This Wildlife Wednesday, learn about the axolotl. These salamanders are all smiles – but their endangered status is cause for frowns.
This Wildlife Wednesday, we smile along with the axolotl: a creature that is equal parts creepy and cute. Axolotls are known for their perpetual grins and dopey fronds of hair, which look more like the features of a cartoon critter than a real-world salamander.
Despite its reputation as a “Mexican walking fish,” the axolotl (pronounced ax-oh-lot-ul) is an amphibian. Its unusual name—which is guaranteed to elicit confusion if brought up in conversation—comes from the Aztec term for “water monster.” Because, clearly, these little guys are terrifying.
Sadly, axolotls won’t be found in any Canadian body of water—a fact that devastated me as a 10 year old, when I often splashed through ponds in search of this Pokémon lookalike. Underwater fronds in the Xochimilco canals and wetlands of Mexico City are home to the few axolotls that remain in the wild.
- They’re heroic: These critters might look unassuming (and kind of stupid), but axolotls possess a comic-book worthy superpower: regeneration! They can regrow limbs and even organs.
- They’re overachievers: Unlike boring humans, axolotls can breathe through their skin, gills, or lungs. Sounds exhausting.
- They’re kids at heart: Axolotls retain their larval forms even into adulthood. Feathery gills, fins, and those adorable button eyes are remnants of the childhoods they just can’t seem to
give up. We might call this Peter Pan syndrome, but the scientific term is neoteny.
- They’re dogs? Axolotls closely resemble waterdogs and mudpuppies but do not, in fact, have any association with canines. (For the record, all of the aforementioned species are varieties of salamander.)
Why they’re threatened
Despite their happy dispositions, axolotls are critically endangered. In the past, they’ve been caught for consumption by locals and for research and medicinal purposes.
Urban expansion around Mexico City has also damaged the canal systems in which axolotls thrive, reducing their numbers to fewer than 100 in the wild. Pollution and poor water quality continue to threaten their existence. Even in the face of all this adversity, one fact about axolotls remains certain: they’ll keep on smiling.