It is easy to consider the axolotl as a fish, but it is actually an amphibian. Unlike other amphibians, however, the animal cannot walk on land.
Axolotl lack metamorphosis, which means that other than growth in size, they do not exhibit significant transformation as they grow.
The axolotl is closely related to North America’s tiger salamander. On rare occasions, axolotl can metamorphose. When they do, axolotls can develop to resemble the tiger salamander, though the resulting axolotls will have a low lifespan.
Just like fish, axolotls don’t have eyelids. They have limbs, but are relatively small when compared to their overall appearance. Unlike fish, axolotls have external gills. They are oviparous, meaning that the female axolotl will lay eggs and males will fertilize the eggs.
In this guide, I will walk you through the process of breeding axolotls in aquariums. At the end will also give you some tips to help you succeed with your axolotl breeding operation.
What is the Ideal Time to Breed the Axolotl?
In their wild habitats, the axolotl breeds in late winter and late spring. The ideal breeding season falls between December and June, and you can try to recreate the conditions during this period.
The length of the light period will impact the breeding behavior of this animal. Both genders are typically exposed to reduced “daylight” for several weeks.
The duration of the light is then increased steadily, and the male and female are contained in one space to boost breeding. This practice was popularized by the University of Indiana Axolotl Colony with effective results.
A pair of these pets exposed to the right conditions should be able to breed throughout the year. They can, however, be unpredictable in their breeding pattern.
The breeding behavior will also be influenced by the area where you have set up the aquarium. Any room which absorbs seasonal changes in temperature and light will encourage the axolotls to breed.
Setting up an Axolotls Tank
Axolotls are bottom dwellers, and they need a lot of horizontal space. Equip the tank with a powerful heater and filter to make the pets comfortable.
If you intend to breed your axolotls, you should avail lots of live or plastic plants. The female will cling onto these plants and lay her eggs all around. It will be easier to move and separate the eggs from the females later.
The males should be provided with flat or slate pieces of stone to deposit their spermatophores, which are packets of sperm. These packets will hardly stick to glass and decorations, and it is vital that they are stationary for successful mating.
Leave the mating pair alone during the breeding period. You should refrain from changing the water when they are mating, and if you have to, keep it at a minimum.
If you have been keeping the pair in the tank, you should separate them before the mating season. Keep them separate for two to three weeks at 20 to 20 °C. When you re-introduce them in the same tank, ensure that the temperature is about 5 °C lower to induce breeding.
Axolotls Breeding and Spawning
Breeding among axolotls is induced by the male. He can display interest by nudging a female’s hindquarters using his nose. The male is often seen swimming around with his tail raised, making aggressive writhing motions.
If the female responds to the male, he will start courting her by leading her nose to tail around the tank.
While leading the female, the male leaves between 5 and 25 spermatophore around the tank. He will lead the female over them to get her cloaca directly above the packets of sperm.
The female picks up the spermatophore into her cloaca, and the male continues leading her to more pockets of sperm.
The fertilization process unfolds internally, and the female can also be observed nudging the male. This “dance” between the mating pair goes on for about an hour or so.
The egg-laying process takes place between 12 to 72 hours after breeding. The female can deposit up to 1,500 eggs in the tank. She will lay the eggs individually on the leaves of the plants. If there are no leaves, she will leave the eggs on objects like rocks and decorations.
The number of eggs will be dictated by the female’s size, and if she is in an optimal state for spawning, she can lay anywhere between 100 to 1,500 eggs. After the eggs have been laid, separate the pair.
You should also remove the eggs or the pets as they can feed on their eggs.
Hatching the Axolotls Eggs
Beginner aquarists will then be faced with the option of keeping the eggs or removing them from the tank. These eggs are fortunately tough, so it is easy to transport the eggs to another setup.
There will be a point of attachment at the outermost jelly layer of the egg, which is used to attach it to the object of anchorage. You can easily loosen the egg with your fingernail. Every egg is produced with several layers of jelly to protect it so you can get them even out of rocks.
If the female left the eggs on plants, you could easily transfer the plants instead of dealing with the many eggs.
Axolotl eggs take about 17 days to hatch, provided they are well-fertilized. The eggs will be black unless your pets are albinos, in which case the eggs will be white.
You can encourage hatching by providing certain water conditions. A small tank filled with water that is not soft will do. You can get a shallow plastic tub and equip it with a gentle air stone for the best results.
The ideal temperature for hatching is around 77 °F (25 °C), as the eggs will take about 14 days to hatch. Lower temperatures will cause the eggs to take longer to hatch. You can, therefore, manipulate the temperature to influence when you get larvae. Be careful with temperature, however, as conditions above 22 !C will leave the eggs moldy and unable to hatch.
Taking Care of the Axolotl Larvae
Axolotl larvae are typically less than half an inch in length upon hatching. After most of the eggs have hatched, tear the jelly layer of the unhatched ones to release the larvae using scissors or forceps.
You can contain these larvae together. Cannibalism is normally observed after the front legs form. If you maintain temperatures at around 68 °F, they will reach 1.5 cm in a week.
The larvae differ in growth rates, so separate them according to size when they start to reach around 2 cm in length. If you delay, you will soon start seeing cannibalistic signs, including missing limbs.
Cannibalism among the axolotl larvae can result in different morphology in appearance. To minimize this occurrence, you can equip the tank with a lot of plants and reduce light levels. You can also keep a minimum of them in each container.
The larvae hatch will still have some egg yolk left in their stomachs, which prevents them from feeding. They will remain motionless until this yolk disappears.
At this early stage, the larvae react to prey movement alone when looking for food, and they will not touch dead food. They, therefore, need live food in the form of brine shrimp and daphnia and other tiny foods. The animals will typically need food 24 to 72 hours after hatching. Avail live feed until they reach 20 mm in length.
An eyedropper or a pipette should be used to drop the food near the head of the baby axolotl. The stomach of the animals should turn orange and distend if they are feeding sufficiently. Feed them once or twice every day.
When it comes to food for the axolotl larvae, you can experiment with different micro-foods.
Daphnia makes an excellent source of nourishment, and you can keep many of them in while waiting for the eggs to hatch. Culture the crustaceans yourself or get them from a suitable source. It is common for daphnia to carry diseases, hence the precautions. The crustaceans will live in the aquarium until they are consumed.
You can also make a hatchery for brine shrimp to get a constant supply for your larvae. With brine shrimps, constant water changes will be necessary because they die rapidly in freshwater. Microworms are less nutritious than the previous options, and your larvae will grow slowly if you provide them.
Axolotl Larval Development
The front legs in axolotl larvae begin to form after about nine days. They will have reached 20 mm in size during this period. The hind legs come in by the third week. These developments are, however, informed by conditions like feeding and temperature.
The lungs develop round the time the hind legs develop. As they grow, you should observe any inferior larvae, that is one whose development is not at par with the other pets. The likelihood of defects is higher among axolotls because of inbreeding in captivity. The odd axolotls can be euthanized, and you should only keep the fit pets.
The larvae become mobile once they develop the front legs, and they can now begin looking for food. You can avail non-living foods like chopped frozen blood worms at this stage. The larvae will be fine with one or two meals a day.
Axolotl larvae that are not sufficiently fed are prone to developing bubbles in their gut. If you notice this among your pets, isolate the affected victims in a container filled with enough water. Feed them directly using forceps or scissors to purge the bubble from the gut.
The biggest challenge with raising axolotl larvae is cannibalism. This natural instinct accentuates after the larvae reach about 2-3 cm in size.
Axolotls are known for their impressive regeneration. So even though they bite each other, they will be able to regenerate some body parts. Parts like gills and feet will regrow quickly when they are young, but the regeneration process will slow down as they grow bigger.
Separating the larvae is one way to reduce cannibalism among the siblings, but if you have space limitations, equip the tank with many plants.
Do minimal water changes at this time. Biofoam filters will not suck up the larvae, so they are ideal. Use an external filter on a large tank, provided the input is safeguarded to avoid sucking the young axolotls. You should keep the water flow at minimal, to avoid any stress to the larvae.
Taking Care of Juvenile Axolotls
Juveniles will have their hind legs fully developed, and they will be miniature adults. They will welcome small pieces of earthworm. The juveniles will be sized between 5 cm to 15 cm.
Feed them one to two times a day. Juvenile axolotls are still cannibalistic towards each other, and it is best to separate them in individual containers.
Caring for Adult Axolotls
As the juveniles mature, be observant on what they like to eat and provide it for them to grow bigger. The tank also needs to get bigger, since they need space to swim around. Other conditions to keep your axolotls happy include:
Axolotls Tank Size
A single axolotl will be content in a 10-gallon tank. A 20-gallon setup is ideal because they produce a lot of waste. This tank will accommodate two adult pets, and you would need ten more gallons for every axolotl you add.
Adult axolotls can reach sizes between 6 and 18 inches, which is why you need to provide a lot of space to swim. Cover the tank as the axolotls can jump out. The big tanks also provide hiding spaces for the axolotls to feel comfortable.
Feeding your axolotls enough food will need a bit of observation. The pets spit out food or stop eating when they are full. Look at the stomach to make sure it does not enlarge to be bigger than the head.
Wild axolotls feed on insects and worms. You can avail a combination of frozen/live worms and brine shrimp to mimic this natural diet. Blackworms can also be used together with the brine shrimp.
The adult axolotls will also eat small pellets. Lean pieces of chicken and beef will make good treat foods. Be careful with live foods because they can transmit diseases and parasites.
Setting Up an Axolotl Tank Setup
Inappropriate substrates can leave your axolotls vulnerable to injury and death. The pets suck water into their mouths when feeding, and they can consume pieces of substrates like gravel. Your axolotl will be subsequently prone to choke, and their guts can become impacted.
The tank can be left without a substrate to eliminate this risk entirely. In this kind of setup, however, your axolotls will be unable to walk well because of the lack of a grip, and they will become stressed. Sand is the best substrate for axolotls as the particles are small and will not result in any problems once ingested.
Plants will present hiding spaces for axolotls, and you can consider species like the java moss, anubias, java fern, and hornwort. When it comes to wood, choose between driftwood and Mopani wood, and you can either opt to have rocks or not.
Do Axolotls Need Filtration and Lighting?
Axolotls are vulnerable to poor water quality. In addition to water changes, your tank will need a high-quality filter. You can achieve good filtration with either a sponge, hang on back, or canister filters. Still waters characterize the wild habitats of the amphibians, so the filter should not upset the tank’s flow. Canister filters are perfect for these conditions.
Axolotls do not need lighting, and they can even be shy. The kind of lighting you choose should be for the plants and not the pets. Choose fixtures that do not produce a lot of heat.
Axolotl Ideal Water Conditions
Axolotls are freshwater animals, meaning that you can use tap water for the tank, as long as it is safe for human consumption.
The amphibians are sensitive to chlorine and chloramine, so you should get your water tested. If they are traces of the elements, use a de-chlorinator to remove them. Other elements to test are nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia.
Ammonia is especially toxic to axolotls, and the toxicity will be made worse by high pH and temperature. Axolotls are very sensitive to ammonia or nitrite. Nitrate levels must be maintained between under 40 ppm.
In addition to using test kits to determine the levels of the elements, water changes are important in an axolotl setup. Axolotls prefer slightly harder water, mainly because of the higher concentrations of dissolved salts.
Best Water Temperature and pH for Axolotls
Optimum temperatures for adult axolotls are between 60 to 64 °F (16-18 °C). If temperatures are lower than this, the pets will become sluggish and eat less.
If the temperatures are higher, the axolotls will become stressed and have a higher appetite. The amphibians will also thrive in outdoor ponds, provided they are no extremes in temperature.
Aquarists who keep axolotl will move their aquariums to a cooler room when temperatures are high or use chillers and ice bottles.
During the cooler months, your axolotls will be mostly fine, although you can use a heater to warm the aquatic system. The best pH levels are between 7.4 to 7.6.
Tank Mates for Axolotl
A common concern with breeding and rearing axolotls is if they can live with other aquatic pets. Axolotls are, for the most part, solitary animals, and they will thrive when kept alone.
The animals will either nip at other creatures or be targeted, and the situation will end in the death of one of your pets.
A male and female axolotl will produce an abundant generation of babies. Although the normal breeding season for axolotls is between December and June, you can manipulate the lighting conditions in the tank to manipulate a pair into mating.
After hatching, axolotl eggs will reveal larvae who will go through several stages of development. The axolotl breeding process is interesting, although you will need to monitor the young ones because of cannibalism.