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Axolotls make for a cute addition to any household. With their friendly smiles and interesting coloration, these quiet creatures can make any tank setup look that much better.
When it comes to keeping axolotls, one question that many home aquarists may find themselves asking is ‘How long do axolotls live?’
If you’ve ever asked yourself questions about pet axolotl lifespan, read on for the answer to this question along with some great tips for increasing it and helping axolotls live their best life.
Some Axolotl Background
Before we answer the question “how long do axolotls live?” Let’s get to know about their background and native habitat
Originating in their natural habitat, the warm water caves lake Xochimilco outside of Mexico City, the axolotl is also known as Ambystoma mexicanum or the Mexican Walking Fish.
Despite this name, the axolotl is not a freshwater fish at all but rather an amphibian most closely related to the salamander family. But axolotls spend their life permanently in water unlike other salamander species.
What Do They Look Like?
The adult axolotl is notable for its pink-white skin coloration and broad, exposed gills that wave in the water and pump oxygen that it needs to survive a life underwater.
NOTEThey also come in darker colorations with gray-brown skin and black spots.
How Do Axolotls Move?
In place of pectoral and dorsal fins, the axolotl has fully functional arms and legs that they use to move about on the bottom of the tank, along with a broad flat tail used for propulsion and steering.
While they may appear cartoonish and move slowly at first, axolotls can move quite fast when in search of prey or avoiding aggressive behavior.
Do Axolotls Undergo Metamorphosis?
Unlike most other amphibians, young axolotls never undergo metamorphosis required to live on land and remain in the water for their entire lives.
Axolotls are referred to as paedomorphic because they retain their characteristic external gills through their lives, from the larval stage through being juvenile axolotls and into adulthood.
NOTEThe retention of these adolescent traits such as walking body parts throughout their lifespan unlike other salamanders is thought to be a product of spending their life cycle including birth and mating in the aquatic environment.
How Long Do Axolotls Live?
How long do axolotls live in the wild? In their natural habitat axolotls have been known to live around 5 to 6 years. The largest threat to the wild axolotl is predation, as there are many threats such as invasive species like carp and tilapia in their natural environment that may see them as a good food source.
Additionally, increased water pollution around Mexico City has caused the population of axolotls in the wild to decline dramatically. Harmful chemical waste has caused the natural slime coat of the axolotl population to become less effective at protecting axolotls from diseases.
How Long Do Axolotls Live In Captivity?
Axolotls in captivity often live much longer lives than those in the wild. A well taken care of axolotl can live for a maximum of 15 years, given adequate conditions.
On average, however, you’ll tend to see your pet axolotls live for around 10-12 years.
Are Axolotls Hard To Keep Alive?
Assuming that your axolotl tank has been set up properly, axolotls are not hard to keep alive at all! As long as they receive an adequate amount of food around 2-3 times per week and water conditions remain at a good, consistent level.
Why Are Axolotls So Hard To Look After?
One thing that can make caring for axolotls somewhat more challenging is the difficulty in setting up a tank that suits their needs. Given their thin skin and slime coat, axolotls are very easily affected when things aren’t just right and can suffer for it.
Changes in temperature or water condition can cause these salamanders to become sick as their body cannot adjust and their immune system becomes more vulnerable to illness or infections.
Additionally, it can be tricky to find tank mates for your axolotl. Aside from being solitary creatures, they are voracious hunters, and will often prey upon other fish in your tank if hungry. As such, there are some fish that are recommended and others that are not, which I cover in another article.
NOTEOther axolotls can be a good fit, especially if you’re looking to breed axolotls.
Axolotl breeding season occurs normally in the spring when water temperatures are warmer, so slightly raising the temperature towards 64 degrees can help get things moving. From there, it’s up to how many axolotls you’d like to have!
As a cold water amphibian, they need a cooler water temperature of around 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit. They are highly intolerant of rapid changes in temperature, and can become sick if things swing beyond a 15 degree change from this range. You might need to use an aquarium chiller to maintain the temperature axolotls need.
Can Axolotls Regenerate?
Being an amphibian, axolotls can indeed regenerate lost limbs, body parts and even some internal organs. This ability to regenerate limbs doesn’t make axolotls immortal! But their ability to regenerate has something to do with their extended life expectancy; it allows axolotls to survive dangerous encounters with predators after they run out of hiding places. While not lightning fast, an axolotl with a missing limb should begin to see recovery within a few weeks.
Are Axolotls Endangered?
Wild axolotls are considered critically endangered, leading to a slowing in the aquarium trade. They are suffering a decline in their population due to pollution and habitat loss.
Keeping captive axolotls for aquarists and pet stores is probably the main way that many people will be able to see this beautiful endangered species.
Tips To Improve Axolotl Lifespan
Keeping The Axolotl Tank Clean
There are a lot of factors that can affect axolotl lifespan. A key factor in a long axolotl lifespan is keeping a regular tank maintenance schedule to ensure a clean tank.
Things like rotting plants, uneaten food, and excess waste can quickly add up to ruin the water quality in your axolotl tank and make your axolotl and other species sick.
NOTEDirty water in your tank can also lead to increased chance for harmful bacterial infection or fungal infections.
To improve axolotl lifespan, it’s important to provide them with the proper tank size. The recommended minimum tank size is 20 gallons. You can use a 10 gallon tank but using a small tank might require more frequent water changes to maintain the water quality.
Regular water changes of 10-20% per week, along with a regular schedule of checking your filters and removing excess food after your axolotls feed will go a long way towards maintaining water quality and helping your axolotl reach its maximum life span.
Here’s a video on how to do a water change for axolotls:
Adding New Features to the Tank
When adding in new features, be sure to clean them completely before they enter the tank.
If you’re looking to use rocks or other things from the outdoors, remember that they may carry parasites harmful to your axolotl and the other fish in your tank! These could have an effect axolotl lifespan, so these objects should therefore be properly disinfected prior to being put in the tank.
Another key factor to prolong axolotl lifespan is their diet. Wild axolotls happen to be voracious eaters in hunting mode that thrive on a varied, protein rich diet of small fish, invertebrates such as insect larvae, and even other smaller axolotl!
They are avid hunters, and will capture their prey by chasing them down and catching them with the axolotl’s mouth.
NOTEAxolotls eat relatively infrequently compared to many other aquatic animals, and will require regular feeding every two to three days.
In the home environment, provide a high quality diet with good protein sources such as blood worms, brine shrimp and specially formulated foods such as salmon pellets.
Water Parameters For The Mexican Salamander
To extend axolotl lifespan, the correct water parameters are essential. Considered a cold water species, the right temperature for axolotls is 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit which can be room temp in some homes but may take proper placement or a heating element or cooling.
Aside from poor water quality, the most common cause of axolotl death is overheating. With their thin, permeable skin they are incredibly sensitive to extremes in temperature shift in the tank water, so extra care should be taken to make sure that things stay consistent.
TIPUsing an aquarium test kit is a great way to monitor water parameters in your tank including water pH, temperature, and ammonia level.
Couple this with regular water changes to keep your tank clean and you’ll see help your axolotl live a happy, healthy life!
If using tap water, make sure to test it before simply putting it into your aquarium. Some cities and towns may have water with harmful chemical additives, which your sensitive axolotl will certainly be able to feel the effects of.
Reduce Stress Triggers
Stress is one of the more hard to detect causes of harm in our aquarium friends. They can’t tell us when they’re feeling stressed out, so it’s up to us to know what factors may cause stress and minimize or prevent them altogether.
Setting up your tank to provide hiding spaces can allow your axolotl to have a safe retreat in times of stress.
Many tank decorations and features naturally feature holes or small spaces in which to hide, which can give a stressed axolotl plenty of room to decompress.
When handling axolotls, try to keep things as smooth as possible.
Quick transitions between the tank and holding area when cleaning can help with decreasing stress, as extra time being held or handled will only stress them out more.
Throughout today’s article, we’ve looked at the lifespan of axolotls, along with some things that you as the aquarium owner can do to make this longer.
In the wild, most axolotls will live between 5-6 years, with captives living upwards of 10-15.
Ensuring a proper, balanced diet, along with maintaining adequate conditions in the tank will go a long way towards keeping your pet healthy and happy for years to come.
Don’t Forget to Share!
As always I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s post and that it has answered all of your axolotl questions. If you’re interested in learning more axolotl care tips, you can read my article “Can you hold axolotl?“.
Feel free to share this with people in the aquarium hobby or any amphibian enthusiasts that you may know, and I wish you the best of luck on your continued aquarium adventures!
(1) “Axolotl, the Aztec warrior (Ambystoma mexicanum)” by Arne Kuilman is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0