Caring for Axolotls

Axolotl Planet wants to make sure that you are educated on everything you need to know about successfully raising your own aquatic pet, so we have provided some helpful guides on the basics of caring for axolotls. Check out each section below for essential information about caring for axolotls!

How to Set Up An Axolotl Tank

Click on each section below to learn about how to set up a habitat in which your axolotl will thrive

Axolotls are special and unique in the animal kingdom

Axolotls are among a group of critically endangered salamanders formally recognized as “ambystoma mexicanum.” They have large, feathery gills, finned tails, and wide heads—traits that are typically only seen in the larval stage of other newts and salamanders.

As neotenic creatures, axolotls never undergo metamorphosis, retaining these characteristics throughout their entire lives and never emerging from the water. Under extremely rare circumstances, axolotls will metamorphosize into ordinary salamanders and adopt an amphibian lifestyle.

Caring for axolotls can be very easy! Read on to learn all you need to know about setting up a habitat for your axolotl.

A properly sized aquarium will ensure your pet is happy and healthy

Since axolotls spend the majority of their time on the bottom of their habitat, the height of their aquarium is not as important as the length and width. Reaching an adult size of approximately 10-12 inches in length, it is in the animal’s best interest to have enough space to turn around and extend its body comfortably.

To accommodate the lifelong growth of one of these incredibly unique creatures, we recommend no less than a 20 gallon “long” tank (30 ¼ x 12 ½ x 12 ¾) accompanied by a lid to prevent the axolotl from jumping out. This is a common aquarium size and they are readily available in most aquatic pet stores.

Good filtration is key to a healthy axolotl habitat

Axolotls evolved in the relatively still waters of Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco in Mexico.

Therefore, aquarists should avoid using filters and equipment that produce a high amount of water flow and surface agitation.

At the same time, axolotls also produce a significant amount of waste which can quickly pollute their water if an inadequate filtration system is being used. Canister, hang-on-back, and internal filters with adjustable flow rates are ideal because they can provide the mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration to help axolotls thrive.

These types of filters also allow aquarists to keep the water returning back into the aquarium directed towards the surface. This prevents a buildup of debris and small particles from creating a glossy “film” on top of the water itself.

A less expensive option, while not as effective, is a sponge filter. Although they lack chemical filtration, they still provide adequate mechanical and biological filtration as long as the correct size is used to accommodate the water volume of the aquarium as well as the amount of waste the axolotl produces.

Sponge filters will collect debris, waste, and other free-floating particles while simultaneously supplying plenty of surface area for beneficial bacteria to develop.

On their own, filters do not completely replace manual maintenance. Caring for axolotls is a constant process, though it is not very difficult if you educate yourself beforehand. All aquarium filters require routine maintenance to keep them running at their optimal performance, and practicing a regular water change schedule is required to ensure that the ideal water parameters are always in place.

Lighting can make a huge difference in your axolotl’s life, and is an important part of caring for axolotls

Before becoming an endangered species, axolotls in the wild were often found hiding among plants, rocks, crevices, and other dark places that provide an ample amount of shady coverage. With no functioning eyelids, they have little capability of reducing the amount of light exposure they receive, and like many amphibians, axolotls actually do not require any light at all.

As axolotls rely mostly on their sense of smell and sensory organs to navigate their environment, natural and/or indoor lighting will suffice for them. If their aquarium is brightly lit to promote the growth of aquatic plants, axolotls must have adequate hiding spots to provide cover from unwanted light.

Aquarium decorating do’s and don’ts

After choosing an appropriate aquarium size, filter, and lighting method, decorating a tank for an axolotl is where hobbyists tend to have the most fun!

Their environment in captivity can range from anything as simple as a bare-bottom aquarium with flower pot “caves”, to an elaborate aquascape resembling their native habitat of Lake Xochimilco. Regardless of how their new home is decorated, there are a few conditions that must be considered during this process:

What not to use:
  • Gravel
  • Small rocks
  • Glass stones/pebbles
  • Dyed sand (artificial colors and dyes can be harmful axolotls)
  • Coarse sand
Despite being popular in home aquaria, axolotls have been known to accidentally swallow these items. Consumption of these materials can cause severe issues for the animal, commonly resulting in death after becoming impacted in their gut/stomach.

What to use:
  • Extremely fine sand (only for axolotls 4+ inches)
  • Bare-bottom
  • Tile

Be careful when considering tank substrate

As mentioned above, fine sand is ideal for axolotls 4 inches and up. Impaction is more likely to occur in smaller axolotls and should be substituted with tile or a bare-bottom aquarium until they reach an appropriate size.

Axolotls are fine on their own, but the right companion is okay

Axolotls are solitary animals, meaning they do not require tank mates, and in many cases, should be kept alone.

However, this does not mean axolotls cannot be kept with other axolotls as long as they are kept in a large enough habitat. A 40 Gallon Breeder Aquarium will provide the space necessary to safely keep up to three adult axolotls.

When it comes to adding tank mates beyond other axolotls, it should be done with extreme caution or avoided completely. Most fish species have a tendency to nip at axolotls’ gills and other regions of their body. If not at least twice the size of the axolotl’s head, snails, clams, and other mollusks are likely to be swallowed and potentially lead to death. Invertebrates such as shrimp and crayfish are also likely to cause harm to axolotls by attacking their gills and limbs.

In conclusion…

Axolotls are unquestionably one of the most unique creatures in the world, and with the right care, make absolutely phenomenal companions. While caring for axolotls is relatively simple, it is essential that the proper living conditions are met to keep them happy and healthy! Continue reading more of our articles covering Axolotl Morphs and How to Cycle Your Tank to further prepare yourself for a new axolotl!

Signs of Stress in Your Axolotl

Click on each section below to discover how to identify and resolve signs of stress that occur when caring for axolotls

Make sure your axolotl’s environment is suitable for the animal

If your axolotl is exhibiting any of the following signs of stress, it is essential that you test the water parameters to ensure your ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels are 0 or near-0 ppm (parts per million). Your pH should also be between 7.4 and 7.6 (ideally), however, axolotls can still be in good health with pH ranging from 6.5-8.0.

If your parameters are in order, check the temperature of your water and confirm it is between 60°F and 69°F. Keep your axolotl in conditions beyond what we recommend here, and the likelihood for increased stress levels can increase rapidly over time.

Axolotls enduring stressful conditions for too long are much more likely to develop more serious health-related issues that can potentially lead to death. Keeping your animal’s habitat in good conditions is an essential first step in caring for axolotls.

Regularly checking your water is an essential part of caring for axolotls

Loss of appetite is one of the first signs of stress with axolotls. This is most often caused by poor water parameters and/or impaction.

A stressed axolotl is an unhappy axolotl

When stressed, axolotls will often lose their gill filaments, and in serious cases, their gills will shrink completely.

Poor water parameters are one of the most common causes of stress in pet axolotls

Curled gills are another initial sign of a stressed axolotl. While mostly associated with poor water parameters, some axolotl gills can naturally face forward due to sheer size or if there is too much water flow in the aquarium.

Always beware of a curled tail when caring for axolotls

Tails curling at the tip is a more serious sign of an unhappy axolotl that indicates immense stress and/or sickness.

Always be mindful of your aquarium’s water chemistry

Axolotls have the ability to breathe directly from the surface of the water. You will occasionally witness them swimming up for air in your aquarium when they need more oxygen. Frequent gulps of air, however, are most commonly a sign that their water is too warm.

Often, floating is a not a problem for your axolotl

In most cases, floating is completely normal. However, it is under some circumstances where floating could be an early sign of a more serious problem. If your axolotl is floating upside down (but still very much alive and otherwise active), ingested oxygen has entered its gastric system and is disrupting their natural buoyancy. Depending on the severity of the event, immediate veterinary care is oftentimes required.

Keeping a close eye on your axolotl’s water chemistry is the first step in making sure your animal is healthy

Frantic swimming can indicate that something is causing physical harm to your axolotl. In most cases, this is seen when ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates are too high. This can also be witnessed in the event of chlorinated tap water and/or harmful chemicals entering the tank.

Loss of color in the gills or body can be caused by a number of things

Axolotls may lose pigmentation when resting and become either lighter or darker depending on the color of their environment. Under different circumstances, it can be seen as a sign of potential stress or blood loss if seriously injured.

A happy axolotl will generally respond to stimuli, especially feeding

When axolotls are stressed, they may sometimes be unphased by interaction, including attempts at feeding.

How to Cycle Your Aquarium

Click on each section below to educate yourself on how to maintain proper water chemistry in your axolotl's habitat

Read on to learn about what is involved in keeping a properly cycled aquarium

As simple as caring for axolotls can be, it is essential to have a few things in order before purchasing your first axolotl. The first step to creating a healthy living environment for any aquatic animal is to ensure that you have a properly-cycled aquarium.

What defines a “properly-cycled aquarium”? In this section, we tell you what it means to cycle your tank and provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to do it as quickly, easily, and efficiently as possible!

A properly sized aquarium will ensure your pet is happy and healthy

Aside from the fish, frogs, and other animals you see living in your local pond, there are another group of creatures living in the water that you can’t see! These creatures consist of bacteria that break down waste from larger animals, like those fish and frogs (as well as any decaying matter from animals/plants), and convert them into beneficial nutrients that other organisms need to survive.

This is known as the “Nitrogen Cycle.” Click here for a more detailed version of the Nitrogen Cycle.

Properly cycling your aquarium can take months, however, we will reveal the quickest, safest, and most efficient version that reduces this process down to just one week. We break it down in the sections below.

You can immediately establish a colony of beneficial bacteria in your aquarium by using water from a healthy tank

Using a Water Test Kit (affiliate link), the water from a healthy tank should have an ammonia concentration less than 1 ppm (Parts Per Million), a nitrite concentration of 0 ppm, a nitrate concentration of 0-20 ppm, and a pH of 6.5 – 8.0.

Seeded media consists of materials saturated with beneficial bacteria

This includes any form of biological media (biological filtration, mechanical filtration, sand, and porous rocks). It provides your water with an immediate source of waste-recycling microorganisms. Click Here to View Our Recommended Biological Media.

If you don’t have access to the media from a cycled tank, you may be able to request some from your local fish store.

NOTE: Many fish stores have a constant supply of medication dosed throughout their tanks. Refrain from adding significant amounts of this water to your aquarium when adding seeded media.

Some companies in the aquarium industry produce highly concentrated bottles of beneficial bacteria

Using these products establish an immediate colony of nitrifying bacteria that fortifies your water parameters within five days or less (even faster when paired with the Cycled Water and Seeded Media). Click Here to View Our Recommended Beneficial Bacteria Supplement.

Always be mindful of your aquarium’s water chemistry

Although this advanced method of cycling your aquarium reduces the wait time to just days, it is imperative that you still test your water parameters beforehand to ensure the best living environment for your axolotl. Purchasing an axolotl before these requirements are met can be detrimental to its health. The first step in caring for axolotls is ensuring that you know how to keep it’s habitat clean and healthy.

Read our guides for the best information on raising your axolotl

Getting your first axolotl is without a doubt an exciting experience. They are extremely personable pets that can bring you more than a decade of fun and joy when done correctly. Despite this, making sure that your aquarium is cycled is just one of the things to have in order before buying an axolotl.

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Axolotl Planet is focused on breeding the critically endangered Salamander, the Axolotl. Our focus is to help replenish the wild population by funding the creation of new habitats, and increase the captive bred population by spreading Axolotls to happy households and pet owners across the planet!