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Known as the Peter Pan of the amphibian world, this strange looking but amazing creature can live in water or on land. The axolotl is able to reproduce its own kind while still in its aquatic larval stage. This is very a very unusual development for amphibians such as the common frog, toad and newts which as tadpoles are strictly confined to fresh water. Mexican axolotls are known to complete their entire life cycle without ever leaving the water since their sexual maturity is reached while they are still in the larval stage. This newt like creature will grow to be between 4 to 7 inches long. They are usually black or dark brown with black spots, but it also common to see albino axolotls.
The axolotl has small, weak legs and feet while the tail is long with a fin running from the head to the tail and along the under side of the tail. They breath through three pairs of feathery gills on the sides of their head. Axolotls are quite often kept in aquariums. They are oddly dull animals that spend most of their time on the bottom of the tank, swimming lazily about occasionally and then sinking back to the bottom. Axolotls are never kept together safely since they are often known to bit off each other's gills and feet, as well as, pieces from the tails. When this does happen and the two are separated the missing pieces will soon regenerate.
In the wild axolotls can be found in some lakes around Mexico City where they are regarded as a delicacy when roasted. Their name is Mexican for water sport. Zoologist had a difficult time trying to decide where to place axolotls in the classification of amphibians. Later experimentation led to them to classify them as one of the several species of salamanders. Fertilization takes place when the male axolotl sheds his sperm in a packet called a spermatophore. This then sinks to the bottom where the female settles over it and picks it up with her cloaca. The female is attracted to the male by a courtship dance in which the male secrets a chemical from glands in his abdomen and swishes his tail to spread the chemical until the female detects it.
A week after fertilization the female axolotl will lay between 200 to 600 eggs around April or May. The eggs are sticky making it easy for the female to attach them to plants with her hind legs. The young will hatch any where from one night to three weeks later depending on the temperature of the water. These tiny babies are a mere 1\2 inch long and remain on the plant where the eggs were laid. A week later they begin swimming away to search for food and by winter they are between 5 to 7 inches long. During the winter the young axolotls will hibernate taking no food if the temperature of the water drops below 10 degrees fahrenheit. Young axolotls feed mostly on plankton and will later eat water fleas. When they are fully grown they will hunt for worms, tadpoles, insect larvae, crustaceans and wounded fish.
The axolotl's habit of breeding while still in the larval state is known as neoteny. This habit is not just restricted to the axolotl since other amphibians including some salamanders will exhibit the same habit, failing to emerge onto land but continuing to grow in the larval form.