29 January 2014

Say goodbye to the axolotl

The axolotl... also known as a Mexican salamander (Ambystoma mexicanum) or a Mexican walking fish, is a neotenic salamander, closely related to the tiger salamander. Although the axolotl is colloquially known as a "walking fish", it is not a fish, but an amphibian. The species originates from numerous lakes, such as Lake Xochimilco underlying Mexico City. Axolotls are unusual among amphibians in that they reach adulthood without undergoing metamorphosis. Instead of developing lungs and taking to land, the adults remain aquatic and gilled.
Sad news today, as reported by The Guardian:
Mexico's salamander-like axolotl may have disappeared from its only known natural habitat in Mexico City's few remaining lakes....

The axolotl is known as the "water monster" and the "Mexican walking fish." Its only natural habitat is the Xochimilco network of lakes and canals, which are suffering from pollution and urban sprawl. Biologist Armando Tovar Garza, of Mexico's National Autonomous University, described an attempt last year by researchers to try to net axolotls in the shallow, muddy waters of Xochimilco as "four months of sampling zero axolotls"...

The Mexican Academy of Sciences said a 1998 survey had found an average of 6,000 axolotls for each square km, a figure that dropped to 1,000 in a 2003 study, and 100 in a 2008 survey.
Our children's children will grow up in a vastly depleted and markedly less interesting world.  (Unless they are interested in cockroaches and jellyfish).

Update (March 2014): I should have used "au revoir" rather than "goodbye" in the title, because some survivors in the wild have been located -
"...biologist Armando Tovar Garza of Mexico's National Autonomous University said Friday that members of the team carrying out the search had seen two axolotls during the first three weeks of a second survey expected to conclude in April."


  1. We have a pet axolotl. They are common in the pet trade and also in labs. So sad that they are extirpated in the wild.

  2. Right, extirpated in the wild is the right way to put this; the axolotl will not go extinct because it is too excellent a research animal. It's genome is in the process of being sequenced and the University of Kentucky maintains several different genetic lines: http://www.ambystoma.org/genetic-stock-center

    But that's a strange state of affairs. Should it be reintroduced to a wild habitat? What's the restoration plan for something that exists prolifically in captivity? Maybe feral axolotl colonies will simply arise on their own, like boar in Texas and "wild" mustangs?

  3. I wonder how many people first encountered this word in Mad magazine, where (like potrzebie) it was used as a running gag. This is from a 1958 issue:

    I wandered lonely as a clod,
    Just picking up old rags and bottles,
    When onward on my way I plod,
    I saw a host of axolotls;
    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
    A sight to make a man’s blood freeze.

    Some had handles, some were plain;
    They came in blue, red pink, and green.
    A few were orange in the main;
    The damnedest sight I’ve ever seen.
    The females gave a sprightly glance;
    The male ones all wore knee-length pants.

    Now oft, when on the couch I lie,
    The doctor asks me what I see.
    They flash upon my inward eye
    And make me laugh in fiendish glee.
    I find my solace then in bottles,
    And I forget them axolotls.

    1. I remember "potrezebi" (and "furshluggener"). The former has its own Wikipedia page -



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