Axolotls are the Peter Pan of Salamanders who manages to stay ‘young’ throughout their lives by retaining their larval characteristics and thereby never growing out of their aquatic lives like other salamanders.
Axolotls are cute looking aquatic salamander that many people keep as pets. In the wild, axolotls are a critically endangered species that are native to Mexico and were first brought over to Paris in 1864, fascinating Europeans. They’re a type of salamander that doesn’t go through metamorphoses from larvae to adult form, meaning they continue to breathe through their feathery gills. They also have soft, delicate bodies with permeable skin, with most of their body being made from cartilage rather than bone. However, they can regenerate lost or damaged limbs, hearts, spinal cords, and even parts of their brains, which baffles many biologists due to the lack of permanent scarring left behind.
Wild vs Captivity
The diets between wild and captive axolotl differ but remain similar enough. Wild axolotls feed on a mixture of snails, worms, crustaceans, small fish and animals and more. Captive axolotls feed on brine shrimp, small strips of beef or liver, frozen fish food, commercial fish pellets and more. All axolotls are carnivorous though with cannibalistic tendencies if hungry enough. Don’t be fooled by the cuteness of axolotls, they will eat their own young.
If you do feed meat to your axolotl though, make sure it is cooked. Raw meat can contain bacteria that may be harmful to the axolotl and can cause them to become sick. It is similar to feeding self-caught insects or fish as these may contain parasites. If you plan to feed any worms or small fish to your axolotl, make sure they come from a reputable provider, so it minimises the risk of parasites possibly being passed onto your pet.
Nutrients and Live Food
Using a mix of both feed pellets and live/frozen worms, daphnia and ghost shrimp, they all provide the nutrition required for an axolotl. Vitamins and mineral supplements are rarely needed when caring for an axolotl as they receive all the nutrients they need from their food.
Worms are some of the most common types of feed used, but there are various types of worms, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Nightcrawlers are a popular choice with them tending to be an axolotl’s favourite, with choices ranging from Canadian earthworms, European earthworms and red wigglers. Two alternatives to nightcrawlers though are blackworms and blood worms.
Earthworms are incredibly nutritious, as are red wigglers, but unlike earthworms, axolotls do not enjoy red wigglers as much. In fact, they’ll actively avoid red wigglers because they taste bad due to them excreting a bitter substance when handled as a defence mechanism. The various worms are easy to obtain, tending to be rather cheap and typically found in bait shops. They do leave the tank rather messy however, causing the tank to need regular and thorough cleaning. Blood worms unlike the rest, are the least nutritionally valuable worm out of them all. While being a favourite to axolotls, they aren’t very healthy, so owners tend to use them as an occasional treat.
Other live feed that is mostly popular for feeding larvae axolotl are daphnia. Daphnia are a quick and easy cheap source of protein that is highly nutritious due to how high in fatty acids, lipids and vitamins it is. They’re also easily able to be home-cultured, making it easy to have the desired number of daphnia for extremely cheap. Plus, they’re great for cleaning unwanted bacteria in the tank, so any leftover live daphnia from feeding puts them to good use. Despite all this, they’re an unnecessary food choice for full-grown axolotls as while they contain a high amount of protein for larvae axolotls, for adults the amount is rather small, making them almost pointless food choice protein-wise.
An alternative to daphnia that’s beneficial to full-grown axolotls are brine shrimp. They’re high in vitamins, lipids and fatty acids whilst also being incredibly easy and cheap to buy or breed at home. A negative to using brine shrimp however is that whatever the axolotl doesn’t eat, the shrimp if not already dead, will quickly die and possibly leave behind diseases, alter the water hardness due to their salt content and makes the tank messy. A method to prevent this is by either freezing or freeze-drying the brine shrimp into various portion sizes that can then be used when needed, preventing any unnecessary waste, mess and diseases.
Axolotls prefer live or frozen food but aren’t averse to fish pellets. Some will refuse to eat them, but many will happily enjoy them. They’re also a wonderful option for owners who become squeamish with using live food. It’s incredibly important to ensure that the protein content is high enough in the pellet to compensate the lack of live food though. They should only be fed pellets occasionally though as it’ll cause axolotls to gain weight quickly. For a healthy diet, you need to make the diet a mix of both pellets and regular food sources, such as worms, shrimp, daphnia etc.
Sinking pellets are better than floating pellets due to axolotls being bottom feeders so the sinking pellets would be easier for the axolotls to feed on. Floating pellets are best not to be used because axolotls are amphibians that tend to dwell on the bottom of their cage. If they try to eat the floating pellets, they run the risk of gulping air by mistake which could cause bloating, hindering the normal mechanism of digestion.
Stress and Obtrusions
Axolotls become stressed easily which tends to lead to injuries, illness or worst case, death. To prevent this in feedings, never feed an axolotl anything larger than its head. All food should be small than an axolotl’s head, which ties into the environment of the axolotl’s tank.
Many people line the bottom of their tank with gravel to provide their axolotl with something to grip onto. However, axolotl will eat gravel sometimes, which can cause gastronomical obtrusions and death. To prevent this, make sure the gravel is a size they are unable to ingest or use to switch to sand as it will pass through the animal with no issues.