Ever heard of an axolote? Don’t feel bad – most people haven’t.
What is an Axolote?
An axolote (ah-o-low-tee) is a reptile similar to an iguana. They live in an area right next to Mexico City called Xochimilco. Axolotes can breath three ways : with lungs like land animals, with gills like fish, or through their skin. They can grow to be up to 90 cm in length.
One of the most unique properties of the axolote is that of rejuvenation. If one loses a leg, its tail, or even part of its heart, the animal can regenerate and grow a new one. In fact, if the axolote is lacking food, it will eat its own leg – knowing it will simply grow a new one.
Uses of Axolote
The Xochimilcan people have traditionally used the axolote as a source of food. They simply take out the guts of the animal, cover it with spices and corn flakes, wrap it in a leaf, and cook it over a fire.
The axolote is better known, however, for its curative properties. The local people make a soup with it and drink it to cure anemia. They also make a syrup from the skin to help bronchitis or asthma.
Scientists are currently doing many studies to learn about other uses of the axolote. Due to its rejuvenation properties, scientists believe they may be able to use the reptile to fight cancer or other serious diseases.
The Fate of the Axolote
Unfortunately, the axolote is in danger of extinction. It is found only in the canals of a small area in Mexico and numbers are diminishing at an alarming rate.
There are many reasons for the endangerment of the axolote, including pollution in the canals where they live, but the main culprit is the foreign fish that have been introduced to the area. Carp and other fish eat the plants the axolote lays its eggs on – and eats the eggs at the same time. As the eggs get consumed, the number of eggs which hatch is greatly reduced.
There are now a few hatcheries in the Xochimilco area dedicated to reestablishing a healthy population of axolote in the canals. Only time will tell if they are successful.
Aztec Myth of the Axolote
The Aztec people believed the axolote was the god of water.
The story goes that every four years, in leap year, the Aztecs held a sacrificial ceremony to the gods. They sacrificed the four elements – air, fire, earth, and water – to encourage the gods to maintain balance for the next four years.
The god of water, the youngest of the four, was afraid of being sacrificed and hid underground to escape. While there, he converted to a century plant.
Over time, the god of water decided he didn’t like being a century plant, so he changed into a large pestle for grinding dry ingredients.
Still unsatisfied, he changed again to a small pestle for grinding spices.
And again, he was not satisfied. This time he changed into a turkey.
Finally he changed into an axolote and was satisfied. To this day, the god of water can be found in the form of an axolote.