The black axolotl is an intriguing and unique variation of the iconic aquatic pet, the axolotl. These melanistic salamanders are gaining popularity among hobbyists, and caring for them can be a rewarding experience. This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about black axolotls, from their appearance and behavior to their care requirements and breeding.
Black Axolotl Overview
Black axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) are a color morph of the standard axolotl, a captivating aquatic salamander native to Lake Xochimilco in Mexico. Selective breeding has resulted in this stunning, dark variation that is quickly gaining popularity in the pet trade. The black axolotl is an amphibious salamander that retains its aquatic larval form throughout its entire life, a phenomenon known as neoteny.
The black axolotl possesses a distinct and striking appearance. With a lizard-like body shape, these creatures have unique physical characteristics that enable them to navigate their underwater environment. Their long, tadpole-shaped tails have fleshy fins above and below, while their legs feature four slightly webbed toes at the front and five at the back.
One of the most defining and beloved traits of the black axolotl is their signature “headdress” – six frilly appendages that sprout from the back of their head. These external gills are used for breathing underwater and feature a central stalk with fine, feathery filaments. In black axolotls, these filaments are black or slightly purple instead of the pink commonly seen in albino variants.
As a melanistic color morph, black axolotls exhibit excess dark pigmentation throughout their body, including their eyes.
With proper care, black axolotls can live up to 15 years. Their longevity depends on various factors, including genetics and the quality of care they receive. Axolotls living in substandard conditions or receiving poor diets may be more susceptible to diseases and premature death.
Juvenile black axolotls are typically only a few inches long, but they can quickly grow to reach lengths of 11 to 12 inches as adults. Their tails make up a significant portion of this measurement, so it’s essential to provide these pets with ample space to live comfortably.
Black Axolotl Care Requirements
Caring for black axolotls is considered moderately difficult, making them a suitable choice for those with some experience in fish-keeping. While they are adaptable creatures, certain aspects of their care can be challenging. By following the guidelines outlined below, you can ensure a happy and healthy life for your black axolotl.
A minimum tank size of 20 gallons is recommended for a single black axolotl. Although these pets are not fast swimmers, they do require room to roam and explore. If you can provide a larger tank, your axolotl will undoubtedly appreciate the extra space.
Black axolotls have specific water parameter requirements due to their endemic habitat in Lake Xochimilco. This lake is located approximately 2,000 feet above sea level, resulting in consistently cool water temperatures. Depending on your location, you may need to invest in a water chiller to maintain the appropriate temperature for your axolotl.
When it comes to pH and water hardness, black axolotls are not overly picky. As long as you avoid extreme values and maintain stable water conditions, your axolotl should thrive.
- Water temperature: 50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (Between 60 and 64 is ideal)
- pH levels: 6.5 to 8.0 (Near neutral)
- Water hardness: 7 to 14 GH
Black axolotls do not have many specific requirements for tank decorations. Providing a natural-looking habitat with hiding places will suffice. Smooth gravel or sand is recommended as a substrate, with sand being the preferred choice for many hobbyists due to the risk of compaction from accidentally ingesting gravel.
Adding a relatively large piece of driftwood or rocks to create a shelter is essential, as black axolotls can be shy and require a space to hide when stressed. Silk plants can be used to add enrichment, but be mindful that these creatures prefer low-light environments, so avoid using powerful lighting rigs. Floating plants can also be beneficial, as they provide shelter while still allowing access to light.
Investing in a good filter and chiller (if necessary) is crucial for maintaining a healthy environment for your black axolotl.
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Diet and Feeding
As carnivores, black axolotls require a high-protein diet. Feeding them can be challenging due to their poor eyesight and picky nature. Slow-moving live foods, such as crickets, bloodworms, mealworms, earthworms, ghost shrimp, chunks of seafood, and tubifex worms, are ideal options. Thawed frozen foods can also be used, as their smell is usually enough to entice your axolotl.
Adult black axolotls only need to eat once or twice a week, while juveniles require three meals a week. If your axolotl has trouble recognizing food, try using tongs to wave it in front of them.
Common Diseases and Health Concerns
Although black axolotls are hardy animals, they can still suffer from various diseases. Their external gills are sensitive, and poor water conditions can lead to stress and increased susceptibility to bacterial infections and parasites.
Parasitic infections, such as those caused by anchor worms, can be introduced through feeder fish. Bacterial infections can affect the gills, mouth, eyes, and other areas of the body, requiring veterinary intervention and antibiotic medications.
Fungal infections like mycosis can also occur, causing cotton-like growths to develop on the skin and body. Proper treatment is essential, and it’s crucial to avoid using salt baths without veterinary guidance, as the axolotl’s permeable skin can be negatively affected by excess salt.
Behavior and Temperament
Despite their cute appearance, black axolotls can be aggressive predators. They will consume fish, snails, and shrimp in their environment and may even bite at other axolotls due to their poor eyesight. However, they are generally gentle with their owners and can develop unique personalities over time, often interacting with their caretakers through the glass of their tank.
It is not recommended to keep black axolotls with other tank mates, as their aggressive nature and delicate gills make cohabitation risky. However, black axolotls are content living alone, so providing a stimulating environment with plenty of enrichment should keep them happy and healthy.
Breeding black axolotls can be challenging, but it is possible with a bonded pair that has been raised together from a young age. To initiate breeding, set up a separate tank with silk plants for the female to lay her eggs. Condition the axolotls with high-protein foods and slowly lower the water temperature by about five degrees to encourage spawning.
Females can lay over 200 eggs, which will hatch in approximately 15 days. Once the eggs have hatched, remove the adult axolotls and allow the young to develop independently, providing high-protein foods three times per week.
Black axolotls can make excellent pets for those willing to provide the appropriate care and aquarium conditions. Their captivating appearance and curious nature make them a joy to own, and with proper attention to their needs, they can thrive in a home aquarium. If you’re interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures, don’t hesitate to reach out to fellow enthusiasts and experts for advice and guidance.