The first amphibian of my blog, the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is an unusual creature which never leaves the water. This species is visually distinct from other amphibians with its feathery external gills which are lined with filaments to maximise the surface area for gas exchange.
Axolotls possess a range of different colour variants, from an olive-green with golden speckles to a pale pink with black eyes. Wild populations have a long-lifespan (up to 15 years) and are found exclusively in the Xochimilco Lake in Mexico, although they are often kept as an exotic pet. They used to be found in Lake Chalco – which is also in Mexico – but this lake was artificially drained many years ago so no longer exists.
Their carnivorous diet consists of molluscs, worms, insects, crustaceans and small fish which once made them the apex predator of their habitat. However, due to the introduction of larger fish and predatory birds (such as herons), their wild population is rapidly declining as they cannot survive these dramatic changes to their ecosystem. Moreover, areas of Lake Xochimilco are being drained and contaminated by human activity, and roasted axolotl is often consumed in Mexico. Consequently, they are considered as a ‘critically endangered’ species by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Some amphibians are able to regenerate their limbs, but interestingly, axolotls are able to regenerate not only their limbs, but also their jaws, spines and even parts of their brain without scarring. This makes them an exceptionally unique species which must be conserved, especially since they now live in such a restricted area.