolotl will try to eat any tank mates, and fish may try to nip and injure the axolotl’s gills and other body parts. Axolotl can grow them back, but they will be put at risk for infection in the meantime.
Do axolotls shed?
Axolotls have skin with a slime coat on top. If you see an axolotl shedding, it is the slime coat it is shedding, but a healthy axolotl should not shed! If an axolotl is shedding, it means something is wrong. It might be due to stress, poor water quality, or incorrect water parameters.
Here is a great article on reasons why it might be shedding and what to do about it: Why Is My Axolotl Shedding? 7 Reasons Why & What to Do!
Housing requirements for axolotl
The minimum aquarium size for a single axolotl is 15 to 20 gallons. Bigger is always better! An optimal size would be 40 to 50 gallons. They do not require a land area as they do not leave the water, so you can fill the aquarium most of the way up. More water available helps with water quality as they can be messy.
If you want two axolotls in the same aquarium, I would recommend at least 50 gallons, but preferably even bigger.
You will also need a secure lid for your enclosure so they cannot accidentally jump out. They have small lungs and can survive a short while out of water, but not very long as they will dry out quickly.
The best substrate for an axolotl is sand. Gravel should be avoided as it can accidentally be ingested and cause an obstruction. Another option is no substrate at all, but they might have difficulty walking on the bare slippery surface which can stress them out.
Axolotl are nocturnal and do not require lighting. Bright light may actually stress them out. If you want lighting, go with a less bright light or one with a dimmer. I would also avoid putting their enclosure anywhere that it gets direct sunlight through a window.
Water temperature for axolotl
Axolotl prefer colder water temperatures so you will not need a water heater. If you live in warmer areas, you will require a water chiller. Axolotl do best if the water is a steady 60 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 18 Celsius). Most people keep their houses warmer than that, so most will require a chiller as the most reliable and effective way to keep a proper temperature.
The minimum water temperature they can survive is 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius), and the maximum temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius). These extremes of temperature will stress them out, make them more likely to get disease and shorten their lifespan, or can cause death.
Unfortunately, quality water chillers can be expensive and will probably be the most expensive part of the setup cost for your axolotl. The exact chiller you need depends on how many gallons your aquarium is and how many degrees you need it cooled.
BAOSHISHAN Aquarium Chiller
- Great for a 20-gallon axolotl aquarium
- Energy efficient
- Very quiet
- LED screen
- Safety protection with automatic shutdown
- 1-year warranty
Water filter and water changes for axolotl care
Axolotl can be a bit messy. Regular water changes are a must. I recommend at least a 20% water change every week and don’t forget to clean/siphon the substrate.
A good water filter will ensure you only have to change the water once a week. If you do not have a good filter, you will need to change the water every few days, if not daily, and doing water changes that often gets old quick!
Just like with any other aquatic pets, before introducing tap water to the aquarium you MUST use a water conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramine as they are toxic. You can leave tap water out for 24 hours before introducing to your axolotl’s aquarium and chlorine will evaporate out on its own, but chloramine will not, so you still need a water conditioner to remove chloramine. I use API tap water conditioner which takes care of both.
Axolotls do not like a strong water current as it will stress them out. You will need to choose a water filter that lets you control the current or flow rate. The size of your aquarium will also determine what filter you choose.
The most popular type of filter used is the hang on back (HOB) kind. They are also more affordable. The one I use is an AquaClear HOB filter. It has mechanical, chemical, and biological filtrations. You will need to plan on replacing the foam, biomax, and charcoal regularly.
Another good filter option is a canister filter like this Marineland canister filter. They are more expensive though.
The final option is a sponge filter. They provide mostly biological filtration and some mechanical filtration and are not as good as a HOB or canister filter, but they are much better than no filter. You will need to replace the sponges occasionally and you need a pump to run it which is usually purchased separately. They are the least complicated and most affordable filter option.
Whichever filter option you choose, you will also need to clean your filter at least once a month or even preferably every 2 weeks to keep ammonia levels in your filter from building too high and becoming toxic.
AquaClear Power Filter
- Hang on back filter
- Provides mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration
- Multiple sizes available depending on the size of your aquarium
Aquarium decor for axolotl
A good reason to have a bigger aquarium for your axolotl is so you can get more creative with the decor! You can’t fit a whole lot in a 15 or 20 gallon aquarium, so you will be more limited. With a 40 to 50 gallon aquarium, you can make a really beautiful environment for your axolotl.
Decor options include driftwood, rocks, live or fake plants, etc.
Axolotl do not light bright light. If you have a light on your aquarium, you definitely want to provide areas for them to get away. I recommend at least one cave. If you have more than one axolotl, you will need several hiding places.
Good options for hiding places include terracotta pots, PVC pipes, or any caves that are suitable for fish tanks as long as they are big enough and don’t have any sharp edges.
Axolotl are carnivores. In the wild, they eat worms, insects, worms, snails, and even small fish and amphibians. They will eat whatever fits in their mouth.
They eat by sucking their food in and swallowing it whole. Axolotls have small teeth that help with grabbing their food.
Axolotl are nocturnal, so it might be best to feed them later in the evening when they are more active.
In captivity, you can feed live earthworms/nightcrawlers (cut into smaller pieces depending on the size of your axolotl); live, frozen, canned, or dried bloodworms; live, frozen, or dried brine shrimp; carnivore pellets; live ghost shrimp; and pellets made specifically for axolotl.
It is best to feed a variety and not just one type of food to ensure they get all the nutrients they need.
Young axolotl will eat every day or even twice a day while they are growing, but adult axolotl will eat every 2 to 3 days. You can look at their stomach and see how full they are. Make sure you clean out any uneaten food to keep the aquarium cleaner.
They should be handled as little as possible. Just like fish, they have a slime coat that protects them. If you handle them, you could disrupt their slime coat and allow infection to set in.
If you must handle them such as to move to another aquarium, make sure you wash your hands very well, keep it brief, and don’t leave them out of the water long.
Axolotls are very interesting in that they can regenerate. They can regrow many parts of the body if damaged including limbs, tail, gills, organs, spine, and even parts of their brain! Apparently they can grow a perfect, brand new limb in just a few weeks without any scarring.
From research so far, it looks like they can only regrow a body part up to 5 times before it won’t regrow anymore and the loss/damage will be permanent.
Their regeneration ability also makes them less likely to get cancer.
Common illnesses and diseases
Although axolotl have amazing regenerative abilities, they can still get sick. Illness is most commonly caused by poor water quality, poor water parameters, stress, parasites, intestinal blockages, bacterial or fungal infections. They rarely get cancer, but can develop benign tumors.
Here is an excellent article that lists common illnesses, symptoms, and their treatment: Axolotl Diseases, Parasites & Treatments
In some places it is illegal to own an axolotl as a pet and some you will need a permit or license. If planning on getting one, you will need to research the laws regarding them where you live.
Supply list to get started with a pet axolotl
Here’s my recommended list to get you ready for an axolotl:
• 15 to 50 gallon aquarium (larger is better!) – I recommend getting at your local fish/pet store such as PetSmart or Petco rather than buying online as they are much more expensive online
• Secure lid that fits the dimensions of the aquarium you have
• Sand substrate
• Thermometer – Glass thermometer with suction cup or digital thermometer
• Water chiller
• Water conditioner
• Filter – HOB filter or canister filter
• Decor – Driftwood, decorative rocks (only larger ones that are too big to fit in your axolotl’s mouth), plants
• Food – Live earthworms/nightcrawlers, bloodworms, brine shrimp, carnivore pellets, pellets for axolotl
I hope this axolotl care guide helps you decide if a pet axolotl is right for you and how to best take care of it if you decide to get one (or already have one)!
You might also be interested in: What pets can be kept in a 10 to 20 gallon aquarium?