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Baby Axolotl

Reading Time: 11 mins

Say Hello to Baby Axolotls!


Alright, friends, buckle up! We're about to dive into the captivating world of baby axolotls. Now, you may be thinking, "Axo-what?" Don't fret! By the end of this read, you'll be an expert in these fascinating little creatures.


Fish or Salamander?


Axolotls, also known as "Mexican walking fish," aren't actually fish at all, but a type of salamander. These unique creatures spend their entire lives in the water, never evolving into the land-dwelling creatures that other salamanders do. This makes them a great example of a rare trait called 'neoteny,' where adults retain juvenile features their entire lives. Cool, huh?



Birth and Development of Baby Axolotls


First stop, eggs! A female axolotl can lay up to 1,000 eggs at a time, each one individually stuck to rocks or plants in the water. In about two weeks, these eggs will hatch into teeny, tiny axolotls. At this point, they're about half an inch long and mostly transparent, with tiny feathery gills fluttering on the sides of their heads.

Now, it's chow time! The axolotl larvae start to feed on tiny organisms, like Daphnia. As they grow, their diet will expand to include larger prey, like worms and small insects. 

As the weeks roll on, the baby axolotls start to morph. Their legs begin to form, starting with the front ones. They also develop tiny teeth to help them catch their prey. After approximately 18 months, axolotls reach sexual maturity. By this time, they would have grown to a length of about 8-12 inches and are considered adults, even though they continue to exhibit their juvenile characteristics.


Appearance of Baby Axolotls


Baby axolotls, often referred to as 'larvae', are a wonder to behold. In the early stages of their lives, they exhibit an alien-like beauty that is rare in the animal kingdom. Just a few weeks old, they start off as tiny translucent beings, barely larger than a fingernail. 

Over time, these babies grow a set of gills, looking like feathery branches sprouting from each side of their heads. These gills are helping the axolotl to breathe underwater. 



Regenerative Abilities


Another extraordinary aspect of baby axolotls is their regenerative abilities. Lose a limb? No problem! They can grow it right back. And it's not just limbs; they can regenerate their heart, spine, and even parts of their brain! This miraculous talent of theirs has drawn the attention of scientists worldwide, leading to numerous studies in regenerative medicine.

Unlike many other organisms that heal injuries by forming scar tissue, axolotls completely regenerate the lost tissue without any scarring. This distinguishes their healing process and gives them a high survival rate in the wild, despite facing potential threats and injuries.

Scientists have identified certain genes in axolotls, like the 'Lin28' gene, that play a crucial role in the regeneration process. Interestingly, these genes are also present in humans but are not active in the same way. The study of these genes could pave the way for breakthroughs in human medicine.



Care and Feeding


Caring for a baby axolotl may seem like a daunting task given their unique biology and needs. However, with some knowledge and dedicated care, it's possible to create a healthy environment for these adorable creatures to thrive in. 

The Ideal Tank Environment: An aquarium of at least 20 gallons is suitable for a single axolotl. Remember, the larger, the better - this gives your pet more room to explore and reduces the frequency of water changes. Axolotls produce a lot of waste, so a good filtration system is essential. However, they don't appreciate strong currents, so opt for a filter that allows you to adjust the flow rate.

Additionally, the water temperature should ideally be kept between 60-64°F (15-18°C) to mimic their natural cool aquatic habitat. Axolotls are sensitive to water conditions. The water pH should be neutral (around 7.0), and harmful chemicals such as chlorine must be absent. Regular water changes (20% every week) help maintain cleanliness, and testing the water quality regularly is a good practice.

Feeding Baby Axolotls: Newly hatched axolotls initially feed off the remnants of their egg yolk. After exhausting that, they can be fed live daphnia or newly hatched brine shrimp. As they grow, their diet will transition to include larger prey like bloodworms and small earthworms. Baby axolotls require frequent feedings, often daily, due to their rapid growth rate.

Sand or no substrate is often recommended for axolotls. They have a habit of accidentally swallowing small pebbles or gravel while feeding, which can cause fatal blockages.

Lighting Considerations: Axolotls aren't fans of bright light - they don't have eyelids, after all. Therefore, their tank should be kept in a location that isn't exposed to direct sunlight or bright artificial lights. Some axolotl owners opt to use low-intensity LED aquarium lights and provide plenty of hiding spots in the tank for axolotls to retreat to when they want some darkness.

Handling Your Axolotl: Axolotls have very delicate skin that is susceptible to damage. Therefore, it's advised to limit handling as much as possible. If necessary, always ensure your hands are clean and wet before gently lifting them.

What You Need to Know: It's also worth noting that axolotls are nocturnal creatures. They tend to be more active during the night and can be quite shy during the day. Be prepared for late-night feedings and lots of hide-and-seek during daylight hours.

Lastly, remember that axolotls, like any other pets, are a long-term commitment. They have been known to live up to 15 years in captivity when cared for properly. So, adopting an axolotl means you're in for more than a decade of care.



How to Identify the Gender?


Unlike many other animals, baby axolotls don't have conspicuous physical traits that immediately reveal their gender. It's not until they reach sexual maturity (usually around 6 to 8 months of age) that certain differences start to emerge. 

Males generally have a leaner body, while females tend to have a fuller and wider body. The cloaca, the common exit of the digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems, is an essential indicator of an axolotl's gender. Males usually have larger, swollen cloacas because they use it to store spermatophores for reproduction. Female axolotls have smaller, less noticeable cloacas. 

If you have multiple axolotls and notice one is laying eggs, you've got a female! Additionally, males might display more assertive behavior during this time, such as nudging or pursuing other axolotls. Some males develop a visible ridge running down their body, starting from behind the head to the tail. This ridge is absent in females.


Excessive Appetite in Baby Axolotls


Appetite is a key indicator of health in axolotls. If your baby axolotl is eating regularly and eagerly, that's a good sign! Healthy axolotls are known for their voracious appetites, and babies are no exception. However, if you notice any significant changes in their eating habits, like refusal to eat or less enthusiasm during feeding time, it could be a sign of health issues.



They have Unique Sensory Systems


Axolotls are extraordinary creatures, even more so when you consider their sensory systems. At the heart of the baby axolotl's sensory system is the lateral line, a system of sensory organs found in aquatic vertebrates. You might have noticed these if you've ever gotten up close and personal with an axolotl. They appear as a series of small pores running from head to tail. These tiny pores are actually neuromasts, clusters of hair cells similar to those found in our inner ear. 

The lateral line allows baby axolotls to sense changes in water pressure and movement, acting almost like a sixth sense. This is vital for these little creatures, as they spend their early life in an aquatic environment, navigating the currents, hunting tiny prey, and avoiding larger predators.

Then there's the sense of touch. Axolotls, particularly when they are young, have a highly sensitive skin which helps them respond to changes in their environment. They are capable of distinguishing differences in temperature, identifying potential food sources, and even sensing danger.

Interestingly, baby axolotls also have keen eyesight. Although they lack eyelids and their eyes might seem less developed compared to some animals, axolotls are not blind. Instead, they have a different way of seeing the world. Their vision is geared more towards movement and shapes rather than fine details.



The Role of Temperature in a Baby Axolotl’s Life


Temperature really is the unsung hero when it comes to the life of a baby axolotl, you know? It's like the conductor of an orchestra, guiding these little creatures from their first moments as eggs through their journey into adulthood. 

Right off the bat, when we're talking about axolotl eggs, temperature is already taking the lead role. These eggs need to be in a cozy range of 20°C to 24°C (68°F to 75°F) to hatch properly. Deviate from this sweet spot, and we could be dealing with delays, or worse, the hatching might not happen at all. 

Once the baby axolotls, also known as larvae, hatch, they remain quite the temperature-sensitive bunch. They like it a bit chillier than their eggs, with a comfortable range of 16°C to 20°C (60°F to 68°F) doing the trick. Here, they steadily grow, their metabolism chugs along nicely, and their immune system gears up to its strongest. 

But, it's not all smooth sailing in the temperature department. Our baby axolotls can get quite stressed with sudden temperature changes. Think about it like you suddenly moving from a tropical beach to a winter in Alaska, pretty shocking, right? A rapid temperature drop might see them slow down, eat less, and become a tad bit sluggish. Conversely, a sudden heatwave can turn them into hyperactive overeaters, depleting their energy reserves quicker than you can say "axolotl".

Interestingly, temperature also seems to have a say in the axolotl gender game. While not as impactful as in some of our reptile buddies, there's research suggesting higher temperatures might give us more male axolotls, while the ladies prefer it a bit cooler. 



Fascinating Facts About Baby Axolotls


I've got to tell you, baby axolotls are a bundle of quirks packed into a small, captivating package. Whether you're a die-hard amphibian lover or just curious about nature's oddballs, these little critters are sure to grab your attention.

Here's the deal about axolotls, they are the Peter Pans of the amphibian world. While most of their amphibious cousins grow up and lose their gills, axolotls just keep on rocking their gills throughout their life. They skip the usual metamorphosis stage and instead, hang around in their watery homes, maintaining their youthful charm indefinitely.

Now, things can get a little, well, wild in the axolotl family. When food's short, these larvae can get pretty feisty with each other, sometimes going as far as cannibalism. Note to self: don't put two hungry baby axolotls in the same spot!

Let's talk about the start of the axolotl life cycle: the eggs. A mother axolotl pops out hundreds, sometimes even a thousand eggs, attaching each to underwater plants or rocks. What's cool is that you can actually see the little axolotl growing inside these semi-transparent, jelly-like eggs. After around two weeks, we've got ourselves a bunch of axolotl larvae.

These newly-hatched larvae are tiny, really tiny - think grain of rice tiny. But don't let their small size fool you, these little guys carry ten times more DNA than us humans. That's why scientists are so fascinated with them, they make great subjects for genetic research.

From the get-go, baby axolotls have got the superhero-like ability to regenerate. They could lose a limb, a part of their heart, even sections of their brain and spinal cord, and poof, they regenerate it. It's like Wolverine's healing power, only in a cute, underwater creature.

Those fluffy, feather-like things you see on their heads are their external gills. Axolotls use these to breathe underwater. As they grow, they also get lungs and can breathe air, but they always love their aquatic life the most.

Don't let their cutesy, smiling faces deceive you, baby axolotls are fierce little eaters. They love chowing down on small invertebrates like brine shrimp and Daphnia. And as they grow, they graduate to bigger munchies like earthworms and bloodworms.

And guess what, these babies are night owls. They've got an impressive sense of smell which they use to find food in the dark. So if you've got a pet axolotl and you're wondering why it's so quiet during the day, just wait until nighttime rolls around.

Baby axolotls might start off teeny tiny, but they pack on size pretty quickly. In their adult phase, these fellas can grow up to a whopping 30 cm (12 inches)! That's a big leap from their rice grain-sized babyhood.

In a nutshell, with their alien-like external gills and wide heads, axolotls might look like they stepped out of a sci-fi movie. But in truth, their unique look is perfectly suited for their aquatic lifestyle, helping them breathe and hunt with efficiency. They really are one of nature's coolest oddballs.




Sources:

1. Armstrong, J.B., Malacinski, G.M. (1989). "Developmental Biology of the Axolotl". Oxford University Press, New York.
2. Smith, H.M., Smith, R.B., Cruz, G.A. (2018). "Mexican Axolotls: Facts, Traits, and Breeding." Axolotl Research Center Journal, Vol. 4, No. 3.
3. National Geographic Society. (2021). "Axolotl." National Geographic. Available at: www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/facts/axolotl.
4. Ryan, M. J., Wilczynski, W. (1991). "Evolution of Sound and Sound Reception in Amphibians". In: The Unity of Evolutionary Biology, pp. 728-735.
5. Griffiths, R. A. (1996). "Newts and Salamanders of Europe". T & AD Poyser Ltd, London.