If you’re looking to take on a new challenge when it comes to your aquarium, you might want to consider raising an axolotl. It looks like it’s stuck permanently between being an amphibian and being a fish – but technically, this bizarre-looking critter is an amphibian.
Often referred to as a walking fish, the axolotl is a salamander that is noetic – it’s forever stuck in the aquatic larval stage and despite having legs, will never lose its gills.
Interested? You should be! This creature is one you absolutely need to consider raising, but keep in mind that it’s not for the faint of heart. Caring for an axolotl is different than caring for any other type of fish – or amphibian – you’ve ever had before.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to set up your axolotl tank – as well as the best ways to prepare for your new little friend coming home to you.
Prepare The Required Equipment
As with setting up any other kind of aquarium, your first step is to make sure you have all the equipment you need to be successful. Start by selecting the perfect tank. This is easier said than done – there is tons of misinformation out there about what axolotls actually need and how you can best prepare for their arrival.
Some people will tell you that axolotls can thrive in aquariums that are just 10 gallons in volume. Unfortunately, this is simply not enough space. It might be okay for a single juvenile specimen in the early stages, but these creatures can grow to ten inches or more! Certainly, a ten gallon tank is not going to cut it.
You would be better off selecting a large tank right from the get-go. You will want to use a tank of at least 20 gallons or more – but this will only work if you are housing a single axolotl and no other species or other axolotls. Long tanks are better than tall ones. Axolotls like to hang out at the bottom of the tank and won’t do a whole lot with extra vertical space.
If you decide to keep multiple axolotls, aim for an additional ten gallons of space for every creature that you add.
Next up – you’ll need a good filter. Remember that axolotls don’t like a lot of water flow, so you’ll want to use a sponge in front of the outflow or a simple sponge filter. These will filter your tank adequately, removing all toxins and debris, without creating that undesirable water flow.
To run a sponge filter you will need an air pump. These can be pricey, but it’s important that you invest some money into one as you want to make sure your tank is properly filtered and cleaned for your axolotl. Remember, too, that air pumps can be somewhat loud, but if you find the right one, you may be able to invest in a quieter model.
Something that is equally as important as a good filter is a good heater. Axolotls are cold-water species and don’t do well with high temperatures. Therefore you will need to pick the heater that offers a good balance between temperature control, making it more difficult for the tank to experience swings of very high temperatures or very cold ones.
This is especially important if you plan on keeping your axolotl tank in a room that is drafty, such as the one that has open doors or windows. These rooms are prone to fluctuating temperatures, which can cause the health of your axolotl to plummet. A good heater will help control for these fluctuations and make it easier for your axolotl to thrive.
Next, you will need to make sure you invest in a good water test kit. A water test kit is a great idea for anybody who keeps fish or other aquatic organisms. However, for an axolotl is absolutely essential. A liquid test kit will contain tests for items like nitrite, pH, ammonia, and nitrate. This will help you keep an eye on the water parameters so that you can preserve the health of your axolotl.
Finally, think about the lighting you use for your axolotl tank. You should avoid using overly strong lighting, even if you are trying to grow some plants. Many people use strong lighting to cultivate plants but this is a mistake, as lights that are too bright and too powerful can seriously stress your axolotl out. Instead, you should try to find some lighting that will allow you to see your axolotl and to grow your plants – without stressing him out.
Set Up Your Axolotl Aquarium
Once you have your equipment gathered, you might be tempted to pick up your axolotl on the same shopping trip. We strongly advise against this. You need to make sure everything in your tank is set up and ready to go, and also, it’s going to be hard for you to find an axolotl at your local pet store, anyway!
Getting everything set up and ready to go before you bring your axolotl home is essential. You don’t want to have to wait around before you introduce your axolotl to the tank – he needs to get in there immediately in addition, you need to leave plenty of time for you to cycle your tank.
Cycling your tank is a crucial part of setting up any fish tank, but is especially vital if you are dealing with an axolotl – these creatures are quite sensitive to fluctuations in water quality.
To start with, select the most ideal room for your axolotl. Typically, this will be one that stays pretty cool throughout the year, as increases in temperatures, particularly during the summer months, can make your axolotl overheat.
Next, set up your aquarium and fill it up with water. You will need to add your other equipment, like your filter, heater, and any decorations you choose, too. Once everything is in your tank, you need to begin the process of cycling it. Cycling a tank sounds complicated, but really it just means that you are giving your tank adequate time to accumulate healthy bacteria in the substrate and filter. These bacteria will make the tank safe for your axolotls or other fish to live in.
To cycle an aquarium, you must add some ammonia, you can buy this at your pet store or you can use unscented household ammonia. You will monitor the levels of bacteria in your tank via the pH, regularly to make sure it has fully cycled. An alternative to this process is to cycle your tank with fish, but many people advise against this as it is not humane or safe for the fish.
Check On And Maintain Proper Water Values
Axolotls are quite sensitive to fluctuations in water values. These coldwater species don’t thrive in warm waters or those that have experienced serious swings in other parameters, so it’s important that you monitor to keep your axolotls healthy.
Typically, axolotls like cool temperatures of around 64 degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures swing at all, make sure they are lower rather than higher. An axolotl’s metabolism will just slow down at a colder temperature, so you might find that your pet becomes sluggish when the waters cool – otherwise, there isn’t too much of an issue.
Heat, however, can kill your axolotl. You must avoid temperatures over 75 degrees, as this can cause overheating and eventual death.
In addition to temperatures, you need to keep an eye on the levels of nitrite, ammonia, and nitrate in your tank. While nitrate can be accepted at low levels (less than 15), you need to make sure the other two are always left at zero. If ammonia and nitrite are in your tank at levels of more than zero, this can kill your fish – you need to keep them out at all costs.
Acidity is also important, although axolotls can handle a wide range between 6.5 and 8. However, 7.0 to 7.5 is more ideal. You can measure the acidity or alkalinity of your water by using a simple pH test.
Water hardness should also be monitored. Generally, hardness should be around 100 ppm but no higher than 200 ppm.
Select The Ideal Substrate
Next up is the substrate. Axolotls are bottom-dwellers, so it’s important that you pay close attention to the type of substrate you have. Most people will agree that sand is the best choice, as these amphibians have delicate underbellies that can be scratched by other types of substrate.
There are some aquarium hobbyists who will forego substrate altogether, making their tanks easier to maintain. However, there is some evidence to suggest that a lack of substrate can cause the axolotl to lack a good foothold, which can then cause stress and damage to the feet.
If you decide to go with a bare-bottom set-up, that’s fine, but you may want to use some tiles on the bottom of the tank to give your axolotls additional grip. Whatever you do, just avoid adding stones, gravel, or marbles. Not only can these scratch your axolotls, but they also can be viewed as food. Axolotls are voracious eaters, a subject matter we will discuss in a moment, and they see just about anything and everything as food.
To make matters worse, these creatures are clumsy. When you feed them, they may not even intend to eat pieces of the substrate but will do so by mistake as they gobble up their actual food. Sand isn’t a big deal if it’s accidentally ingested, but large pieces of gravel can compact your axolotl’s digestive tract, in many cases leading to death.
Add Some Decorations
You like decorations in your house, so there’s no reason not to add them in your axolotl tank, too! Axolotls love the hiding places and security that decorations provide. You can’t opt for just any old aquarium decor – you need to make sure that the options you choose are perfectly tailored for your axolotl.
Live plants are a great choice. These not only make your tank look better but they also help you to maintain consistent water parameters in your tank. You will want to select study plants that have strong roots, as axolotls sometimes don’t know their own strength.t hey have a hard time avoiding smashing or uprooting more delicate plants.
It can be tough to find plants that can withstand the ultra-low temperatures preferred by axolotl, but a good option is a Marimo moss ball. These balls tolerate just about any kind of water temperatures and don’t require much light. They’re also easy and safe to keep around your axolotl – just make sure they are large enough that our axolotl is not tempted to eat one! Some other plants to consider include anubias nana, water wisteria, and java fern. Floating plants in particular are helpful, as they can filter out some of the lighting that your axolotl so hates.
Driftwood is another good choice when you are considering the decorations for your tank. Consider a few thoughtfully-placed pieces, and make sure you select driftwood without any sharp edges – you don’t want your axolotl to get stuck! Cholla wood is a great natural-looking option.
You may also want to add some rocks. You can complete your tank with anything from regular stone to river rock. As long as the rocks are free from calcium and heavy metals, you are safe to add it to your tank. You should avoid adding rocks or other decorations that you have brought inside from the wild yourself. Instead, stick to storebought alternatives to prevent contaminating your tank with any dangerous substances and to prevent any issues from arising in your tank.
Axolotls are unique in that they also like hiding in natural-looking hiding spots. You can make your own or you can buy some, such as cichlid rocks or even breeding caves that are designed for plecostomus catfish.
Give Your Axolotl Some Friends
Axolotls can get lonely from time to time! While you can keep your axolotl by itself, you may also choose to keep it with other axolotls. However you should avoid keeping your pet with other members of other pieces, as this can cause danger to your axolotl.
There are a few reasons why. For instance, axolotls have delicate gills that are external instead of internal. These are easily damaged by fish, even those who aren’t aggressive by nature but simply injure the axolotl by mistake.
And on the flip side, axolotls are carnivores. While they will usually spend all of their time hanging out at the bottom of the tank, lounging around by themselves, there is a chance that your axolotls will consider your small schooling fish as prey. Be aware that keeping your axolotls with small fish like guppies or minnows can unfortunately result in them being eaten.
It’s generally acceptable to keep multiple axolotls together, but you will want to keep a couple of things in mind. First, make sure you consider your tank size. Axolotls can grow to be quite large, meaning each creature will need at least ten gallons – and then more as you increase the size of your population.
Too little space doesn’t simply result in the growth of your axolotl being stunted. Having too many axolotls in your tank can cause issues like lost limbs and even death. Try not to keep multiple axolotls together if there are some of varying sizes, which can increase the likelihood of these issues occurring.
Feeding Your Axolotl
It might not be as easy to set up your axolotl tank, but when it comes to feeding your salamander, this is not as complex. These creatures are carnivores but they are not at the top of the food chain – in fact, they are frequently injured by aggressive prey. They can eat just about anything, but that doesn’t mean that they should eat anything – they have delicate stomachs that can be damaged by hard exoskeletons and other materials.
You should avoid using certain foods that do not contain the right nutrient makeup to feed your axolotls. For instance, you will want to avoid feeding your salamander feeder goldfish, beef heart, beef liver, wild-caught minnows or other small fish, and anything with a hard exoskeleton, like snails.
Instead, you should be able to feed your axolotl high-quality carnivore pellets with great success. These salamanders don’t always love pellets, so you can experiment with other foods to keep your pets well-fed, too. You might want to consider frozen bloodworms, blackworms, or earthworms. Earthworms in particular are low in dangerous fats and high invaluable nutrients.
Another option is to feed live guppies or minnows. Make sure these are bred at home to prevent the spread of parasites and disease. Small insects and raw fish are also safe. Just make sure any food you feed are chopped up into small pieces and that nothing contains a hard exoskeleton.
Axolotls, like many aquarium pets, are messy eaters! Therefore, you should remove all food that remains uneaten after a few hours to prevent issues with your water quality. Leaving food that has not been eaten in the tank can cause a decline in water quality, something you’ll certainly want to avoid.
Address Any Problems That Arise
Axolotls are not tropical animals and don’t do well when temperatures get too high. a n overheated axolotl may develop white patches of mucus-like growth, specifically on the head. It may stop eating or even vomit up what it has eaten.
If your axolotl overheats, the best natural solution is to lower the temperature in your tank. You will need to wait it out before you can determine whether the damage will be lasting or not. Avoid overheating altogether by carefully considering the placement of your axolotl tank and using chilling fans during the warmer months of the year. You can also invest in an aquarium chilling system is this is a regular problem for you.
Axolotls are predatory and aren’t selective when it comes to choosing new meals. Unfortunately, these creatures often mistake the limbs of their tankmates for new food sources! It’s not uncommon for one axolotl to bite another’s tail or leg off.
Interestingly, these creatures can regenerate certain body parts, including the legs, gills, and tail. In most cases, an individual who has developed a wound will be fine, with new limbs growing to replace the old ones. However, in extreme cases, you may need to isolate your axolotl or prepare to lose him to his injuries altogether.
Axolotls are also prone to developing compacting as a result of consuming small gravel and rocks. This can also be caused by the feeding of creatures with hard exoskeletons. If your axolotl becomes compacted, your greatest chance at healing him is in putting him in the refrigerator. This action will slow down the metabolism of your salamander, which will enable his body to get rid of leftover foods. You should start seeing pieces of excrement in his container in just a few days.
Axolotls are neotenic creatures, meaning they don’t usually metamorphose – however this can sometimes happen. You will know that this is the case if your axolotl slowly begins to lose its fins and gills. Its eyes bulge and it will develop eyelids before turning completely into a land-dwelling creature.
If this happens, your metamorphosed axolotl will require a terrestrial environment instead of an aquatic one. Metamorphoses usually occurs as the result of a hormonal treatment or poor living conditions, but can happen on its own, too.
Do not attempt to force your axolotl to metamorphose. This is a reckless action that can harm your salamander and even potentially kill it. If you find your axolotl changing despite your best efforts, it can be worth your time to take a long look at its living conditions. Accidents or freak metamorphoses do happen, but often, this switch is the result of poor caretaking.