How to Care for Pet Axolotl? Guide for Beginners
The amphibian axolotl hails from the Chalco and Xochimilco lakes in Mexico City. It is closely linked to the tiger salamander, although it is sometimes falsely categorized as a fish.
The axolotl has adapted to living in aquatic systems, and it never emerges onto land.
Rearing the amphibian is not tricky, and you will only need to control water flow and temperature. It is quite hardy, and it will easily breed with minimum intervention.
Aquarium Size for Axolotls
The size of an axolotl will typically range between 7 to 14 inches. Laboratories that research on the amphibian will house each of them in small containers. A couple of them can be kept in a tank that is 18 inches long.
Aquarists rear one adult axolotl in a 10-gallon tank. For every additional pet, you will need ten more gallons, and a 20-gallon tank will be sufficient for an axolotl pair.
Axolotls love to swim freely, and they are comfortable with a lot of floor space. A large tank can house multiple of them, although you will need plants to give hiding spaces. Cover the container to deter the axolotls from jumping out.
Male to Female Axolotl Ratio
Adult axolotls of both genders will live successfully together, provided you separate territories with plants and decorations.
Male and female axolotls will, however, breed if kept together. If you only have one female for the male, the female axolotl may get stressed from over-breeding, since she can lay a thousand eggs from one mating process. You can opt to keep several females per single male or separate the genders.
Axolotls Water Parameters
For your axolotls to be healthy, you will need to set up critical water parameters. The amphibians have specific requirements when it comes to elements like temperature, PH, and water hardness. Such elements include:
The optimal PH range for axolotls is between 7.4 to 7.6, although they will accommodate a wider range of 6.5 to 8.0. If the PH exceeds this range, your tank will experience issues with ammonia toxicity.
When the PH falls above 8.0, the levels of ammonia will be toxic enough to kill your pet. You will thus need a test kit to monitor the PH levels of your aquatic system constantly. You can use PH additives to adjust the PH levels. Ensure the adjustments are small to avoid stressing the axolotls.
The type of water you use to rear your axolotls will influence their health.
You can use tap water, depending on where you live and which elements are in the water. Some piped water will have chlorine, which can be removed with a de-chlorinator.
Alternatively, let the water sit for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate. In other places, tap water will have chloramine, which is a bit hard to remove.
Bottled water will also be favorable to axolotls, mainly because of the natural minerals added after treatment. This water will be subjected to processes like filtration and reverse to extract chemicals that are harmful to humans and animals.
When using well water, it is crucial to have it tested beforehand. Some of it will have high PH or large concentrations of iron. If the water is not well-oxygenated, aeration will rectify this. Pet stores will have test strips to determine if the PH is suitable for your axolotls.
You should refrain from using distilled water with your axolotls. It is acidic, and it lacks all the vital minerals that the pets will need to be healthy.
Most beginner aquarists will opt to use tap water, which is favorable provided it is dechlorinated and tested regularly.
The optimum temperature for the amphibians falls between 60 and 64 °F (16-18 °C).
The pets do not hibernate, and it will not be necessary to cool them below 10 °C. The creatures do not mind cool conditions, and they will typically survive in outdoor ponds during winter.
Aquarists will even keep them outside even if the ponds get iced over, and they will not die as long as the weather is not extreme. When the temperatures are low, the axolotls will assume sluggish behavior, and they will eat less food than before.
Temperatures that exceed 75 °F (24 °C) are not suitable for the pets. Their bodies will first demand more food due to increased metabolism, but they will soon contract diseases or die after several days of these temperatures.
Axolotls are affected by heat stress, where they refuse food and develop pale patches of a material that resembles mucus on their skin.
If your aquarium is getting heated, you can transfer it to a cooler area. The lower rooms of your home, like the basement, will be typically cooler than other rooms. If the hot weather persists in the area you live in, you may need to buy an aquarium chiller.
Another tactic is floating a bottle with frozen water on the aquarium. 500 ml bottles will be sufficient for a small aquarium, and you will need bigger ones for a larger setup.
While this method is common among aquarists, it can be risky to use if you are not well-versed with their use. The temperature should be monitored, and the bottles should be employed with relays.
Ammonia, Nitrate, and Nitrite Levels
It is crucial to keep monitoring ammonia levels in your tank because it can be lethal for your axolotls.
Ammonia is especially a problem if your tap water has chloramine. Chloramine is basically chlorine bonded to ammonia, and it is more stable than chlorine. While leaving tap water outside for 24 hours or adding a de-chlorinator will deal with chlorine, it is not so easy to deal with chloramine.
Ammonia is also the waste produced by your axolotls, and it is removed with water changes. The higher the PH of the water in your tank, the more toxic the ammonia will be your aquatic pets. If the PH is beyond 8, the ammonia will kill the amphibians quickly.
Higher temperatures will also encourage the toxicity of ammonia. Occasional tests for ammonia are often recommended, even to the more experienced aquarists.
Nitrite is released when bacteria in an aquarium consume ammonia. This compound is not as lethal to your amphibians as ammonia, but it is still harmful nonetheless. Your tank should have zero nitrites if you intend to keep your axolotls healthy.
Nitrates are produced from nitrites by the bacteria bacterium. Low concentrations of nitrates are fine for your axolotls. High levels are undesirable because they trigger an algae bloom. The range of nitrates at any time should be between 20 to 60 ppm.
Axolotls are adapted to stable water conditions in the wild. If they are exposed to significant water currents, the animals will be stressed and lose their appetite. Axolotls that are stressed because of water flow are commonly seen with forward-turned gills.
Outputs from a filter is a major cause of strong water flow. Spray bars and other flow-spreading outlets can be used to minimize the water flow.
Water hardness describes the amount of dissolved magnesium and calcium salts in water. If you have spotted limescale on appliances like kettles, your water is hard. Soft water will have little amounts of these salts.
Axolotls are happier in slightly hard water, which is water with substantial amounts of dissolved salts. The minerals from these dissolved salts boost gill function and have other benefits to the axolotls’ health.
If the water you use for your tank is soft, you can add salts to promote the health of your pets. Soft water can cause temporary anemia to the animals.
Substrates and Decorations
Selecting a substrate is tricky with axolotls because they feed by sucking water via their mouths. If you have pebbles or gravels in their tank, they may choke on the substrate pieces, or their stomachs may get impacted.
If you choose to leave your tank bare-bottomed, you will eliminate the risk of choking. The axolotl can become stressed, however, if they have no grip on the surface.
Sand is the best substrate for these amphibians, as it is very fine to minimize impactions. It will offer a good grip and a more natural environment.
Axolotls tanks demand biological filtration, which can be provided by plants. Since the creatures do not need a lot of bright plants, you will need plants that will survive in low light like java moss, anubias, hornwort, and java fern. You can also add wood and rocks. Axolotls also love hideouts, which you can provide with simple items like PVC pipes.
Axolotl Tank Maintenance
Before adding your axolotls, ensure you have cycled the aquarium effectively. This process only leaves the beneficial bacteria in your setup.
Regular testing using kits will ensure that the water parameters are maintained in the right ranges. The filter you install will not entirely remove food waste, and large solids should be removed with a gravel siphon.
A tank vacuum cleaner will extract the fecal material of your axolotls.
An axolotl tank will need frequent water changes, the frequency of which depends on the number of your pet. Remove one-third of the tank every week. The replacement water should be left to sit for 24 hours beforehand to get rid of chlorine.
Some aquarists will couple water changes with the use of filters, while others will only rely on water changes. If you use an external filter, clean it, and replace the medium regularly.
Axolotls Feeding Schedule
Wild axolotls live on a meat-based diet. Anything they target as food is swallowed whole, so they pick food that can fit in their mouths. Their teeth will find it hard to tear or bite, and the axolotls will release any prey they cannot swallow whole.
Young axolotls will survive entirely on live foods because their feeding behavior is based on prey movement. They will accept dead food as they grow older.
Live foods for axolotls include earthworms, blackworms, daphnia, brine shrimp ghost shrimp. Feeding your pets with live foods can get messy. Cut the food into small pieces which you will grab with tweezers. Lower these pieces to where the pets are and get their attention. The axolotl should suck at the food, and you should hold the food with a loose grip.
Most aquarists will culture the live food themselves to ensure they are parasite and disease-free. Only source the food from reputable dealers.
Adult axolotls will welcome frozen food like bloodworms and brine shrimp. You can place the frozen foods on a mini-dish or plastic cup to minimize the mess that your pets will make.
Pellets are quite cheap to get and will be welcomed by your axolotls. Sinking pellets can be added to the water, and the leftovers cleaned after. For floating pellets, soak them beforehand, and utilize a turkey baster to soak up the pieces. Squeeze out the pellets close to the pets, and the amphibians will suck them in.
When it comes to the feeding frequency for axolotls, there is no straightforward number. Look at the stomach and compare its size to its head. The stomach should be similar in size to the head if the axolotl is feeding enough.
Water Filtration for Axolotls
Filtration is especially critical if you do not change your tank’s water every week. Most aquarists will use a filter for axolotls.
These amphibians produce a lot of waste every day in the form of ammonia. This element is subsequently changed to nitrites and nitrates, making biological filtration the most important aspect in an axolotl tank.
When selecting a filter, consider the size of the tank to ensure it is rightly-sized. The other concern with filtration is water flow. Axolotls will get stressed by strong water flow, which is why you should look for a filter that will make the pets comfortable. You also do not want a filter that is not powerful or efficient enough.
If you have a low budget, a sponge filter will do the basic job of cleaning your axolotl tank. It is not suited for mechanical filtration, so you may have to clean the fecal matter yourself. A sponge filter needs an air pump, which can be noisy.
Hang on back filters will perfectly complement a small aquarium. Unlike the sponge filter, this filter will get solid dirt and boost water clarity. Most models will perform mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration.
Canister filters are the most effective in axolotl tanks, especially because they produce great water flow without stressing the pets. The filter will have a significant capacity for biological filtration, which is perfect for axolotl tanks. It is fitted outside the tank, and most models are fairly quiet.
How to Cool Water for Axolotls?
Axolotls thrive in a cold-water environment. The temperature should be kept below 64 °F or 18 °C at all times to promote the health of your axolotls.
If your locality has a warm climate, you will need to keep the setup cool by keeping it in the cooler areas of your home. The basement will be ideal since it is the lowest area of your home.
Whichever room you place the axolotls, ensure that it is far from the sun and the windows. Ensure the aquarium is away from devices that generate heat, like computers.
A cooling fan will keep the tank cool by blowing wind to get rid of the heat in the water. Other aquarists will add several ice cubes or a bottle filled with frozen water to the tank.
These additions are risky, and you will need to keep monitoring the temperature. When using aquarium lights, opt for the models that do not generate a lot of heat.
Do Axolotls Need Artificial Lights?
Axolotls have no specific lighting demands, and you may observe young ones being shy when exposed to bright lighting.
Whichever lighting fixtures you choose should favor the kind of plants you have kept in the setup. Some fixtures will produce heat, which will endanger the health of the amphibians.
Most aquarists will buy ordinary aquarium lighting for axolotls. The lighting will mostly boost visibility and improve the aesthetics of your tank.
Can You Hold Axolotls in Your Hands?
Axolotls are quite delicate because their body is made of cartilage and not bones. Their skin is permeable, and their soft bodies are prone to injury.
Considering these characteristics, the amphibians should only be handled when necessary. If you have to move them, use a very fine mesh net to avoid injury.
What is the Lifespan of Axolotls?
In the wild, axolotls live for up to 15 years by feeding on crustaceans, worms, and insect larvae. If kept in good condition, an axolotl can reach ten years in captivity.
Can Axolotls Jump from the Tank?
Axolotls are known to be jumpers, and you should thus cover your tank.
Axolotls are a favorite pet among aquarists because they are quite hardy. You will need to give them sufficient space to swim around, and a 20-gallon tank is a good setup, to begin with.
Axolotls prefer cold water, which can be achieved by positioned the tank in a cool place and using chillers, fans, and ice bottles. The major challenge with axolotls is the large number of water changes.
You will need a lot of water changes or a powerful filter for an axolotl tank. The amphibians have no particular lighting requirements, and they will not respond well to bright light.